Wide Eyed & Alive in '95

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"A cap of good acid costs five dollars and for that you can hear the Universal Symphony with God singing solo and Holy Ghost on drums." --Hunter S Thompson

Time it right and you can also hear The Tragically Hip in their youthful prime in a field just east of the Mighty Canadian Rockies and just south of Calgary. In the summer of 1995 High River, AB was one of the stops on the now defunct Another Roadside Attraction tour that was put on by The Tragically Hip. It was a summer of Canadiana, Adventure, Friendship and a bit of lost naivety. It was for me at least.

Buy the Ticket. Take the Ride.

That concert was 16 years ago. July 15, 1995. It was my 6th Hip show and first outside of the friendly confines of Ontario. My first Road Game.

This is how I remember it going down....

This was a period of firsts for me. I had just completed my first year of college and I found myself in Alberta and on my first work-term for credit. I was embedded in Kananaskis working for Canadian Pacific Hotels (now Fairmont). This was an area with the scenery of Banff but not the notoriety. K-Country flew way under the radar. There was no town site, just the resort(s) where we worked. This was a hospitality gig. My first of course. 

The Lodge @ Kananaskis

I specialized in the fast-paced world of Mini-Bars. Every day was an adrenaline rush. I was entrusted with a Master Key which is a pretty powerful fucking device. I had the Power to open any room I wanted after knocking politely and saying, "Mini-Bar". I'd check the fridge for missing items and I'd do the same to the little snack basket as well.

"Oh, I see you enjoyed some cashews last night, eh?"

I mark it down.

"That's $9.95 Sucka. A domestic beer to wash it down too? Sounds yummy. Bam! Another check-mark on the bill and another $5.95 coming our way from you."

(Looking back, I think the Japanese wish they had saved a bit more of their cash. Man they spent a lot out west. They didn't even finish their full cigarettes. It’s a status thing. No shit. We North Americans will be eating the same shit sandwich soon enough. Maybe we are already.)

Then I'd replace these items like a hunter replaces his bait. What a rush! The trap is set again! Who's next?

Sometimes the guests would leave their own extra beer or liquor. I know. Crazy. We had to really control our urges. Couldn't just plop down and crack a cold one. No. There was a certain level of professionalism involved. Protocol if you will.

These items were gently placed in a milk crate inside the Mini-Bar Office Closet. We would have to sign them out at a later date. I only mention this because it is somewhat relevant to the ensuing story.

Our department consisted of three Mini-Bar Men. Two of us went to The Hip that year. The other got screwed working a solo mission on a Sunday. Did I mention we had walkie-talkies too? My first. We were fuckin' Hooked-up. Dang yo.

Time & Space

I think about this being 16 years ago and it's like, "Holy shit. Where did the time go?"

As I sit here running the math, that's almost half my life. I remember when an entire lifetime was 16 years on its own. I got my license on my 16th birthday and I waited for that moment literally forever.

Never climb with just a warm 12-pack & no water.
So a lot has happened in my life since this Hip concert. And a lot has happened to everyone who shared that experience with me. Of course it has. I can say this with certainty even thought today I no longer know these people. I knew them and now I know of them. But I no longer know know them. And that's just life taking us all down our individual paths. The beauty of it is though, that we were able to intersect at that moment in time (and I'm talking over a period of a couple of years not just this weekend portrayed here) and that that was part of our collective journey which has brought us to where we find ourselves today. A common shared experience that becomes a binding tie down the road.

It's hard to know it when it's happening, that this is what's being created. You're unaware that down the road a random thought or memory will pop into your head about a particular time and make you smile. Maybe just when it's most needed. This is how the "Sound Track To Our Lives" is created. It's what make music so powerful. Ingrained triggers are created.

So The Hip during this period are huge. Just fucking huge. Everyone and their grandmother's a fan. Their concerts were events. They changed a bit going forward from this point. 1995 is when Day For Night was being toured and their setlists still contained B-sides from Up to Here and Road Apples. And of course everything was in play off of Fully Completely and Day for Night. Beyond this with the emergence of Trouble at the Henhouse and Ahead By A Century they became a little more arty and lost some of their bar band edge. This was just a natural maturing process. That's not a knock by-the-way. Just an observation.

