Once a year, Saskatoon’s musicians come together and create a night of magic — and they give themselves less than 24 hours to do so.
It’s that time of year again: Band Swap!
Now in its sixth year, the idea behind Band Swap is for 35 of Saskatoon’s musicians to form six or seven new bands that only last one night, play a sold-out show at Amigos and donate all the money to charity.
There’s also plenty of drinking and partying that happens, but since Band Swap usually falls on or near New Year’s Eve, that part comes naturally.
Each year, Band Swap is organized by Alison Whelan and Mairin Loewen, former bandmates in Saskatoon’s Carbon Dating Service before the group disbanded. Whelan is currently in her fourth year studying biology and toxicology at the University of Saskatchewan, and Loewen is now Saskatoon city councillor for Ward 7.
Although she is reluctant to take sole credit for the idea of Band Swap, Whelan says she drew inspiration from her time in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there was a similar event in which actors and other performers gave themselves 24 hours to put together a night of entertainment.
“It was kind of a variety show, but it was the thing in town that everyone wanted to see when it came,” she said. “Saskatoon, in my experience, hadn’t yet had something like that and I was looking forward to starting something.”
Since Whelan was plugged into the music scene in town — she has also played with Maybe Smith and The Fjords — and because others also wanted to start an annual musical tradition in Saskatoon, the ball soon got rolling on what ultimately became Band Swap. And although Whelan and Loewen still put the annual concert together, it has taken on a life of its own.
“Band Swap runs itself,” said Whelan. “The energy is there because everybody’s there to have a good time. The people who are in it determine what kind of event it is, not me and Mairin.”
Each year, in early December, a one-hour registration window opens to any locals who want to play in the event. Only the first 28 people are chosen for inclusion and, along with seven pre-designated “captains,” have their names drawn from a hat the night before Band Swap to form the temporary bands. Once sorted, musicians try to pick cover songs that match the group’s skillset and, 24 hours later, the new bands take the stage for 20 minutes each.
“It just makes it fun regardless of your skill level,” Whelan said of the strict time constraints. “Not everybody is going to be able to slay some Journey song in 24 hours. If it kind of sucks but it’s recognizable, it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows you have 24 hours so they have a good time.”
Band Swap VI takes place at Amigos Dec. 30. All the ticket proceeds go to the Saskatoon Crisis Nursery, and attendees get a discount if they bring a non-perishable food item. The charity provides shelter and nutrition for children while their families deal with crises at home.
Although Band Swap has been affiliated with the Crisis Nursery since the start, the relationship has been formalized recently. It’s another hopeful sign that even if the original organizers and artists who kickstarted Band Swap move on, the event will survive. And although Band Swap VI is sure to be as successful as its predecessors, as the annual bash matures, the organizers want to make sure it doesn’t stagnate.
“We want to make sure it’s reinvigorated each year with new musicians and people who don’t know everybody,” said Whelan. “We don’t want it to become a cliquey thing.”[box type=”info”]Band Swap VI takes place Dec. 30 at Amigos. Tickets are $15, $10 with a non-perishable food item.[/box]
Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf