When Vancouver, Canada hosted its first rock concert on June 27, 1956 at the Kerrisdale Arena, Vancouver Sun critic Stanley Bligh called Bill Haley and the Comets “the ultimate in musical depravity.” But more than 50 years later, it’s no problem to “Rock Around the Clock” in Vancouver. In fact, it’s a city-wide tradition.

Looking to expand your music collection for starters? A short drive from downtown over the Granville Street Bridge brings you to Zulu Records (1972 W. 4th St.; 604-738-3232), the city’s top source for indie records, or Scrape Records (17 W. Broadway; 604-877-1676), a mecca for metalheads.

When you’re ready to rock out live, remember that Granville owns the title of Most Slammin’ Downtown Strip.

The Commodore Ballroom (868 Granville St.) is arguably Canada’s best rock club. Featuring a sprung dance floor and 1,000-person capacity, it hosted Tina Turner, U2, and the Police in their early days. In the new millennium, acts like Ben Harper, Coldplay, and HammerFall have rocked the Commodore. Across the street, the intimate Venue hosts everyone from metal acts like Sabaton and Winger to indie pop groups like Dragonette and Cults (881) Granville St.).

Reopening in early 2013 after renovations, the Yale Pub (1300 Granville St.) often brings in blues-rock veterans such as Savoy Brown and Ten Years After. Good-time cover bands pack ’em in at the Roxy (932 Granville St.), a popular meet-and-greet watering hole. Another cool nearby downtown rock venue is the Media Club (695 Cambie St.).

If big arena shows are what you crave, Vancouver delivers. There are always opportunities to catch Vancouver-spawned artists like Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan, and Nickelback live.

Flicking Bic lighters at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) fairgrounds is a time-honoured pastime. Both Elvis Presley (in his last-ever gig outside the US on August 31, 1957) and the Beatles (seven years later) played outdoor concerts that sparked riots at the PNE’s Empire Stadium. That facility was demolished years ago, but the adjacent Pacific Coliseum lives on. Everyone from the Eagles to Evanescence has appeared at this 17,500-capacity hockey arena. Other big-ticket rockers regularly grace Vancouver’s newer and slightly larger hockey arena, Rogers Arena, while BC Place Stadium hosts mega-spectacles such as the Rolling Stones and U2.

In the suburbs, Richmond’s River Rock Casino and Coquitlam’s Boulevard Casino offer sure bets with their state-of-the-art theatres, which showcase nostalgia acts like Loverboy, Cheap Trick, and America.

To stay on top of all the live action, check concert listings in the Georgia Straight (www.straight.com). This alternative weekly paper was founded in 1967, pre-dating Rolling Stone by a few months. The Straight’s best-known alumnus is Sir Bob Geldof, who edited the music section in the mid-70’s before achieving fame with the Boomtown Rats and organizing the Live Aid and Live 8 concerts. Tickets for most Vancouver concerts are available through Ticketmaster (604-280-4444; www.ticketmaster.ca).

Hungry after all this fist-pumping excitement? Try house specialties like fish and chips or lasagna with Caesar salad at North Vancouver’s Tomahawk Restaurant (1550 Philip Ave.; 604-988-2612), where Bryan Adams got his first job as a dishwasher. Devour mounds of tender beef brisket, Cornish game hen, and seasoned French fries at the Memphis Blues Barbecue House (1465 W. Broadway; 604-738-6806), with the songs of Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top in the background. Or savor high-end sushi at Tojo’s (1133 W. Broadway; 604-872-8050), which has been patronized by such rockin’ guests as Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and KISS.

Your best hopes of spotting a rock legend while sipping an after-dinner drink may be at the Opus Bar (322 Davie St.). Members of Def Leppard, Radiohead, and REM are among those who have indulged in signature cocktails like “One Love” and “Starlet” at this upscale hotspot recently.

Hardcore fans can try their luck outside some of Vancouver’s world-class recording facilities. The Warehouse Studio (100 Powell St.) occupies Vancouver’s oldest brick building, dating back to 1886, and its clients have included AC/DC, Alanis Morrisette, and Elton John. The Armoury Studios (1688 W. 1st Ave.) counters with names like Motley Crue, Good Charlotte, and Joe Satriani.

And if you can’t meet the stars, at least you can scoop up their memorabilia. The Rock Shop (1076 Granville St.; 604-685-9228) sells stickers, patches, and T-shirts for groups ranging from Green Day to Led Zeppelin. Similar offerings abound at Cherry Bomb (841 Granville St.; 604-408-0301) and Bang-On (961 Robson St.; 604-602-0371). The venerable Neptoon Records (3561 Main St.; 604-324-1229) has Vancouver concert posters and handbills, such as one for a September 26, 1969 Iron Butterfly bash at the PNE.

Perhaps your real dream is to whip off power chords on a Fender Stratocaster in front of a stack of Marshall amplifiers. In that case, don’t miss major musical instrument retailers like Tom Lee Music (929 Granville St.; 604-685-8471) and Long & McQuade (412 W. Hastings St.; 604-682-5288).

There’s no doubt about it. When rock fans visit Vancouver, they can echo the words of Bryan Adams in his 1985 #1 hit: “It isn’t too hard to see we’re in Heaven.” 


Bon Jovi, “Raise Your Hands”: Jon shouts out the city’s name during the fade chorus

Genesis, “Vancouver”: 1978 B-side puts a twist on the storyline of “She’s Leaving Home” by the Beatles

Tom Cochrane, “Life Is a Highway”: Alluding to “Vancouver’s lights,” this hit cracked the Top 10 in Canada and the US

Jeff Buckley, “Vancouver”: Dark number from Buckley’s 1998 album Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk)

Denise McCann, “I Love Vancouver”: Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and BTO played guitar on this mid-80’s single by his wife