Burton Cummings to play 4 shows over 15 years at theatre that bears his name

July Talk, Burton Cummings added to Iceberg Alley lineup in St. John's

Burton Cummings plans to perform four more concerts over the next 15 years at the theatre that bears his name.

The former Guess Who frontman and True North Sports and Entertainment announced the continuance of a sponsorship deal that will keep the Cummings name on the heritage building until 2032 — and provide revenue for more improvements to the 110-year-old venue.

"It's an absolute thrill. I'm honoured and believe me, folks, I don't take this for granted. I don't take this lightly. I will do my very best," Cummings said at press conference on the theatre's stage on Friday.

The Burton Cummings Theatre opened in 1907 as the Walker Theatre, a vaudeville venue. It went dark during the Great Depression, was seized by the city for unpaid taxes and was converted into a movie house called the Odeon Theatre in 1945.

A restoration allowed the theatre to resume functioning as a live performance venue in 1991, when it was rechristened the Walker Theatre.

In 2002, under pressure to raise more money, the theatre's non-profit board of directors reached a deal to rename the venue after Burton Cummings, who agreed to hold five fundraising concerts.

He wound up performing two benefit concerts at the venue that generated $120,000 for the theatre. Cummings offered to play more concerts, said Lorne Saifer, his manager.

"The first time around, when they asked us to put his name on the theatre, they were really desperate to do something, because it was volunteer and they were struggling for money everywhere they went," Saifer said. 

"We agreed to the shows, and every time we said, 'Come on, we want to do a show,' they couldn't get it together because either the boiler wasn't working or [they] couldn't get occupancy for the building."

True North, which owns the MTS Centre and the Winnipeg Jets, started managing the venue in 2014. The firm purchased the theatre last year for $1, dissolved the non-profit organization attached to it and then spent almost $1 million to upgrade plumbing and electrical systems, True North senior vice-president Kevin Donnelly said.

The Burt still faces a six-figure infrastructure deficit, Donnelly said. Cummings' performances will help pay for better accessibility within the theatre and a new marquee outside, he added.

Unlike the non-profit Walker Theatre board, True North isn't divulging the breakdown of its sponsorship deal.

"That's a commercial deal between us and Burton and so those terms will stay within us. But we are redirecting those funds. It becomes an important component to our plans for renovation and rehabilitation," Donnelly said.

Cummings said he still finds it surreal the theatre is named after him, given that his parents went to see movies at the venue before he was born.

"A lot of my heart stays here. I'm a Winnipegger. I've got two passports, but I'm still a Winnipegger," said the Los Angeles resident.

The first of Cummings' new concerts is slated for Sept. 22. Tickets go on sale May 5 at Ticketmaster.

Cummings said he will perform with a full band for the September concert but may play solo at a future concert.