When visiting the City of Edmonton, the original home of musical greats such as Barry Allen, Doug Edwards, and k.d. Lang, the best time of year to do so is between late spring and late fall. This is especially true if you wish to avoid the bitterly cold Canadian winters have been known for. From mid-June until mid-August, Edmonton is at its liveliest as one of the busiest cities, with one major festival after another. In June, it starts with the TD Edmonton International Jazz Festival. Immediately after this, it’s the Edmonton International Street Performers Festival.
Without taking a break, Edmonton then hosts K-Days, a famous festival previously known as Klondike Days. No sooner does this finish; the city hosts the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, then the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, and then finally the Purple City Music Festival. The one thing Edmontonians certainly enjoy is music. Speaking as a fan of classic rock who knows the city very well, the best radio station to listen to is K-97 Classic Rock. Another really good rock station is 100.3 The Bear, as it taps into classic rock and the most popular modern rock.
By car, the most popular routes motorists take going into the city are Yellowhead Trail (Highway 16) and Gateway Boulevard (Highway 2 South). When approaching Edmonton, Alberta from the east, the Yellowhead invites a scenic road trip through some great towns before it reaches the city and all it has to offer. Upon approaching Edmonton from the west, motorists have the opportunity from the Yellowhead to stay on the highway if they’re just passing through or stay on what eventually becomes Stony Plain Road.
As for motorists entering Edmonton from Highway 2, it becomes Gateway Boulevard as soon as they approach the city limits. Eventually, Gateway Boulevard ends once it reaches Saskatchewan Drive. You can only turn eastbound from here but this will take you to Edmonton’s downtown core if that’s where you want to go. This is also the road that will take you straight to the Edmonton Convention Centre. It’s a popular downtown venue known for holding great music concerts and other cultural events. As recently as May 1, 2023, Megadeath performed there, along with Bullet for My Valentine.
As for driving into Edmonton from the north, this is rarely taken by tourists who are taking a road trip. Should this be you, the majority of the motorists travel Highway 2 as this takes you to the Yellowhead Highway. From there, you can navigate where you wish to go. If it’s West Edmonton Mall you seek, turn right and head for the 170th Street southbound turnoff. If you’re aiming for downtown, head east on the Yellowhead until you reach the 97th Street southbound turnoff. Even as you drive into Edmonton from the east or the west using the Yellowhead, these two southbound turns are your best options if you wish to maximize your road trip experience inside the city.
Road Trip Recommendation
Before taking your road trip, plan ahead. If Edmonton is at least one of your destinations and music is at least part of the reason, check to see if there are any major concerts or events going on in or near the city during the timeframe you will be there. This will save you disappointment and headaches, especially when it comes to finding accommodation. Also, be sure to obtain important highway information before you go. While between mid-April and mid-September seems to be the favorite time for motorists to visit Edmonton, it’s also the preferred schedule for construction workers and road crews. It would also be advised while driving around in Edmonton to have a radio station like K-97 on as it frequently lets drivers know what’s going on as far as accidents and other incidents that are causing enough traffic congestion to slow you down.
For international visitors not from Canada, checking out the Canada Border Services Agency website would be recommended. You’ll learn everything you need to know when it comes to safely visiting the Great White North. You’ll also likely learn about Canada’s usage of the metric system to determine measurements. Instead of miles, Canadians use kilometers. For every one mile traveled, it is the equivalent of 1.6 kilometers. This also applies to volume measurements. One gallon of gas is about the same as 4.5 liters. When driving around, instead of the maximum highway speed limit of seventy-five miles per hour, it’s one hundred and twenty kilometers per hour.
Edmonton Accommodations & Attractions
West Edmonton Mall & Fantasyland Hotel
West Edmonton Mall has been one of the city’s main attractions for a variety of reasons. At one time, it was the world’s largest shopping mall before it was dethroned in 2004. It’s still a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike, as there is more going for this mall than its size. It’s also an excellent place for people taking a road trip to check out its music scene. Furthermore, if you’re looking for a place to stay, the Fantasyland Hotel is attached to the mall as an accommodation facility that has themed rooms that start at $400 per night. If this is beyond your price range, the hotel offers regular rooms for half the price. What makes this hotel so appealing for music fans is the quick walk through the mall to access the bars, clubs, restaurants, and shops that seem to have it all.
