Of Woodstock and other festivals

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We were young people with a mission – to inform the people of Fort George Island that beyond the waters of the great river there was a magical land comprised of world-renowned musicians. It started with the influx of Bobby Sherman-covered magazines that were targeted at young women, but we also read them. This was at the height of bubblegum music when the Archies had captured top spot on the Billboard charts. This was real American culture overflowing to the North, competing for your attention and your hard-earned bucks. It was a time of change.

Then, for some reason, the cultural powers decided to organize a film festival showcasing Cold Journey, starring Buckley Petawabano. Buckley was a seasoned actor by the time the National Film Board decided to make a film about little Charlie Wenjack, a residential school runaway who froze to death beside the railroad tracks on his long journey home. Other movies about North American Indians, as we were called back then, featured music provided by Willie Dunn, a.k.a. Uncle Willie. These movies were topped off with major Hollywood pictures, portraying our collective cultures to the people of Fort George. Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Chief Dan George, impacted us greatly, making some audience members cry during the massacre scenes.

The pièce de résistance was the much-anticipated Woodstock documentary on the famed music festival. We prepared all the massive speaker systems we could find to the single phono jack plugged into the 16mm projector, sat back and watched history unfold in front of our dazed eyes. The community got a good idea of what really happens at rock concerts, while we, the new generation, just got into the whole film and music. After all, who gets to watch Woodstock with 16 speakers? And mud baths?

Today, my young daughter tells me she’ll be going to a big music fest with six stages and two days and nights of all the new music bands. My mind instantly remembers the weird stuff that happened 40 years ago. Just stay away from any ride, I told her. I know a guy who fell off one and got international attention about his body hitting hard metal as he plummeted down a Ferris wheel. He miraculously survived because his muscles were softened by the first hit on the way down, and he eventually made it to the nearest hospital that would admit him. Haven’t heard of any insurance claims, but you never know.

Music fests can be dangerous; do you hear me my little girl? Sorry, the worry is getting to me already. But heck, if the old man can survive two solid years of attending every rock concert except for one or two, then I guess it’s okay. I’m still okay.

One infamous rock venue was the Moustache, just across the street from the old Montreal Forum. My cousin, who was into heavy metal, wanted to see this particular band play one night, so we hopped on a bus in Ottawa and headed to Montreal. After paying a $2 entry fee and passing the no hidden knife search, we walked into the dimly lit rock joint.

A drum solo was well underway and we decided to move closer to the front, since there were so many empty seats. There we watched the drummer play upside down for a good 10 minutes before he rolled into the upright position and the rest of the band slowly sauntered back onto the stage. Seconds later, the raucous yelling, the jagged rhythmic banging, the bass blowing out an underpowered amplifier, the lead guitar screeched a closing string of notes and cymbals clattered to the floor.

A few claps echoed alongside the persistent electric buzz, before we realized our eardrums were still resounding. The bus ride home was anticlimactic as we headed back to our sheltered boarding homes, having the Sunday morning to rest and call home about our adventure. Today, I expect to be constantly updated with GPS coordinates.

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