I’ve pondered this one considerably. Not the content – the content will be the usual stream-of-semi-consciousness on-the-fly keyboard stabs – but how and whether to include the Come Together Music Festival into these mental tirades. The thing is, most of my countless journeys (literally, in that they went uncounted) to CTMF (as we all know it, and by “we” I mean hardly any of you; it was a pretty small thing) were in the service of managing a band on the bill, inclusions which we all know I am loath to include here, lest I be charged with a string of misdemeanours both embarrassing and heroic. That said, I certainly enjoyed my fair share of live music and standard awesome festival experiences whilst on these working excursions.
The thing is I also attended the southern Ontario mini-Hippie festival as a civilian at least a few times for sure, weekends that contained memories both distinct and fluid and again ones that went uncharacteristically uncounted in my ticket tome. For these weekends it would be prudent (or at least habitual) to write ‘em up. So after too much deliberation I’ve decided on an approach that will be a blessing to both of us: I will save myself the trouble of coming up with a way to creatively mask the fact that I can’t remember one unrecorded Come Together from another and save you the insult of having to read them all by rolling all of my CTMF experiences together into this single, already too long and uninteresting daily exercise (again, for both of us), one that shall be fraught with blurred recollections unglued from their true origins except that they all came from Frontier Town. Except two of them that happened in Waterford. Or three. Anyway, I’m dating this all on May 18th, 2003 because a) I know for a fact that I was there on that date (and several fore and aft), and b) I’ve never gone to another concert or event on any May 18ths and I do like the idea of having a show for every calendar day, difficult though that may seem (as of this writing I still have forty-four empty dates per annum, including the elusive Leap Day, February 29th).
So. Come Together Music Festival was (is? There’s a good chance that aside from covid-related cancellations it’s still going on) a ragtag fest of friends that booked all the small, relatively unknown Canadian (mostly Ontario-based) jambands for rollicking three-nighters on each of the four summer long weekends from Victoria Day weekend (AKA May TwoFour/May Long) to Labour Day. These would be bring-your-own-everything non-policed events amongst people that took their good times very seriously. Everyone pretty much knew everyone by one degree of separation or less, the nights were impossibly long and grandly celebrated while the days were short and generally shunned, there were shocking twists around every familiar corner, full bottles of rum would sometimes appear out of the thinnest of air, and overall the weekends were always epic.
Here, for example are the complete, unedited notes I took following the weekend of May TwoFour, ’03 (yes, I take notes):
$2 for 10 minutes of massage from 2 girls at once = best deal in the lot. I handed over $10.
Second best deal in the lot: busty vegan egg rolls at 2am.
Saturday am, approx. 7:45: After a healthy four hours of sleep, a girl I have not seen before or since enters my tent and crawls into my sleeping bag with me. So I got up and started my day while mystery-girl slept.
Sunday am, approx. 9:30: Definitely a solid three hours of sleep before my friend and camp-mate woke me up looking for the car keys so she could get money to buy a coffee. “Grumble” says I, not finding the keys. “Do you want a coffee while I’m there?” “Grumble, yeah, plees…” She forgot.
Monday am, approx 10:45: After my briefest sleep of the weekend, I get woken up with “C’mon, let’s pack up, you got a big drive ahead of you.”
Most relaxing CTMF I’ve had.
(I should note that Come Together never had a “lot” per se. I was just referring to the general camping area, where some – but not many – people would set up to sell wares.)
As alluded to earlier, the festival almost always took place at something called Frontier Town a couple of hours northwest of Toronto (or about 6-7 hours of bad road away from Ottawa) in Durham, Ontario. Frontier Town was a semi-dilapidated Western cowboy setup with boardwalks and a saloon and that sort of thing set in a field in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know, I guess it used to be a tourist trap or whatnot but something tells me that bikers are involved somehow. Anyway, it certainly had a no-holds-barred sort of feel to it and we Grateful Dead stranger-hugging tie-dyed smiling weirdos took to it like mushrooms on an outhouse. For a while it got moved to a proper campground near Hamilton with real bathrooms and a nice swimming lake and everything and as comfortable and pristine as it was I think everyone was thrilled when CTMF moved back to the old ghost town.
I don’t know when I started going or when I stopped, but I’m guessing I went ten or a dozen times. I have managed to nail down a few dates, which my compulsive nature forces me to outline for you, as follows:
Canada Day weekend of 2002 was especially notable as it was nero’s first time playing there since we got our new used handicap tour bus and we were loaded for bear. We took the Friday off to enjoy the fest and loaded the bus up with more beer and liquor than you could imagine. As Jay drove us along the 401 on Friday afternoon the belts in the engine all decided to break at once, leaving us careening down Canada’s busiest highway on the busiest weekend of the year without brakes or steering. We got towed to a garage outside of Kingston and hunkered down in their lot overnight where we got busy drinking our booze and ended up at a local dance club where Dave got us this close to getting kicked out and even closer to getting beat up. Oh, it was so fun.