Speaking as a former resident of Edmonton, Alberta, and a former employee of Fantasyland Hotel, this is a great pit stop for music fans no matter what time of year you embark on your road trip. The hotel, as well as the mall, is an excellent playground for music fans, especially when it comes to Bourbon Street. Imagine walking up and down a street that has a collection of bars, clubs, and restaurants lined up next door to each other, and you don’t have to worry about unfavorable climate conditions. You’re doing this indoors. If you really want to rock it up, the Five & Dive would be the place for you. Here, it’s all about the music, the booze, and the food. When visiting on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, it’s all live music. For heavy metal fans, Mondays would be the day for you.
What’s also great about West Edmonton Mall is the shopping. If you’re looking to expand your record collection, Sunrise Records has just about everything a fan of music could possibly hope for. In Edmonton alone, Sunrise Records has four locations. This is one of Canada’s favorite record stores, with locations as far west as Victoria, British Columbia, and as far east as St. Johns, Newfoundland. The one in West Edmonton Mall is massive, with two stories of shopping paradise for music lovers. Since 1977, Sunrise Records has been in business as one of the elite music stores that has a massive record collection of every musical genre you can think of. There are also some pretty cool collectibles you can find here, including turntables so you can play your favorite tunes on vinyl. The location of Sunrise Records is in the mall’s Phase I, which is clean on the other side of where the Fantasyland Hotel is located as it sits in Phase III.
The hotel at the mall has everything a road traveler needs in one convenient location. If you’re only intending to spend one or two nights in Edmonton with no desire to visit its downtown core, then staying at West Edmonton Mall’s hotel would be your best option. However, if you want to venture further into the heart of the city, another decent hotel pick would be the three-star Matrix Hotel. Located at 10640 – 100 Avenue, this puts you in downtown Edmonton with great access to the city’s nightlife. This also puts you nice and close to some great venues, including Rogers Place. From here, you are an eight-block walking distance from a multipurpose arena that has rocked the audience since 2016 with concert performances by a long list of musical legends, including Chicago, Def Leppard, John Fogerty, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The Matrix is hard to miss with its contemporary design, along with its red and white decor, as if proudly displaying the colors of the Canadian flag. Staying at this hotel is also friendly on the budget, with room rates starting at about $160 per night. What’s also great about this hotel’s location is that there are some fantastic bars and nightclubs you can either approach by foot or reach within a matter of a few short minutes by car. The hotel sits one block south of downtown Edmonton’s busiest street, Jasper Avenue.
Edmonton’s Music History
Fans of k.d. Lang are likely to know she was born in Edmonton, Alberta. However, she grew up about three hours southeast of the city in Consort as her family moved there when she was nine months old. She became more familiar with Red Deer, the go-between city on Highway 2 that sits between Edmonton and Calgary. The influence of this musical superstar came from the country meets punk experiences she had while living in the Canadian Prairies. After graduating from Red Deer College in 1982, Lang moved back to Edmonton with the intention of pursuing a musical career. It was here she and her Patsy Cline tribute band, the Reclines, debuted with its single, “Friday Dance Promenade” at Sundown Recorders. The label’s Larry Wanagas became Lang’s manager. While in Edmonton, the Reclines were regular performers at the Sidetrack Cafe. It wasn’t long after this that Lang became an international superstar in the music industry.
