Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Canadian Classic: Tragically Hip in Niagara-On-The-Lake

I was lucky enough to begin my Canada Day long weekend the way that any patriotic music devotee should - with a trip to one of Ontario's quaintest tourist destinations and a prime spot smack dab in the middle of bustling festival grounds to watch some of Canada's most esteemed rock acts.

On Saturday afternoon, my best friend Kaylee and I beat the traffic to Butler's Barracks in Niagara-on-the-Lake (not without a much-needed sangria stop on the main drag, of course) courtesy of Canadian Club's Mixed and Ready contest team - who have generously agreed to facilitate some of my live music experiences this summer out of support for Canadian music. Our road trip was everything a tune-fueled expedition should be - playlist, laugh and sunshine-filled from the first rev of the engine. Niagara-on-the-Lake was the ideal setting for this kind of Canadian music exhibition as well; a bustling summer destination resembling Pleasantville in its roaming tourist-chocked Victorian streets, sparkling waterfront and endless empty green space fit for the thousands of rowdy concert-goers celebrating our nation's birth with some Canadiana-brewed rock 'n roll. As soon as we rolled past the first sun-stained vineyard on the finest of summer afternoons, we knew we'd arrived in the Torontonian equivalent of New York City's Hampton escape.

And that was only the setting. Once on to the swarming festival grounds with our Canadian Club VIP bracelets, wedged into obnoxious lines without a single complaint - this Bluesfest-obsessed gal was truly at home. (*Sulking forewarning: In the coming weeks, I have no intention of hiding the funk I'm in due to missing out on the majority of Ottawa's beloved festival... which starts today).

Having seen talented openers The Rural Alberta Advantage and New Pornographers before (my first big interview was with AC Newman over five years ago), I was actually most elated when Death Cab for Cutie - everyone's shared high school sweethearts - took the stage and their uppity emo-rock began swirling through the sticky air via hits like "We Looked Like Giants", "A Movie Script Ending" and "The Sound of Settling." Nostalgia and little bits of my teenage self came to the surface upon hearing Ben Gibbard's over-enunciated and romantic indie croon, and for the first time in a long time - I felt starstruck. Memories of driving to soccer tournaments, kissing after high school dances and pinning posters to my bedroom walls came flooding back while Gibbard hung from the microphone and darted to left stage to duel Jason McGerr on a second drum set.

Yours truly sampling the Mixed & Ready

After taking a few breathers in the Canadian Club Mixed and Ready tent, sampling the delicious new whiskey/gingerale hybrid drink, we ventured for some remnants of food from the increasingly impatient food vendors on site. Mid-toe-tap in line, I heard a voice that any kid raised in Kingston can recognize instantly. Gord Downie, my oddball hometown hero, had taken the stage - legs flying, body swaying, "music lover" praising. And then the opening riff of "Grace, Too" swung in. Enough said.

Now, I have a strong and personal connection to this band (which hosts members who lived mere blocks from me growing up) - but since moving to Toronto, have formed an even deeper connection to the song "Bobcaygeon." Depending on how often you chant this song (hopefully often), you'll know the enchanting, peak-reaching moment when Downie yelps: "That night in Toronto..."  Needless to say, when we heard the acoustic strum of "Bobcaygeon" flow, we fled the food line-up so quickly that our stomachs became a lost afterthought. Sprinting full-fledged into the center of the crowd where we would stay for the duration of classics like "Ahead by a Century", "New Orleans is Sinking" , "It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken" (haunting when played live in the sun-setting countryside) and "Drip Drip," it was official - summer had begun, and I was incredibly proud to be Canadian.

Canadian Club will be holding a rad Mixed and Ready Cover Contest Challenge soon - calling all undiscovered bands to submit their versions of classic Canadian songs. Enter here for the chance to win studio time and $3000! Check back for more live music updates throughout the summer - the line-up is always expanding...

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