The Earl of Whitchurch in Stouffville, Ont., is celebrating St. Patrick's Day just like any other pub — with live music and booze. Except that when it's time for last call, the doors won't close and the music won't stop — for at least another 16 days, if all goes well.
The pub in the town about an hour north of Toronto launches a bid to enter the Guinness World Record book Friday night for the longest concert put on by multiple artists. Hundreds of musicians are lined up to play the pub, with live music going at all hours of the day until the record is broken — and then some.
"We could go for two months," jokes organizer Kevin Ker. That's unlikely, but there's stiff competition.
A group of musicians is also vying for the title in Detroit, which has held the record three times. They've already started playing with an end goal of over 16 days.
"If they go over 16 days, we're prepared to go over 16 days," Ker said. "We just have to beat the guys that already started, so we are in a good place."
Keeping the tempo
Guinness has stringent rules for concerts: There can only be five minutes between bands and 30 seconds between songs. A single song can't be repeated for another four hours after it's been played, and it can't be less than two minutes long.
And even though the music goes all through the night, at least 10 people have to be up and awake at all times. One botched band changeover or errant song choice could cost participants the record.
"It has to be rehearsed and prepared and executed accordingly," said Ker, who hasn't been sleeping much. "We've tried to think about every single thing that could go wrong."
Extra guitars are ready if a string breaks and some generators if the power fails. Ker plans to keep a ukulele strapped to his back should he have to take the stage if a musician misses a shift.
Joe Thomas will be playing a couple of times — once with his band Hungry Lake and then an overnight solo show a few hours later. The band members have been talking about the rules and prepping to make sure they're not the ones who mess up.
"I think this will be a really good lesson for musicians to not have dead air between songs," he said. Thomas now lives in Toronto but grew up in and around Stouffville, so it was important for him to get involved.
"Toronto is labelled as this mecca of music, and I disagree. A lot of the towns in the outskirts … these towns have a plethora of musicians who just don't get the time of day because of their postal code."
There's a fair amount of local talent taking part with bands from other parts of the province and from around the country. It's fitting, as the concert is meant to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. Proceeds from the door will go to a different charity every day.
'People don't realize what's behind it'
The current Guinness record for longest concert by multiple performers is held by Ri Ra, an Irish pub on the Las Vegas strip whose 2014 gig clocked in at 372 hours, 10 minutes.
Dublin's Dave Browne was one of the key organizers for that event. He has seen several groups try — and fail — to break his record.
"It's a huge undertaking. People don't realize what's behind it," he said. "I do like people who have the arrogance."
Browne plays in the bar's house band and oversaw the musical aspect of the gig. The hardest part for Browne — who holds another record for the longest marathon playing guitar — was not the endurance but keeping the crowd entertained.
"The band can't just be going up and singing Baa Baa Black Sheep," he warned. He flew in musicians from Ireland for the show. "It could have still been going on today … you put Irish people into a bar that doesn't close, forget about it."
How to play the world's longest gig
Browne has this advice for anyone hoping to smash his record:
- If you're organizing, don't drink.
- Get set lists ahead of time so songs don't repeat.
- Designate one go-to contact from each band.
- Have just one person booking music.
- Pick a top-notch stage crew and support team.
There were lots of errors along the way.
Bands showed up at the wrong times. And one day, an electric performance became an acoustic jam. But he would do it again if someone breaks the record. He wishes Ker and his crew good luck.
"It's fun but it's hard work," he said. "When you do break it, there's an amazing feeling between everybody."