Spero Kokonas standing in front of the Louis' sign
Spero Kokonas managed Louis' Pub for over a decade.

The man behind the music

Booking bands for Louis’ provided students with memories, and friends, for life

The first act Spero Kokonas ever booked for Louis' Pub was a band called Bob’s Your Uncle. That was for a show on Monday, May 30, 1988.

After that, Kokonas booked hundreds more acts during his tenure as manager of Louis’ for the next decade or so.

Working at Louis’ Pub wasn’t just a job for Spero Kokonas, it was his passion, his fun, his life. For him, coming to work was not a chore.

Kokonas stands inside Louis' Pub.
Kokonas stands inside Louis' Pub.

“It was awesome,” says Kokonas. He started working at Louis’ as a server in 1986 before expanding his role to manager two years later.

When he took the role of finding entertainment for Louis’, he quickly realized it was not easy since his budget he had to work with was light.

“Getting (bands) for a cheap, cheap, cheap – let me say it again, cheap – price because our main focus at Louis’ was quality food, drink, atmosphere for the students at a reasonable price because we were catering to students. Their budgets were tight. We had to make sure their dollar went a long way.

“It was always about the student which provided us with the opportunity to book a variety of bands.”

USask students expected a good time when they walked through the doors at Louis’.

“Besides studying, which is what every student should be doing, the off-hours of your time on campus were always key. Social skills are developed, friendships are developed. There were always discussions among the students about their futures. Those bonds were originally developed at Louis’.”

Kokonas says the timing was right to bring big-name Canadian bands to experience the prairies.

“Our biggest asset was MuchMusic because it allowed Canadian bands because of Can-Con (Canadian content regulations under the CRTC) to be featured on MuchMusic, the first Canadian music television station.”

That made booking bands a little easier for Kokonas.

“So where else in the ’80s and ’90s can a Canadian band go and tour the country at every single university from Halifax to Victoria. That was the Canadian rock tour.”

Many bands criss-crossed the country looking for exposure and what better place than a post-secondary campus, he says. Those bands were playing directly to the people who were buying the albums, cassette tapes and CDs.

It’s not easy for Kokonas to narrow down some of his best memories.

The walls of Kokonas' office at home are covered with memories.
The walls of Kokonas' office at home are covered with memories.
“There’s a lot of memories from a lot of events, different types of events. The first one that stands out to me was the first time Jeff Healy played Louis'. He actually played Louis’ twice. The first time was just before Jeff went to Los Angeles to do Johnny Carson, literally the day before. The next day he flies to L.A. for Johnny Carson. That was November of 1988.

“The second time he came was February ’89, right after he did the Grammys show. He flew up here from L.A. to do Louis’, right after the Grammys!

“And a bunch of other bands, their first time at Louis’, like The Tragically Hip, Feb. 27, 1987. There were maybe 80 people in there for that first show. They were huge out east, but were just starting to be recognized out west.

“Other first time shows -- Monday, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 22, 1991, The Barenaked Ladies, their first time at Louis’. It was a blizzard on the Monday, but a sold-out show with 478 people and it was nuts! But back then, the shows were over by midnight on a Monday night. I took the band to Amigos and we drank tequila all night.”

SOME OF THE BANDS TO PLAY LOUIS’ PUB OVER THE YEARS:

  1. k.d. lang – May 12, 1983
  2. The Northern Pikes – May 13, 1987
  3. The Tragically Hip – Feb. 27, July 25-26, 1988, Sept. 12-13, 1989
  4. The Jeff Healy Band – Feb. 23, 1989
  5. Barenaked Ladies, Oct. 28, 29, 1991
  6. The Blues Traveler, Oct. 18, 1994
  7. Ashley MacIsaac, June 28, Nov. 22, 1995
  8. Wide Mouth Mason, Sept. 9, Nov. 11, Dec. 2, 1995
  9. Great Big Sea, April 9, 1997
  10. Cowboy Junkies, Aug. 30, 1998
  11. Nickelback, Sept. 18, 1999, Feb. 5, 2000
  12. Tegan and Sara, Nov. 9, 2002
  13. Broken Social Scene, May 27, 2003
  14. Billy Talent, Sept. 27, 2003
  15. Dierks Bentley, Oct. 25, 2005
-Many of these bands played Louis’ multiple times
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