One of the many, many great things about living in Ottawa is how (relatively) close it is to so many very different cities. The busy and endless buzz of New York City is a mere eight hours straight down, the cold, robotic grid-like party that is Toronto lies just about four hours to the left, while the medium-high brow French rage machine that pulses through Montreal is just a couple of hours to the right.
And just a couple more hours past Montreal (and over an international border) is the down-home wannabe city of Burlington, Vermont. Once you see the gas stations it’s a right turn off the interstate into a quaint college town punctuated with a classy pedestrian mall, or you can head left off the interstate and you’ll find a collection of chain hotels with words like “Quality” and “Sleep” in their names, all surrounding a small two-room venue called Higher Ground, AKA The Main Reason To Visit Burlington, Vermont.
Often when I head to Burlington I start with that right turn off the I-89 and cruise up and down Church Street in search of some delicious, healthy and overpriced food before heading back over the highway to check in to one of the hotels and prepping for whichever show I was inevitably in town for. April 6th, 2014 was not one of those times.
This time m’lady and I went left and took our chances (for the first time) on the less granola-style restaurant fare that was available on the Higher Ground side of the tracks. We checked in to our cheap hotel (doubtlessly booked on points) and after a quick drink we booked it to the upstairs restaurant/pub of a slightly less cheap hotel across the street, where instead of Church Street organic ham and hand-spun cheese served on locally made artisan rye bread with arugula, red onions, and purple pickled chutney seeds we ordered frozen, machine-pressed burger patties reheated and served on store-bought sesame seed buns with way too many fries spilling off of the plate, half a mushy dill pickle and a double order of mayo on the side, and of course we were much better for it.
Patting our bellies and emptying our wallets, we got out of there and met up with a pair of American friends, and after a last-minute pre-show drink in our hotel room we were off to (line up for) the show!
The Higher Ground people are famous for their tight security at the door and it always takes longer than you think it will to get it, no matter how many times you (or in this case, I) go through the process. And for some reason it’s always (always!) much colder waiting in that line than you think it will be.
But I digress.
The host of the evening was Mike Gordon, Phish’s very wacky and theoretically well-dressed bass player, fronting his own band and touring to promote his fifth solo album, Overstep, which I had owned since it’s release (I quite like the guy’s solo stuff, not to mention his stellar, always engaging approach to playing the bass).
This wasn’t my first time seeing Gordo’s solo act, and as usual it was a fun, interesting and subtly mad evening of entertainment. With the show taking place in the de facto hometown of Phish we were hoping for a sit-in from someone else from the band and got double what we hoped when Phish keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman both sat in for the catchy new song 555 late in the first set.
During the setbreak I sauntered over to the merch table and shelled out $20US for what stands as the ugliest, stupidest gig poster that I have ever seen up close, a Medusa-inspired grade 8 pencil crayon-looking monstrosity that I’m embarrassed to even have in a cardboard tube in the basement, let alone hang on my wall. But hey, it was only $20 (US!).
There were no more sit-ins during the second set, but Mike did play my favourite song from his new album – Yarmouth Road – and followed it up with the strangely not oddly-placed One Hand In My Pocket by my fellow Ottawanian (Ottawickian? Ottawer?), Alanis Morissette.
And before you knew it, it was all over. A couple of nightcaps in the Comfort Days Sleep Inn and Suites across the street and another evening in Burlington was in the books. The next day’s drive home to centrally-located Ottawa was so inconsequential that you’d think we had just seen a local show.
And in the grand scheme of things I think that I could occasionally find myself in the mood to argue that we did.