Rock This Town: new exhibit highlights Kitchener-Waterloo’s music history

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Newcomers to Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) may be surprised at the town’s rich rock ‘n’ roll history spanning the 1960s and 70s. In fact, legendary bands such as Led Zeppelin have played the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium, and local universities have held intimate shows for rockstars.  

This includes Neil Young, as well as rock bands KISS and Rush, all of whom have performed at Wilfrid Laurier University in the ‘60s and ‘70s. During this time, the University of Waterloo has also hosted rock icons, from Elton John to Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop.  

To celebrate KW’s history of rock and other music genres, the City of Waterloo Museum has unveiled a new exhibit; ‘Rock This Town: Music and Memories’, based on the 2022 documentary of the same name. In collaboration with the producers, they have worked to bring the documentary to life.  

The exhibit features a range of interactives, from a listening station to a section where visitors can test their DJ skills. At a lounge, visitors can spin vinyl on a real record player. A scavenger hunt activity is also available for families or anyone that’s interested.  

“Music plays an important part in our daily lives,” said Karen Vandenbrink, Manager of Museum and Archival Collections. “The way we consume music now is isolating compared to in the past, and we want to highlight how live music has brought people together in KW.” 

That message is clear in the exhibit’s tributes to live music in KW, such as the festivals that have occurred at Waterloo Park. There is also information on the history of live music as it pertains to 2SLGBTQIA+ safe spaces in KW.  

A large section of the exhibit is dedicated to Juno award-winning rhythm and blues singer Errol Starr, who grew up in Waterloo. He went from playing in a garage band with his high school friends to building a lengthy career padded with accolades.  

“We worked closely with him and his family to share his story,” said Vandenbrink.  

One of the exhibit’s highlights is a section about the evolution of listening devices, such as speakers and turntables. It takes a comprehensive look at how music was consumed in the region, with a focus on local companies.  

Furthermore, visitors can learn about KW’s history in music by exploring a case exhibit of Indigenous drumming artifacts.  

The City of Waterloo Museum is located near the food court in Conestoga Mall at 550 King St. North, and the ‘Rock This Town’ exhibit will be running until June 2023. The hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. on Tuesdays to Fridays. Admission is free!  

“We hope there’ll be more students coming to visit us,” said Vandenbrink. “And they’re always amazed at what’s happened here in Waterloo.”

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