It might be Vancouver’s strangest holiday tradition. Once every December, in the midst of all the shopping and decorating, Vancouverites set aside a moment to celebrate one of the more obscure events of the season: Keith Richards’ birthday.
Keithmas, the annual holiday tribute to Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards, is back for its fourth instalment this year, Dec. 20 at the Electric Owl pub on Main Street. At least nine bands will take the stage in a charity concert marking the 70th birthday of one of rock’s timeless (if not ageless) icons.
The concert serves as a fundraiser for the Greater Vancouver Foodbank Society. Bands, all of whom play a short set of Rolling Stones or Keith Richards covers, perform for free. All proceeds from ticket sales go the food bank, and guests who bring non-perishable food to donate get discounted admission.
True to its namesake, Keithmas is usually quite the rager of a show. Throughout the night, band members drink from a giant bottle onstage filled with Jack Daniels, the drink of choice of the Stones’ hard-partying, take-no-prisoners guitar player, according to an article by the Vancouver Sun’s Pete McMartin. Meanwhile, crowds have grown bigger every year, with the event now raising upward of $2,800 for the food bank, plus several hundred pounds of canned and boxed goods.
So why does Keith Richards’ birthday bring out the masses year after year? It has a lot to do with the aging star’s anti-hero image, Keithmas organizer John Hewer explained in the Vancouver Sun. The deep lines in his face testify to more than a half century of drug and alcohol abuse, living dangerously and heeding no one’s rules but his own. In 2010, English journalist Peter Hitchens famously called Richards, “a capering streak of living gristle who ought to be exhibited as a warning to the young of what drugs can do to you even if you’re lucky enough not to choke on your own vomit.”
But, amazingly, he’s still here, which is a Christmas miracle worth celebrating.
The fourth annual Keithmas is Friday, Dec. 20, starting at 9 p.m. at the Electric Owl. Bands featured include No Sinner, Rich Hope and His Blue Rich Rangers, The Ramores, The Rentalmen, The Highway Kind, Spoon River, Skinny Kids and The Ancient Weavers. Tickets are $10.
Anyone been to Keithmas before? How was it?