Monday, July 6, 2009

The Tragically Awesome Hip Story

This is going to be a long story but it’s such a good one that I have to share and you have to promise to finish it all!

I have to give a little background though to start. I’ll begin by saying that I bought my first Tragically Hip album when I was in grade 7, either 12 or 13 years old. I got sucked into one of those Columbia House Club Memberships, remember those? You got 12 CDs for 99 cents but then of course you had to buy a bunch more at ridiculous prices over the next few years. Then the second you didn’t pay you got a collections letter? I wonder if I still owe them money…

I remember that two of those first 12 CDs (which were, by the way, my first CDs ever - not tapes) were En Vogue and The Tragically Hip’s “Up to Here”. It was only their second album, their first hitting mainstream recognition. They released it in 1989 but I guess it was about a year or two old when I got it. At the time, I’m assuming “New Orleans Is Sinking” was on the radio and that’s how I knew who they were; my parents didn’t listen and I think Clay was in a Van Halen phase…

I was instantly a fan. I loved the entire CD. I remember sitting at the dining room table and looking through the CD jacket memorizing words (for which I’ve always had an uncanny knack) and mom looked at the song list and said “Over Opiated”? Is THAT what they’re like?” I was like “NO! Of course not…” I had no idea what over-opiated meant but had a feeling by mom’s response that it wasn’t good. ;)

So 19 years, 10 more albums and countless concerts later – I am still a fan. I would go so far as to say that much has changed in my life since I was 12 – go figure. My tastes, style, life, family, interests and dreams have changed so much and many times. I am not at all sure why I have never stopped loving their music, they have certainly changed their style many times, their music now sounds nothing like their first albums. But it always seems to fit for me. The only things I have known and/or loved as long as or longer than the Tragically Hip are my own family, my best friend Kathryn and her family, Tolkien and Volkswagen

I know not everyone likes the band specifically, but I’m sure you can understand at least to a point, having an interest like it.

The last time I saw The Hip was only a few summers ago, here in Newfoundland when they played an outdoor show in Grand Falls Windsor. My friend Sonia, whom at the time I barely knew, and I made the 4 hour trek out with the sixth Harry Potter book (released at midnight that night before we left) to rock out in the pouring rain on a muddy field where tents sold fresh mussels and the Budweiser bus sold disgusting beer. (Sorry but Bud sucks). Good times.

So, that’s the back story… now to the present. The Tragically Hip released an album this year and therefore is touring this summer/fall. Barton was in Vancouver for a conference last week when they played the awesome Orpheum Theatre and was lucky enough to go with friends of ours to the show. The concert here in St John’s would be the day after he got back and so, assuming he’d be jet lagged and having just saw them, I bought myself a lone floor seat to go by myself. After the Vancouver show Barton called and said it was so awesome and was he really not able to go with me?! The only places you could get two seats together were pretty lousy so I didn’t really do anything about it. The stadium is small, so really, no seat is bad. But I was determined this time to get some good photos so I wanted good seats.

At the conference, Barton ran into a friend who we knew from here but who is currently living in Vernon BC. He expressed disappointment that he didn’t know Barton was going to the concert because he could have given him great tickets… someone he knew who knew someone’s brother’s cousin’s wife… you know the drill. Anyway, Barton told him that I was going in St John’s the next week, so see what he could do.

Fast forward a few days and Barton is sitting in the Calgary airport, waiting for a connection to come home and he gets an email from said friend who writes, “My brother-in-law is the head sound guy on the tour, can get you tickets and possibly, backstage passes. Scalp Carman’s tickets and you can go together.”

See? Now you know where the story is going… but it’s still a good one…

You know with stuff like this you kind of shrug and go “yeah, whatever.” It happens so often that someone says something and nothing happens because someone forgets, or the wrong name is given, etc. Not that I don’t trust our friend, but I wasn’t about to go and sell my ticket that very second.

The funny part is that, as I’ve previously posted, the sporting season of the summer has begun. As it stood, I assumed Barton was home the night of the concert and didn’t really worry about all the games the kids had to get to. Now he wants to go and we have to find someone to play with Mattea and do a town-wide-sport-pick-up of three kids. I have a wonderful friend who understood the importance of the situation and actually cancelled hair appointments (only my womanly friends will understand the importance of THAT) to have Mattea over and then take our van out and about to pick everyone else up.

As we’re getting ready to go Barton got another email “tickets are at the gate, need photo ID to pick up.” Okay, we’re getting closer, but I still wasn’t ready to advertise my ticket on Facebook. Plus, I figured, if we had two great tickets plus backstage passes, it might be worth the loss of the cost of my ticket.

At the window, the lady tells us she’s still waiting for the list of names for requested tickets, could we wait aside? Great… here’s where she tells us there is no one by that name on her list.
Then she calls out Barton’s name and passes him an envelope with two tickets and backstage passes. I won’t lie and say a few explicative words were not expressed.

So now to sell my ticket. Rule number one for scalping tickets… don’t have just one. Rule number two: try not to scalp tickets to a show that is not sold out. Most of the people walking by were in groups of two and four and everyone already had tickets. No one wanted my ticket and I was about to give up. Would our MasterCard purchase protection cover the cost of a ticket to a concert I couldn’t attend due to illness? I’d need a doctor’s note… but where oh where would I get one of those?! ;)

Then this guy starts coming up the stadium steps, unassuming, looking a little lost. “Do you have a ticket?” “No.” “Do you want one?” “Who’s playing?” “The Tragically Hip” “They’re pretty good.” “Only the best Canadian band ever.” “How much?” “Well, they were 79, but how about $65?” “Hmmm, okay.”

