It was 2008 and I was still working as a MCTSO for the Canadian Coast Guard. I’ve always felt that radio operations drew a slightly eccentric sort of person and our workplace was a fascinating and eclectic blend of humanity. There was a staff of around 40 or so working rotating shifts 24/7 and the ranks had a musician component which comprised 20% of the total with four guitar players and a drummer. The Maritime provinces don’t tend to draw huge acts regularly due to our low population, so when The Eagles were coming to town the station was abuzz with the news and we were all pretty stoked at the opportunity to see these legends live.
To up the ante, the act immediately preceding The Eagles would be John Fogerty so this was a mandatory concert and all non-music hating colleagues attending were scrambling to get their shifts covered for the concert date. The competition for overtime could normally be brutal. You could potentially step out the door after getting off a night shift on a sunny morning and be momentarily confused by the industrial air conditioner shaped shadow steadily growing directly beneath you a la Wile E. Coyote before you inadvertently found yourself off on sick leave or worse. However, at times of high interest events people would be scrambling the other way trying to get time off. In the end, those that wanted the time off had it granted.
The concert was being held at the Magnetic Hill Concert Venue which is a natural bowl outside of Moncton, New Brunswick. The site was built for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984 to hold a papal mass. I guess he wasn’t overly impressed as he didn’t bless the site and make it the Magnetic Hill Concert Basilica. Anyway, there was a hayfield cum campground across the road from the venue, so my friend and fellow guitarist Stuart and myself decided we’d camp out the evening before the concert.
Bear in mind, I was 50 at the time and hadn’t slept on the ground in a good while. Builds character though, yes? By character, I mean enough nitrogen buildup in your joints so when you fight gravity to get off the ground in the morning there’s so much popping and snapping it sounds like there’s a dog jumping on a sheet of bubble wrap inside your tent. No matter, this was The Eagles and that made me feel 20 again in the comfort of my armchair. The day before we were to head out, Stuart mentioned that I should bring along an acoustic guitar to turn our campsite into a jampsite.
I was on board completely in respect to bringing a guitar, but I didn’t want to bring an acoustic I wanted to bring my Strat. Off to Long&McQuade to see if I could find a travel amp and I was in luck. I found a Line 6 Micro-spider which was supposed to run for 20 hours on six “C” cells, a claim of which I was skeptical. As it would turn out, at $150 it was the best musical buy I ever made. It ran throughout the weekend and I’m talking serious jam time. When I wasn’t using it, someone else would plug in. Twelve solid hours those two nights and I didn’t have to replace the batteries until my son’s wedding a month later in September 2008. Truth in advertising. It was a scramble the day before the trip, but we were good to go.
We arrived at the camp site at around 1630 ADT or 0430 in the afternoon and we immediately went to work on getting the tent up. That didn’t go so well. I’m about as handy as Omarosa and Stuart might be marginally better… maybe Paris Hilton level. There were aluminum pole segments that had some kind of bungee cord inside them. It was like giving nunchuks to orangutans. We’re scratching our heads and looking at each other and when we finally get them together and they’re each like, nine feet long. I had to check the box to make sure we hadn’t accidentally bought a tight rope walking kit. Some kindly campers from the neighboring camp sites acted as technical advisors and we finally erected the tent. Their motives may not have been entirely altruistic, but due to the fact we now could extend our ineptitude by a good nine foot radius and maybe “put someone’s eye out” as my mom used to say.
That task completed and the campsite organized, we headed off to supper. We still had another 24 hours to go until the concert so we started jamming that night at around eight p.m. Stuart is an excellent guitarist and blues is his jam, but he has great skill and cross genre is not a problem so it was a really fun evening. The weather wasn’t extremely co-operative and spat at us throughout the evening, but we kept the request line open until 4 a.m. before packing it in.
By morning it was pouring and we weren’t too happy about that. Fortunately, my buddy Don would be going to the concert and was staying in town at his mom’s. Don’s mom Viola is sharp and very engaging. Don had told us we could stop by to shower to get the jampsite funk out. I think it was self-interest as he’d be sitting with us that evening at the show, possibly downwind. Viola told us she’d feed us, but we had to play for our lunch. She was kidding but we don’t need much of an excuse to play. As I recall, we played Take it Easy before sitting down to some excellent home cooking. On the way back to the concert we picked up some tissue paper thin, yellow plastic ponchos for $10 each from a guy that no doubt would be selling selfie sticks had the weather been nice. 10 minutes after we bought them it stopped raining.
