Curtis Labelle, along with three band members and his manager, set out on March 4 for a tour to Ontario and back. The Red Deer-based performer said a highlight was attending the Juno Awards on Sunday. (Contributed photo). i

Curtis Labelle, along with three band members and his manager, set out on March 4 for a tour to Ontario and back. The Red Deer-based performer said a highlight was attending the Juno Awards on Sunday. (Contributed photo). i

Red Deer performer was reminded gay rights is still a battle on his Pride Tour

Highs and lows of Curtis Labelle’s cross-country tour steels his resolve to keep advocating

From attending the Junos to surviving bar brawls and homophobia, Red Deer performer Curtis Labelle returned from his 11,000 km “rollercoaster” High on Pride Tour with plenty of stories to tell.

Labelle’s excitement about the 10-week road trip with his three-person band to Ontario and back was palpable. “This has been the most successful thing I’ve ever done,” said the singer/pianist.

Labelle returned to Red Deer on Wednesday after heading out on March 4 on a tour to celebrate the local LGBTQ+ community. “The connections I’ve made, the people I’ve met… this has been the biggest win ever…”

His High on Pride Tour, which will raise money for Central Alberta Pride Society, started with a string of performances across Alberta and Saskatchewan. “We had our gas tank full, our shows booked, and we were ready for the journey ahead of us,” he recalled.

In retrospect, Labelle realizes he and the other musicians couldn’t have anticipated everything that would occur when they started heading east in a pick-up truck and 14-foot trailer.

Prairie crowds were overwhelmingly appreciative as Curtis performed 20 original tunes, including his new single On the Gun, but there were a couple of Saskatchewan surprises.

Two intoxicated women start started a bloody bar brawl at a Saskatoon tavern after being ordered to take their drinks off the stage, recalled Labelle. Police were called after the bartender received a bloody nose and was being choked.

“They were escorted out and the fight continued on the sidewalk,” recalled Labelle.

A similar riot broke out at a bar in Estevan, Sask. But, for Labelle this was a more personal attack as homophobic comments — and fists — were thrown at him and the band.

“Microphone stands were being kicked over… Band members had to stop one gentleman from threatening me and punching me… The piano was being slammed, lids were falling off. It was a very negative energy.”

The next day, Labelle was shaken and in tears. He said the incident brought to mind the severe bullying he had suffered as a child.

“It was a very disheartening blow and I was very sad…. It was also a big eye-opener for me” — making him realize that even in 2022 some adults can be as cruel as middle schoolers to those they consider different.

“It gave a whole new meaning to ‘pride’ for me… It was a reminder that there is way more entitlement in this world than enlightenment.”

But Labelle was “a thousand times” more determined to push ahead with his Pride Tour, especially after hearing other audience members say “keep the music but drop the pride.“

“I will not back down,” he stressed. “If I can stand tall and walk on stage in my glitter and my heels and be flamboyant…. that makes me feel good about who I am, and I really feel you have to be who you are.”

While most Manitoba venues were still closed to live music, the tour picked up again in Ontario. Labelle and the band headlined at the Painted Lady in Toronto, which previously hosted The Trews and Ron Sexsmith.

Crowds were initially lighter because live music venues were only coming out of lockdown. But gradually Labelle and the band began playing to packed houses — especially in boisterous and welcoming Irish bars. Labelle recalled one highlight was playing at O’Neill’s Pub just outside Cornwall, Ont.

“It was a last-minute booking, but the place was packed and everybody was ready to hear some live music.” It was standing room only, with people waiting to get tables.

The pinnacle of the tour happened Sunday when Labelle attended the Juno Awards in Toronto. He was particularly struck by the speech made by Shawn Mendes, who won an international achievement award. “He said: Where you are right now, you are already there — and to enjoy the journey.

“The biggest lesson is there isn’t anything to prove. Just live the music and enjoy it,” said Labelle. “I recognized that if I died tomorrow I would still be a success,” because he lived without regrets.

Although it will be some time before Labelle attempts another large-scale tour, he’s looking forward to auctioning off a beer can this summer from Innisfail’s Field and Forge. It was signed by various people across Canada to benefit Central Alberta Pride Society youth programs.

He’s also booked for regional performances, including May 27 and 28 shows at Cheers Neighbourhood Pub in Red Deer. Other Alberta dates can be found at curtislabelle.com.

This fall and winter, Labelle plans to release a couple new singles, and will record an album in 2023.



lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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