Buddy gives me $70 and walks away. What the…?

So, off we run into Mile One. This time I was smart, I had my good camera and a jiffy marker. Just in case… actually, I was really prepared. I figured I’d get a pretty good picture, so I actually brought a matte from a frame, thinking I could get the matte signed and then get a photo for my office (more about my office later). The seats, of course, were deadly. We were 7 rows up, just off the stage. The show was, of course, awesome, they always are worth it. This tour is called “An Evening with the Tragically Hip.” It’s only them, no opening band, with two full sets. Tons of old stuff and even a few songs I hadn’t heard live before. The singing ran about 2.5 hours and I’m so glad I have married someone who shares the appreciation!

We noticed part way through the show “my guy”. The guy that bought my ticket was just down from us and he was just standing there watching. At one point, he pulled out his cell and took a picture. He didn’t move much, wasn’t smiling or grooving, just watching.

The show ends and we’re like, “What do we do now?” We sit there and wait and the entire stadium empties out. Then we notice a couple of people hanging around with the same passes (actually stickers) as we had. All in all there were about 20 of us. Someone yelled out that if we had a backstage pass we should line up against the wall. In the hockey box actually. It felt a little weird, a few people cracked jokes about being thankful we lived in a safe country then we laughed at the joke being on us and that we’d be asked to start stacking chairs or picking up garbage!

They led us to a room under the stadium with a bar and we all just stood around; a few people chatted, they obviously knew each other. Then I noticed “my guy”. What the heck was he doing back here?! Why on earth, if he could get backstage or have any connections whatsoever, would he pay $70 for MY ticket?! He seemingly didn’t even know who was playing, so if he didn’t have connections how did he end up backstage? Was he sitting beside Gord Downie’s brother? Would I have ended up backstage anyway? He was chatting around with people and seemed to all of a sudden belong. It was the weirdest thing!!!

I suddenly started to think that maybe I didn’t want to meet them you know? What if they’re jerks?

Then Paul Langlois, guitarist, walked in with his two daughters. He walked over, said hi, asked about the show and introduced the girls. Half the group seemed to not notice the entrance. I’m assuming a good group of those people were family and friends but expected, even if that were the case, a little whoop or cheer for a good show. Nothing. No one even seemed to look over. I didn’t want to take a photo as no one else was and he had his kids and that didn’t seem right. So we just watched. Someone came over and introduced themselves, they had made necklaces and gave some to the girls. Barton elbowed me and said “Why didn’t you bring purses?!” Truthfully, I had considered it, but it just seemed too weird. Gord Sinclair came in next with his son, did the same thing, met some people with a hug, shook some hands and said hi.

It was the weirdest most anti-climactic thing! All of a sudden they were just so normal. I’m not sure if it’s a Canadian thing, a Newfoundland thing or what, but it always seems a little calmer here. Russell Crowe can show up in a bar for Open Mic and sing with the Great Big Sea for fun, Kevin Spacey can be told to take off his disguise so people don’t stare and Elvis Costello and Diana Krall can own a home in Flatrock. I knew I wouldn’t been screaming and hyperventilating, but I did expect some excitement, especially within the group in general.

It suddenly didn’t seem to be the “Can you sign my frame matte”? or “Can I have a photo?” type situation. So we just watched. Gord Sinclair and Rob Baker also came in, along with the keyboardist they have on tour, but Gord Downie never did. It was pretty AWESOME.

Then I noticed a couple introduce themselves to Rob and she pulled out her cell to take a photo. The photo etiquette was officially broken… now was my chance. Most of the band members and their families had already left and I was waiting for this lady to quit her conversation.

The big guy at the door starting telling us to finish our drinks and head out - time was limited… we actually started to leave and then Barton told me I had to either do it now or never again. I went back in…

I walked over to Rob and waited for a break in the conversation. All of a sudden the lady pointed out that I was waiting so I introduced myself. I thanked him for the quote he gave me for Smudge Magazine on an article I wrote about local NL guitar maker Chris Griffiths of Garrison Guitars and we chatted about the guitars, which he still uses but were bought out by Gibson. Then I asked if I could have a picture. I snagged a young guy waiting for a word and got the photo. Then the guys were lamenting that all they had were their cells and so I took a photo of them to email later. We said good bye and off we went. I had no autograph, but an awesome photo and just a super cool memory of how the whole night unfolded. Strange but amazing.

I still don’t understand what happened with the guy who bought my ticket, but it’s not a big town and if I ever see him again I’ll have to ask.

See? I told you it would be long, but so good.

PS - with the money from my ticket we bought concert shirts and a poster. I haven't bought a concert shirt in ages but they're really nice. They're using American Apparel so they actually fit nicely and are soft (and ethical). I got a pink one with swirly sketching on it. If you look closely enough (and please don't, it's right on my boob) you can read "The Tragically Hip" in script, Barton got the tour shirt. The poster is for my office... more about that later.

There's a link to the right of my album of photos. Kind of a lot of the same, but fun and they're bigger than these. You can click the photos in this post for larger views...