Unlikely duo bookend Grey Cup halftime show
Justin Bieber performs at the Rose Garden in Portland, Ore., on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012. (The Oregonian / Thomas Boyd)
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, November 24, 2012 7:05AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 24, 2012 4:13PM EST
TORONTO -- They are two boys from Ontario, who grew up about 300 kilometres from each other.
But the distance is galactic between the two acts that will bookend the Grey Cup halftime show Sunday -- grizzled folk rocker Gordon Lightfoot and baby-faced former moptopper Justin Bieber.
Some CFL fans aren't feeling the love for Bieber, who typically draws an audience far too young for the beer that is a staple of Grey Cup celebrations.
Comment sections on news websites suggest that even with the roof closed for Sunday's game, the welcome at the Rogers Centre may not be all that warm for the mega-star from Stratford, Ont.
But league executives are delighted with their headliner, knowing full well a demographic that would never otherwise tune into the CFL's season finale may now be planning their day around the halftime show.
"Yes, we want to get new people watching it, we want to get young people watching it," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon says of the show's lineup.
The halftime show will also feature the band Marianas Trench and Mission, B.C., pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen, whose "Call Me Maybe" is the ear worm song of the year.
"People ask me if the decision on the halftime show was your 6 1/2-year-old daughter and I will say, 'No.' But the decision was strategic to making sure we get young people to think about the next 100 years, that this is about getting a new audience to get into the Grey Cup and the CFL."
The 15-minute halftime show will be a tight production, the CFL promises, performed on a stage that will be lowered from the stadium's rafters.
It will open with Lightfoot, a Bob Dylan contemporary and Canadian music icon. In fact, Lightfoot, 74, personified CanCon before former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's policy of reserving space on Canadian airwaves for home-grown music laid the foundation for the waves of Canadian music megastars that followed.
Lightfoot sounded crisp during a brief soundcheck Saturday afternoon.
A single spotlight shone on a small stage near midfield of the darkened stadium as the warm sound of his voice and acoustic guitar filled the cavernous facility. Many guests at the stadium's hotel pressed up against their room windows to catch a glimpse of the legendary singer-songwriter.
Marianas Trench followed with a soundcheck from the main stage near the 20-yard line.
There may be some interplay of performers -- Bieber has boosted Jepsen's career and she's handing off to him. But don't expect to see Lightfoot leaning in to provide backing vocals on "Baby" or Bieber, 18, trilling along to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." (For the record, the CFL isn't releasing the official song lineup in advance.)
"That's not going to happen, no," says Sara Moore, the league's vice-president of marketing. "I think both artists on their own make such a strong statement, and have their own fans, and have such iconic songs in the case of Gordon Lightfoot and really fun pop songs to sing along with Justin Bieber that I think we showcase them both so much better by letting them sing on their own."
Getting Bieber is a major coup, Moore admits. She won't reveal how the star was landed, but says he's a fan of the game.
"He grew up in Ontario. He's a fan of Canadian football. And he was actually ... I mean, I don't want to make it sound easy, but it was a great match. And I think he saw that," she says.
"He's touring right now. He's got a very successful tour. It's in Canada right now, which makes it easier than it might have been, had he been in Asia or Europe to get him to come back. So I think all of the stars aligned, so to speak, to make this happen this weekend."
The league has heard from fans that don't think Bieber and the Grey Cup are a great match, she admits. But with tickets for the 100th edition of the CFL championship sold out months before the halftime show came together, there's no risk for the league in plowing ahead anyway.
And in fact, there may be more risk for Canadian football if it doesn't bring Bieber fans and their demographic on board.
"Anything that makes it to a hundred has to keep reinventing itself to some extent. Has to keep being fresh and new," Moore says.
"We've been really focused on using the opportunity of the 100th milestone to celebrate the past but really focus everybody's attention on the great position the league is in now and what the future is for our league.
"And if you look at young artists, like Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen, and who their fans are, that is our future. That is the future of this league."