“Out at the speedway…”
Another Roadside Attraction is an excellent novel by Tom Robbins (let Amanda be your acorn) and the first of his I read. I’ve since devoured all of his stuff and before I got my hands on Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski I counted Robbins as my favourite author. And curiously enough I would probably never have been aware of Robbins’ work if The Tragically Hip didn’t nick his title for their travelling package tours.
For those that missed them, The Hip hosted a series of summer tours back in the ’90’s crossing the country with lots of other great bands on the bill, bands like Midnight Oil, Blues Traveller, Rheostatics and more, and the tours were called Another Roadside Attraction. It was a clever name taken from a clever author.
(I guess I should come clean and admit that I’m only assuming that the band took the name from the book. Who knows, it could have just been a happy coincidence, but I doubt it.)
Anyway, the rock and roll carnival pulled into its Ottawa stop on July 23rd, 1995 and was held at the Capital City Raceway, a stock car oval quite a ways out of town on highway 17. Not nearly as prestigious (or accessible) as Lansdowne, where the Ottawa show on the tour had taken place a couple of years earlier*, but a step up from the Rideau-Carleton Raceway, where ARA would come to next**. This marked my only time seeing a concert (or race for that matter) at the speedway, and that doesn’t hurt my feelings one bit.
It was raining, I think off and on, but the rain kept me from arriving on time for the first act and when I did arrive I spent considerable time tailgating and trying to keep dry, which soon proved to be an exercise in futility.
I was excited to see Eric’s Trip, a Moncton band that morphed out of a group called The Underdogs that I used to share the stage with in high school. I was shocked and pleased that they were doing so well for themselves. I was surprised not because I thought they lacked talent, but I just didn’t get the lo-fi thing, and these guys (and girl) were the lo-fi darlings of the Canadian scene at the time.
Blues Traveller played, and semi-local total-legend Dan Aykroyd AyKA Elwood Blues sat in for a harmonica battle against the cordially impenetrable John Popper. Somehow I have it in my mind that I’ve witnessed this exact thing more than once…maybe at Eden Fest? Or maybe H.O.R.D.E. Toronto? Anyway, back to the concert at hand:
Ziggy Marley was also on the bill, and maybe the Rheos too, but of course it was all about The Tragically Hip, and back in 1995 The Hip were The Thing. Sometimes when I go see an act nowadays like Stevie Wonder or Aerosmith I stand there wishing I had seen them in their prime. I don’t have to worry about that when it comes to The Tragically Hip. In the early-to-mid ’90’s these guys could do no wrong and I got to see plenty of shows, and they were all home runs. At the time they were on top of the world (okay, the country) and they played with vigour and confidence and always left the audience tired, sweaty, and sated.
I seem to remember some fiasco with tarps and/or soggy blankets vaguely marking a spot for me and my crew, something I rarely get behind, and there might have been a muddy fight here and there (not involving yours truly) but overall it was a pile of fun, rainy rock and roll curated by the greatest Canadian band of the era.
Eat that Aerosmith.
*Oh, how it pains me to recall the day Another Roadside Attraction played at Lansdowne. I was spending the summer making balloon animals for the downtown tourists every lunch hour and busking outside of a liquor store every afternoon so I didn’t have money to spend on concerts, so I didn’t have a ticket. My roommate Evil went on a free pass and assured me there was a good chance he could get me in too, but it seemed to me that the possibility was remote; it was a beautiful day so I went to work playing for nickels outside the liquor store. Not only did Evil try to call me with a free pass, but it came with backstage privileges including free food and drink too. Ouch. Woulda been my only time seeing Midnight Oil too.
**I didn’t go to that one either, but I have no idea why not.