RVs > Moving Vans

I'm not what you would call a natural leader. I'm more of a behind the scenes tactician. My wife likes to use the term manipulator during our tense times. I don't really concur. That sounds so devious and that's never been my angle at all. I usually plant ideas that help move things along and I swear to god that 99 times out of 100 it's to create fun times. Epic fun times. Now I am not going to sit here and take credit for putting everything together, because I certainly didn't. This operation took a lot from everyone to pull off.

We ended up being a group of about 20 I would say. There or about. I believe that it was just I and my Mini-Bar compatriot who, of the entire group, knew everyone. You see, we had a couple other groups of people joining us from Banff. We knew them through school as they were completing their own work terms at The Banff Springs Hotel. We were also going with staff/friends we had made that summer working at Kananaskis.

A lot of the planning for this (and other confidential missions) was done in the room of our Head Shipper/Receiver inside of our Staff Accommodations. Let's call this place the Social Hub, alright? After our Mini-Bar duty we'd normally head over to Woody's Pub to purchase some off-sale beers and then converge for a pow-wow.

This is the room where the idea of going to The Hip would have been tossed out there and of course everyone was 'down'. The idea of taking RVs to the show was a home-run right off the bat. Everyone loved it. Of course. Who the fuck wouldn't? Someone had a connection with an RV place in Calgary. Phone calls were made and we were locked in. Tables, seating, couches, beds, fridges, TVs and toilets even. It was palatial. It was so simple too. Too simple.
The RV dream died right before we were supposed to go. Like a day before. Maybe two. I remember a feeling of utter desperation. Similar to what one might feel when their VW Van breaks down in the northern reaches of Maine in the complete middle of nowhere on the way to see a Phish Festival. Like a punch to the solar-plexus.

So what could we do? Basically no one going to the show had cars of their own and we had some serious gear to bring along as well. I want to say that it was one of the Social Hub roommates who saved the day by procuring us a couple of Budget moving trucks. Yeah, that's right. Budget Fucking Moving Trucks!

Um...perfect. Couldn't have been any more perfect. They had roll up back doors and a sliding door between the cargo hold and the driver's cab. There's no way we would have gotten our deposit back if we had taken those RVs. No way. Maybe the RV place knew what was up too? Short of burning these bad boys to the ground it was going to be pretty hard to do any sort of significant damage to them. Just sweep or spray 'em out when we're done.

We ended up tossing 3 mattresses from our dorm beds into the back of each truck. Pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, coolers, food, chairs. I think we even had a couch. One guys won a keg of beer at a staff event so that came along. We also had the Mini-Bar stash box of booze I mentioned earlier and of course everyone had their own personal supply of libations.

View Another Roadside Attraction 1995 in a larger map

It's Just Another Roadside Attraction

The show took place on a Saturday. We rolled out on the Friday evening after the Banff crew met us down in Kananaskis. In all we were 2 trucks and 2 cars. I think one car was a Volvo Wagon and the other make/model eludes me but I'm pretty sure it was a rental. The plan was to back-road it from K-Country to somewhere a little closer to the concert site, park and chill. Overall it really wasn't that far to go. We were just having fun being 'on the road' and enjoying the novelty of having some drinks in the back of a moving truck as we rolled down the road. Half the fun is getting there. True statement.

My memories of this first night are vague. I don't remember where we stopped. Was it on the side of some back-road? Did we find a spot in a field? I don't remember everyone getting out of the vehicles and mingling/drinking/eating etc. I don't remember if there were tents or if everyone just herded into the trucks.

What I do remember clear as the screen I'm looking at right now is discovering the next morning that I'd misplaced the tickets. It's such a gross feeling. And getting 'The look of Death', that doesn't help. It just adds to the anxiety because now you start to doubt yourself. Of course I didn't forget the tickets. There was zero fucking chance of that. Zero. I had just tucked them away good. Too good. In trying to make sure I didn't lose the tickets I lost the tickets. Briefly. Meaning it just wasn't popping into my head where I had put them. And for the record, "Looks of Death' do not help in these situations. A joint would have helped. Even a small bowl. I eventually found them of course. They were in my kit-bag > side zipper. Right where I put them!

