The Riot before the Storm

I have attended very few stadium style rock ‘n’ roll concerts. The main reason is that I am from small town Ontario with little access to big time shows, and then when I left home for Vancouver I was always too broke to afford tickets. Plus, I don’t think I have ever had a “fan” mentality – avoiding all pre-teen groupie activities when my peers were losing it over the New Kids on the Block. It just seemed ridiculous, and I was more reserved and snobbish in my tastes having two older brothers to advise me. One was a follower of New Wave (ie. New Order, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode), and the other was into a combo of punk and skater music (ie. Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Beastie Boys, Pennywise).

The two memorable concerts I eventually checked out are more connected to the antics that happened beforehand than the actual shows. In 2001, I was living in a basement apartment in Burnaby so that I could attend SFU and be close to both the Confederation skate park and the new Hastings bowl. My roommate, Michele was feeling dismayed because a bunch of our friends were forking out $100 or so for tickets to see AC/DC at the Pacific National Exhibition Coliseum, not far from our home. We simply could not afford it. IMG_20170403_180935

Instead, we made our own t-shirts and then decided that we would sneak in. Our first attempt was foolish. Some friends in the smoking area passed us their ripped ticket stubs through the chain-link fence and we tried to pretend that we had left the coliseum for an emergency and “needed to get back in.”  No pass.

We then snuck around to the back of the arena where the gear was being we loaded in and out. Perhaps we would be mistaken for groupies and simply let in? Considering that we both looked like prepubescent skater boys, we were immediately yelled at to get lost. It all seemed pretty futile.

As we returned to the front of the coliseum, some strange activity catches our eye. There is a group of about five metal dudes with “short-long” hick hair-cuts and crow bars busting into a side door, concealed under an awning. They break through, and we simply run in!!

Michele and I could not believe our luck! There were no security guards waiting, no alarms triggered. The best part was that we immediately see our friends and run towards them. Instead of being happy for us, the three “friends” seem angry and annoyed to see us. We try to make the most of it, especially when we can see the lead singer Brian Johnson swinging into the crowd on a massive Hells Bell!hellsbells

We enter the chaos, trying to pretend that we are lost looking for our seats (hoping to find some empty ones) but get bullied around by the seat attendants and various paying customers. It was fun to be there, but everyone in the audience seemed so unhappy. The highlight will always be the adventure with Michele and those crazy rad guys with the crow bars. I can hardly remember the show.

Several years later in 2009, I’m living in Mount Pleasant and had my motorcycle license for a few years. I hear rumour that there is some fundraiser in the affluent neighbourhood of West Vancouver at Ambleside Park, featuring musicians Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and (eek!) Neil Young. If I had been twelve-years old I might have cared for McLachlan, since I owned “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy” on cassette and particularly liked the song Ice Cream mainly for the lyrics, “your love is better than chocolate.” That song really resonated with me… and my stomach. But these days it was all about Neil Young – my motorcycle living soundtrack.


I try to recruit some friends over Facebook to come to the concert with me and attempt to sneak in, but absolutely no one is willing to give it a go. I was baffled. I thought people really appreciated Neil Young, and here is an open air concert on the west coast featuring the one and only! I decide I have no interest in waiting around for folks to get the nerve up, and they probably would have only held me back.

So, I hop on my 1979 Honda Hawk CB400 and kick him over for a solo ride through the city and over the Lions Gate bridge to West Vancouver. I start imagining that Neil will see me pull up, see how cool I am and not only offer me a ticket, but joke around that he wants a double-ride! This does not happen. I find a sneaky parking spot, and then head down to the park. I am relieved to hear that Neil has yet to play and I’ve got plenty of time to make a move.IMG_1289

Unfortunately, I discover that the organizers have sealed off the field and stage with impenetrable fences and loads of security guards. I begin my slow, circular walk around the perimeter. I felt like I was in the Old Testament, walking around the walls of Jericho hoping that by the seventh time they would come crashing down!

Suddenly I heard an announcement that Neil would be up next and I had five minutes to find a weak spot. I am heading down a stretch of pavement when up ahead of me is a tall, awkward Goth teen with black baggy pants and suspenders. He cheerily asks me if I was also trying to sneak in? Which I replied in the affirmative! He proposes that we break in together, which sounds fine by me. I never knew Goths liked Neil Young, but apparently this one did.

We head towards the farthest section away from the concert where the gated path narrows. There are fences on either side of the path, forming a kind of tight maze effect, where visibility is minimal in front and behind us. And low and behold, there is a wooden ladder propped against the fence!  Holy crap. Some angel just propped this thing up, because it wasn’t there before!

My co-conspirator suddenly gets nervous and wants to bail, but I tell him we are going over immediately! I scramble up the ladder and safely jump to the other side. Goth teen follows, and for a moment things get scary because his suspenders get caught on the fence! He dangles there briefly like a puppet, but I release him, and then we are totally in. The area also happens to be slightly forested, so we decide to pretend that we are a playful couple, possibly making out in the woods, just in case anyone cares. Do note that my new friend is definitely gay, and a lot of fun!

We see someone ahead, and immediately hold hands and act all calm and silly and distracted. No one cares. We dodge a few low shrubs, and then suddenly we see the field open up ahead of us, and all the paying guests with their blankets spread out. There he is… Neil Young! We made it!

Again, the audience seems totally disgruntled as we barge to the front. I quickly learn that those picnic blankets are actually coveted claims, and people are super possessive about their allotted turf. Even after everyone was standing, and I wanted to take a few photos, I got stink eyes from people. No Fun West Vancouverites.

I lost my Goth friend in the mob, but I didn’t care. It was just so mesmerizing to see Neil Young, surrounded by his wealth of guitars, singing sweet acoustic tunes. My ultimate favourite was “Hold Back the Tears,” from Chrome Dreams. It was an anthem of hope. I was single, lonely, but living the best way I could, having adventures and making my own magic. I heard others complaining because Neil didn’t play some of his big hits, but I felt like he was singing just for me.



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