We ended up getting towed back to Ottawa where we discovered there was no way of getting the bus fixed in time so we loaded all the gear into two cars and drove like maniacs and we somehow managed to arrive barely in time for their set. To top it all off, instead of recognizing that we bent over backwards to even make it – let alone on time for the set – the promoter (and fine, fine musician Mark Wilson) thought we had orchestrated our late arrival on purpose in order to snag the headlining slot that I had argued and fought for, and lost to Fredericton’s Grand Theft Bus. Though we still managed to celebrate until the wee hours after the band played that night we had to get up at a stupidly early hour in order to make it back to Ottawa for an afternoon set on actual Canada Day. Oh, that was a painful drive.
On Labour Day of that same season CTMF rewarded nero for a resilient summer of constant touring with their first actual headlining festival slot, which was awesome. I remember the SoOn* crowd being about as excited as we were and man, they were shocked to hear what a few months of constant playing had done for the band. Again, epic.
Then there was the time The Slip played. You might not have heard of The Slip but they were a fantastic hit and miss trio from Boston who morphed into Montreal-based The Barr Brothers, who are all-hit-no-miss. I gotta say, most Slip shows I’ve seen have been fantastic, but none so unbelievable, so legendary, so mystically transcendent as their headlining slot on May 20th, 2003 (or thereabouts). They played the most soft, most beautifully incredible cover of Blue Moon ‘neath an almost full moon that I will never, ever forget. I remember my friend Dave Hendrick and I looking at each other almost in tears, shaking our heads at the wonder of it all. Another funny memory from that weekend was watching The Slip arrive onsite, pulling slowly down the dusty road through the relatively sparse and full-on sketchy-looking campsite area led by Mark Wilson trucking along a few feet ahead of their van in his wheelchair. You could see the guys looking out the windows like people in one of those self-drive safari parks looking fearfully at the sad lions that looked back with lazy interest.
Canaday weekend of 2003 would have been my first time at the new location in Waterford, Ontario. I watched nero’s set while swimming in the lake adjacent to the concert area, so pleased with myself I forgot to set up a merch area. I remember the American Dead cover band The Zen Tricksters being booked into that one as well.
I think I was only at the Waterford venue one other time, Labour Day weekend of 2005. It was my first road trip/weekend away with m’lady and I was there because I had booked the gig for The John Henrys, an alt-country band that I managed for about two days**. Shortly after arriving I pitched my tent and was unpacking the trunk when I came across a bag of barbecue chips. As anyone who knows me can attest, I can and regularly do do unholy things when confronted with a freshly opened bag of chips. I’m really quite uncontrollable; it’s like I’m helplessly watching from somewhere deep inside an ugly, out-of-control chip-monster.
Anyway, there I was standing at my open trunk donning a distinct cookie-monster vibe and shovelling chips into my mouth with both hands when someone I hadn’t seen in some time walked by. “Hey Todd!” they called out cheerily, moving in for a long-lost hug.
“Can’t talk, eating chips,” was all I could get out, not even looking up from my prey. They quickly moved on. Whomever you were, I apologize my friend. I’m sure you understand.
I think I might have only gone to one more Come Together Music Festival after that – maybe more – again with m’lady. It was back at Frontier Town and it must have been 2009 or later because I think I had my Mitsubishi by then; I remember finding the car in the field by pressing the unlock button on my keyfob to make the lights flash (I just found the program from this one…it was actually May 21-24, 2010 and The Sisters Euclid [featuring the amazing Kevin Breit] played on the final evening, as did House of David Gang and High Plains Drifter). I don’t remember really knowing that many people at that one. nero had been gone for some time by then so my regular stops at all the cool afterparties throughout SoOn had long ceased.
It was still a good time but I recall things being notably less epic. Ah well, things change. Or at least people do. Or their situations.
Fortunately the past tends to stay put. Good thing too, because I don’t want ant of these CTMF memory-snapshots to go anywhere.
*nero titled their live CD “Soon” which was basically an inside joke because we were still trying to get the next studio album recorded, but the way the artist fonted the cover art made it look like it read “SoOn”. People took it to be an abbreviation of “Southern Ontario” – nero’s home turf and where the CD was recorded – so we rolled with it and changed the name of the album without actually changing a thing.
**Once nero started doing rather well I decided to go all in on the artist management thing. I had five other bands in mind that I wanted to sign and The John Henrys were at the top of the list***. Literally a day or two after I signed them nero surprisingly broke up, and so I decided to pack up the whole management gig and unsigned TJH. My fast footwork had already booked them into this festival slot so I went.
***Two of the other four bands on my dream list approached me (unsolicited) in the next few months and informally asked me to manage them, so I’m pretty confident I would have made a go of it. Funny how you put a couple of things together and before you know it you have this big elaborate house of cards. Then someone decides to pull out one little three of hearts and poof…