Turns out that wasn't the biggest drama/drag of the day. I think as we were getting close to entering with traffic getting thicker, bumper-to-bumper style, you know, the rental car that was with us ran into the back of the truck I was riding in. This would have been a routine minor fender bender except for that our bumper was much higher and interacted instead with their radiator. I actually thought the sound was broken beer cans. Phew!

If you're not into having a cool engine this is no big deal. Most people (and cars) are though. I believe they had to go and get it fixed in town and ended up missing a good portion of 'Lot Time'.

Alice D Millionaire - Owsley 'Bear' Stanley - RIP

I didn't know it at the time, but hanging out in the lot like this was a prelude of things to come for me. At this point in my life I hadn't taken any interest in Jerry Garcia and his band the Grateful Dead. I had no idea that one of my favorite musicians today and one of the greatest to ever strap on a guitar was at that point living out his final month. I didn't know what 'Shakedown Street' was, the pre-show carnival in the Grateful Dead lot and later to be carried over into the Phish scene. I couldn't yet imagine the cooking & vending & meeting & dosing & colours & smells & sounds that would soon become so routine to me. This was like my spring training. It was a bunch of Canadians, mostly hicks (aren't we all?) dinking beer, listening to tunes, BBQing, maybe chucking a baseball or flinging a Frisbee.

I don't remember where the LSD came from, but yep.

Is there anything better than a Day Trip with friends? Rhetorical question > Don't bother. I seemed to do this a lot at Hip shows back then. It was everywhere and it was good. Esquire recently wrote an article called, "Can you even buy acid anymore?"  Yes you can. It's just a bit harder. I met a guy in Thailand from Colorado who came over with a Visine bottle of liquid. I have a great picture of Sunrise 2000, but the one in my head is always a bit better. It also helps if you're in say Upstate NY attending a Dead related concert. The past couple of summers have been quite enjoyable in that regard. When you can see the trees breathe it's a good reminder that they are alive. Take from that what you will. I'm not here to preach. Just saying that an alternative perception of things from time to time never killed anyone.

Back to High River...

This video is from 10 days before this concert. Gives you a good idea of the state of things at that time.

Not everyone took the psychedelics. In fact I believe there were only 3 of us who did. I had spent a night of my Spring Break '95 in a Daytona Beach hotel communal laundry room tripping balls with these 2, so we had walked the walk together before. There's usually a period from about hours 1-3 that you gotta survive the madness. I've always found that the best way to do this is to 'Embrace the Madness'. You can't fight it. You can't stop it. You can't press pause. This is the ride. It's not real. It WILL end. You will come down. Go with it. Remember to smile. Aaaaaah.

The most vivid memory that I have is sitting up on a grassy hill right in front of where we had parked and looking down on our spot and watching people walk by as they made their way into the concert venue. There were cement tunnels that led under the road to the other side where the show was being held. We sat on high during the Peak Out, taking turns going down the hill to reload on beers. Alcohol couldn't hurt us now.

I could see the mountains far off to the west, but what stood out to me were the equally spaced out Puff Ball clouds that stretched on forever in all other directions. A Sky Like Forever. It was just row after row of puffy cloud > blue sky > puffy cloud > blue sky, etc. There's a part in the movie KOYAANISQATSI that always takes me back to this moment. The wind would sweep across the grass causing the individual blades to flip back and forth and change colour making it look like ocean waves. Sometimes the grass looked like falling dominoes. Prolific stuff I know. But this makes up the entirety of My experience.

This period needed to be spent away from the masses least we scare them off. That's what we thought anyway. Youthful drug induced paranoia. I learned later in life that no one knows you're tripping unless you tell them so I've been rolling that way ever since.

We merged back into the group later on in the afternoon and from that point forward the cloud cover got thicker and thicker. Word came down that our Budget Trucks had garnered a mention on the local rock station covering the event.

Confirmation that these were in fact the proper vehicles for our odyssey and hopefully serving as inspiration to others who may have heard the message - Why fuck up a perfectly good RV when you can just throw all your shit in the back of a moving van and have no worries? It never hurts to bring a piece of knowledge and spread it around a bit. I feel that's what we did. I was in space and feeling good about most things to be honest.
I don't remember much interest from anyone in wanting to go in early to see other bands. We may have been waiting for the group in the busted car or maybe we were all just there for The Hip? One of our crew did not make it in for The Hip. He was the guy that won the keg. Maybe he didn't share enough. Maybe he should have dropped some Alice D too? I don't recall if he was asked to leave the venue or just never made it in. It's just something you never like to see. It's just so un-Hip.