Edmonton Exhibition Grounds & Commonwealth Stadium
The Edmonton Exhibition Grounds continues a legacy of hosting fantastic concerts between its Edmonton EXPO Centre and the city’s exhibition grounds. Whenever K-Days is in full swing for ten days during the second half of July, this is where music fans should go. Iconic groups such as Nazareth and Quiet Riot have performed there, and it continues to be a summertime fan favorite for music enthusiasts. There is also Commonwealth Stadium, an outdoor multipurpose venue not far from the grounds. Situated on 11000 Stadium Road, this iconic location has hosted a variety of concerts and sporting events that continue to keep Edmontonians and travelers entertained. The very first concert the Commonwealth hosted was the August 7, 1983, live performance by David Bowie. Opening for him that evening was Peter Gabriel and The Tubes. In 1987, Bowie came back, this time with Duran Duran, The Georgia Satellites, and The Northern Pikes.
My favorite concert held at the Commonwealth took place on June 28, 1994, when Pink Floyd was on The Division Bell Tour. I still remember this concert as if it happened yesterday. When I lived in Edmonton, I wasn’t far from the Commonwealth. I could hear the concert performances even if I wasn’t in the stadium. Should you take a road trip to the city and you know there is a concert scheduled at the stadium at the same time and you don’t have tickets, conveniently park your car at the Stadium LRT Station parking lot, which is across the street from the stadium. However, odds are the lot will be full so get there early. I did this in 2007 when The Police had its reunion tour. All we did was roll the windows down and listen.
On the Rocks
It would be highly recommended for road trip enthusiasts who have a love for rock music to visit On the Rocks on 11740 Jasper Avenue. This is where the locals, rockers, and out-of-towners go to make some noise and have a great time. There is no shortage of great live performances and classic hits as the venue remains steadfast to the motto of eating well and partying hard. East of this favorite hot spot along Jasper Avenue is a collection of fantastic bars and clubs up to 104th Street. Also in the area, whether it be a few blocks north or south of Jasper Avenue there are fantastic nightclubs such as Arena 7 Lounge on 10586-109th Street and 99ten on 9910-109th Street. In Edmonton, the bulk of the city’s best cultural and nightlife entertainment venues sit within the districts of Oliver and Old Strathcona, as well as Edmonton’s downtown area and West Edmonton Mall.
Strathcona and its favorite street, Whyte Avenue, are a must for travelers when taking a road trip into Edmonton, especially if you’re a music fan. Otherwise known as 82nd Avenue, the stretch between Gateway Boulevard and 109th Street offers lots of cultural, historical, and musical opportunities for travelers to take in. If you’re looking for potentially hard-to-find vinyl records and CDs, Blackbyrd Myoozik may have something there you can’t find anywhere else. This one sits at 10442-82nd Avenue. This has been a favorite hangout for locals and record collectors since 1993.
DaDeO New Orleans Diner & Bar
Should your tummy demand the need to be fed while in the Old Strathcona district, DaDeO New Orleans Diner & Bar is your ticket to eat some cajun-style grub and take in the musical sounds of the American South. Speaking from personal experience, this place on 10548a Whyte Avenue is phenomenal. I’m a sucker for a good jambalaya, and the experience is even better when chowing it down and taking in the diner’s vintage ambiance. The music and decor offer a 1950s flavor to enhance an era when the world seemed to be a much happier place.
What’s great about visiting Edmonton as part of your road trip is the city’s diversity when it comes to art, culture and music. Whatever brand of music suits your fancy, this city has it. As a resident who once upon a time called Edmonton her home, I often wondered if the Beach Boys made reference to the city when it sang about the “northern girls” keeping their boyfriends warm at night whenever they sang “California Girls.” On August 21, 1968, the group from the Golden State held its first rock concert at the old venue, Edmonton Gardens.
River Cree Casino
On July 29, 2022, the Beach Boys returned to Edmonton for the nineteenth time, this time playing at the River Cree Casino during its Sixty Years of the Sound of Summer Tour. Actually, this was in Enoch, a First Nations community less than fifteen minutes southwest of West Edmonton Mall. Since it was established in 2006, the River Cree has been another favorite venue for people living in or near Edmonton, as well as travelers choosing to drive there. Should you pay the casino a visit, be sure to check the wall of donated guitars from legends like Chubby Checker, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, and Burton Cummings, just to name a few.
Edmonton, Canada Road Trip Guide for Music Fans article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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