This was an event and opening were KT Tunstall then Sam Roberts, but we were there for Fogerty and The Eagles. Nothing against Tunstall or Sam Roberts but I just don’t have the concert stamina I had at a younger age. Fogerty was set to take the stage at 7 p.m. and at around 6 we set out. Now I didn’t know where the venue actually was, you couldn’t see it from the campsite… or the main road for that matter. It entirely possible the venue can only be viewed from the International Space Station using the Hubble telescope for all I know, because it was at least a half hour walk along a paved, private road that wound through some gorgeous scenery to what appeared to be a secluded glen. There had been 90,000 for The Rolling Stones in 2005, 75,000 for John Paul II but for The Eagles there would be 45,000 in attendance so it would be… cozy, I guess.
Don, Stuart and I all had tickets together in the VIP section, which I assumed would be a stone throw away from the stage. That is, if Keith Richards is the Stone in question and you’re launching him with a trebuchet. It seemed like we were the equivalent to at least eight tractor trailers distance away from the stage.
The seats consisted of aluminum staging and we were perched at the top in the back row of our section. We were leaving contrails on the way to our seats. From the ground looking up, we had to be at least three stories up. No matter, this contraption is regulated and certified by the Department of Rickety Aluminum Poles which also certified our camping equipment so we’re good, right? Then John Fogerty hit the stage.
John Fogerty’s Setlist (my links always open a new tab)
From the opening bars of Travelling Band the place was rocking! Literally. I was frightened. I’m looking around at a LOT of 40+ year old people with a mean average weight of 210+ pounds jumping up and down. I was bouncing in my seat without moving a muscle. I found myself deeply caring about the tensile strength of aluminum in that moment. As I looked down the drop behind me at the flimsy lattice work holding us up in the air I couldn’t help note how impalement-friendly the design was in case of structural failure. Well, there was nothing I could do but have faith so I turned back to the music.
The stands were bouncing pretty hard and with good reason. Fogerty’s set was fantastic. He still has powerful pipes and that raspy style in a higher register can’t be easy to sing, but it was a world class performance. The musicianship was also first class. Fogerty had left the business in 1976 until 1985 when he released the solo project Center Field. He’d said he wanted to take the time to work on becoming a better musician and his chops that night when he was cutting solos reinforced that decision as a good one. He rocked for an hour or so and it was great to hear those hits I’d heard on the radio when I was growing in to adolescence. He took me through a time when I was 11 to 14 and then the Eagles took over to play the next phase of the soundtrack of my adolescence.
It was an understated opening when The Eagles hit the stage with How Long and Take it to the Limit, but with the opening lines of the album version of Hotel California everybody went crazy and I’m certain if a seismic detection app existed back then, I’m certain we hit a 7.4 on the Richter Scale in our section of the stands. And why not? This was a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Night. John Fogerty had already treated us with both Credence and his solo catalogue and was being followed by another segment of rock history with not just The Eagles hits, but The Boys of Summer, Dirty Laundry and All She Wants to do is Dance from Don Henley’s solo career. Also Joe Walsh’s contributions to rock history with Walk Away and Funk #49 from the James Gang as well as In the City, Rocky Mountain Way and the incomparable Life’s Been Good from his solo career.
The band was deep into the setlist with Rocky Mountain Way when we all realized that as we were on the far side of the venue, perhaps we should start making our way out. After all, we had at least three lines of longitude to cross to get back to the campsite and there were roughly 44,998 between us and the exit. Best to start out while they were distracted.
Now while we were in the stands, I thought the overall mix was I’msittinginahighendstereo amazing but as we got closer to the mixing booth I was shocked at just how much better it could get as the high frequencies really started to bloom sonically. I was so struck that I had to stop and just listen as the band played All She Wants to Do is Dance. I’d never heard a live sound that crisp with such a pristine mix, everything sitting in its proper space with precision. But the guys were picking up half eaten hot dogs off the ground and were throwing them at me in an attempt to get me moving. It worked. When we got back to the campsite we jammed until four a.m. once again. I like to tell people that The Eagles opened for us. That’s not why this is the concert that I’d have to say is the number one concert I’ve seen.
The evening was almost literally a timeline in respect to the arc music had played in my life from the age of 11 until I was married. CCR was very early in my musical awakening, The Eagles were in the next stage of musical maturity so this night covered a broad range of influences as these artists had appeared in many iterations in the past, all of them iconic. It stirred up great memories and the emotions evoked were all warm. It was also the festival atmosphere and the fact we camped out and got to jam after the concert while the music was still fresh.
One thing I know for a fact. Great friends and great music are always a great combination.