Merry Keithmas

Food bank 'fundrager' celebrates the life and times of Keith Richards

Keithmas VI - A Food Bank Fundrager (19+) with Rich Hope His Evil Doers, the Jolts, the Vicious Cycles Mc, Elliot C Way the Wild North, the Rentalmen, the Ballantynes, La Chinga, Dahle Brothers and the Tranzmitors is Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. at the Rickshaw Theatre (254 E. Hastings). Tickets $15; available at TimbreConcerts.com and Red Cat, Zulu, Highlife and Neptoon.

Seventy-one-year-old rock god Keith Richards will probably never celebrate his birthday in Vancouver but, if he does, this city has got the party for him.

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For six years now, the birth of the Rolling Stones guitarist has been honoured in truly bizarro fashion with a local Christmas concert fundraiser for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society.

Christened "Keithmas", the annual concert sees Vancouver's hardest, fastest, and most virtuosic rockers honouring the oeuvre

of Richards and the Rolling Stones, while swaggering about and swilling Jack Daniels - Richards' alleged drink of choice - from a giant bottle on stage.

"Keithmas is a celebration of the life and times of Keith Richards," explains co-founder and local concert promoter John Hewer, goodnaturedly. "It's his birthday on December 18th and it's the Christmas season, so we combined the two to create our own unique holiday."

Obviously. The premise is simple: Each year, Hewer and fellow Hidden Charms promoter James Hayden invite their favourite local bands to take part, with each band choosing three or four songs from the Stones/Richards catalogue to play.

Since its inception, Keithmas has raised roughly $15,000 for the food bank - money that helps the society purchase and distribute food and expand its programs. And, like the grizzled Richards, Keithmas has only gotten better with age: growing from five bands, a few hundred fundraised dollars and a car load of donated food in 2010, to nine bands and a goal of $10,000 raised this year from donations and the door.

Hewer says he now has to turn away bands

looking to participate, and that Keithmas, which sold out in advance last year, has outgrown its former venue, the Electric Owl, and will be tearing down the doors of the Rickshaw this year.

Of the enduring allure, Hewer attributes it to one simple thing: "(Keith Richards) IS rock 'n' roll.

"There's all sorts of clichés: the outlaw lifestyle, yada, yada," he continues. "But he represents freedom, really, and to do what one wants to do. The pure essence of rock 'n' roll in the one scrawny, bony little man."

Despite having big riffs to fill, though, the tribute show never gives way to note-for-note "greatest hits" genuflection. Instead, Hewer says, Keithmas bands consistently embrace the challenge, putting up Stones songs with entirely new spins or rediscovering forgotten gems.

For example, over the years, Keithmas has seen stoner rock act the Highway Kind bringing Alex Chilton's rarely heard 1970 arrangement of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" to the fore, or longstanding Keithmas supporter Rich Hope resurrecting the lesser known "Jiving Sister Fanny".

"Rich Hope and his Evil Doers are, every year, the highlight I would say," says Hewer. "A couple years ago they did a whole Stones disco take on it, a country vibe to it. Every year he kind of takes a different run at it."

Other Keithmas highlights this year include the Jolts slamming through a punk rock homage, powerpop act the Tranzmitors diving into the Stones' earlier

work, and brothers Kurt and Ryan Dahle, of the New Pornographers and Mounties/Limblifter, respectively, hashing out a mystery collaboration.

"Ryan Dahle ... his Can-rock pedigree is pretty incredible," enthuses Hewer. "And Kurt's drumming is amazing - I've admired him as a musician for years. So they're putting together something and I have no idea what that's going to sound like. If you think Limblifter or Mounties,

there's nothing Stones-like about that at all, so having them on stage is going to be amazing."

And if that - or the scent of cigarette-addled denim and booze-fueled volunteerism - wasn't appealing enough, Hewer says that Keithmas has also secured the ultimate raffle prize: a pair of Keef's pants (bringing the organizers one step closer to having the man himself actually there).

- Kelsey Klassen writes for our sister paper the Westender

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