We entered the venue while the last act prior to The Hip was still on the stage. I remember buying a lot of shirts and giving some away??????? I had a fairly extensive Tragically Hip wardrobe at that time in my life. I had a proper 50 Mission Cap too... With Bill Barilko #5 on the back. Man, I wore the shit out of that thing.

Magic Just Happens

You know, sometimes crazy shit happens and everything makes sense or falls into place or was just meant to be. This stuff can be real and legit. Or it can be made to appear this way based on your focus or angle or what-have-you. It was cloudy and raining and as The Hip walked out on stage, at that precise moment, the sun breaks through. I swear to god it did. It happened as if on cue like it was a rigged special effect just for this concert. The clouds just all went away and we were treated to a sunset dancing into darkness.

[ Original 1995 ARA Website... I guess it looks quite primitive... ]

I have 2 phantom shows in my collection and this is one of them. I define a Phantom Show as being a show where I do not have a complete setlist of what was played. My other Phantom is 1993/09/03 Kingston, ON. The 1993 show bugs me more because I'm pretty sure they played Fiddler's Green. Official records show that the song was not played live until 2006, but I dispute this. Anyway, I can put together a pretty good assumption of what they might have played based on other known setlists from the 1995 Another Roadside Attraction Tour. I know they played Wheat Kings. That I know. That song was a big deal for us at the time.

We stayed parked in the lot overnight. I think. We were there for a while anyway. We may have been asked to leave. I really don't recall. I do remember sitting on top of one of the trucks with a bottle of Southern Comfort and just staying there for a while because I wasn't sure how I'd be getting down. I do appreciate a good vantage point. Always have.

So this crazy adventure happened 16 years ago. Wow. I look back on this period, with a lot of fondness. In high school you are usually friends with a bunch of people from the same place and the same class who have generally the same experiences and the same outlook. The people on this adventure, in this story (along with many others) were my first friends who came from other provinces, different backgrounds and sometimes even different ways of life. I met people out west who had never been to Ontario. People who didn't even know what euchre was. This baffled me. My 2 roommates that summer were a couple of rock climbers from Quebec. I didn't even know Newfoundlander's had accents before I headed out to college & beyond.

 [ My pics from this time. I wish I had more... It was real film back then folks. Please send/upload if you have any.]

We were all able to create new experiences with new people. Memories, lessons and perspectives that would last a lifetime. For me, this was a jumping off point to many more great adventures. I eventually saw my own country and went on to see many others making more & more experiences and friends along the way. I think I was able to do a lot of what I did because of the positive experiences I had with people during this period of my life. If things would have been total shit during this time I may not have explored as much as I did.

Despite the time and the distance and the water-under-the-bridge, if you were there for this road-trip or at any point during this time in my life, I hope you remember it with fondness too. We never knew Freedom like we did back then. Anything was possible. Still is, but you know...

If you weren't there -as most reading this were not - I hope this helps you to recall some of your own First Adventures with friends who may not be as active in your life today as they once were - Hip related experiences or not.

We only get to walk this road once. One and done. Did you have fun?

Health and Happiness to All.


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Adam said...

Wow. Well done my friend. I saw that tour (the opening show at UBC in Vancouver two days earlier) and you have captured that moment in time and space perfectly. It sounds like I am about 5 years older than you, but me and my buddies did a few trips just like the one you described. Minus the moving vans. Damn, thats good. We were all in Whistler and Vancouver at that time, having recently moved out from Toronto. Still out here today, never went back home.

July 15, 2011, and I just got home now from seeing them live at Deer Lake Park in Vancouver. Still awesome. 16 years later as you say. A lifetime ago. Or yesterday.

Thanks for sharing your memories, it was a great read.

Peace - Adam

mrjackstraw said...

Hey thanks Adam! I got a good response from those who were there as well.. They brought up a bunch of stuff I forgot.

One of the girls from the trip moved to the Vancouver area and actually gave birth yesterday (July 15th) which was kind of a neat coincidence considering the date and the fact that the band was playing...

Thanks for reading.


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