Rush – “SARS-stock”, Toronto, ON – July 30, 2003

Rush – “SARS-stock”, Toronto, ON – July 30, 2003

Many Canadians consider this their “Woodstock”, not for cultural or generational change reasons – mostly from an endurance standpoint!

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The rational was two-fold: have a great big concert to let the world know that Toronto is safe and has bounced back from the SARS outbreak, and to honour the front-line health care workers who dealt with the crisis (and many of those lost their lives to the disease).

The Rolling Stones were quick to jump on board as they have a close connection to Totonto  (they often rehearse in Toronto before major tours, Keef’s bust in 1977 help him get clean, and Michael Cole, the Rolling Stones’ world tour producer is from Toronto). Many major acts soon followed. One Rush were announced were playing you could count me in (see Geddy Lee on the big screen?):

This shot was made with a disposable camera with one hand as high over my head as possible – take lots of pictures and sometime you get lucky (and I got the year wrong on the copyright)!!! It really was an endurance event. Up at 2:30 am (couldn’t sleep all that well!), watched sunrise in line at the venue (the old Downsview AFB that is surrounded by north Toronto, well Willowdale actually – right where two-thirds of Rush grew up!).

Coming upon that scene in the twilight was unreal – thousands already gathered – with the biggest stage structure I have ever seen, and an array of 30-40 foot tall viewing screens spread out through the base.  Very “Yes Album Cover” artwork-like! Only a few problems caused by drunks as the gates were a half-an-hour late in opening at 8:30 pm – bet they didn’t see much! The let opening prompted a sooner-esque dash for location and then everyone hunkered down for the noon start (I got maybe an hour’s sleep).

We got strategic and got about 30 feet in front of the enormous sound tower for unobstructed view (and best sound!), and were close enough to the barriered walkway that ran from said sound/spotlight tower to the stage (about 100 feet) so there was an escape rout if it ever got crazy (it didn’t but it did get crowded).  For perspective the sound tower can be seen near the top of this photo, centered in front of the stage (for perspective one can barley make out the nine big screens spread out – they are black in this photo).

By mid afternoon the crowd had swelled to and estimated 450,000 – another arial view here. I didn’t move for 15 hours (fluid management rules were in full effect – only little sips and the free cold bottled water went mostly over my skull and torso) – sunny and about 80 with maybe high 40’s Tds. The Music made it all worth while.  Rush played great (they take their performances serious, and rehearsed full days for two weeks in preparation for their hour-long early evening set).

AC/DC followed Rush and completely stole the show by kicking serious ass.  May people left after their set, not even bothering to wait for the Stones. The Stones were better than when I had first seen them in 1989 and both Keef and Ron Wood had really great guitar tone (important to geeky amp aficionados!).  Other standout performances were given, by the great Canadian alt-country singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards, Oklahoma’s quirky Flaming Lips,

The VOF Isley Brothers (Shout!), Canadian country-rock songsmiths Blue Rodeo, and especially the original Guess Who! The Guess Who were really into it and the crowd were really into it as they went through an hour of truly classic hits played passionate;y.

The Guess Who were preceded by Justin Timberlake, who’s set was, in my eyes, a last opportunity to sit for a while before it got squishy-packed.  He came back and did “Miss You” with the stones and I have to admit he has the vocal skills (I also had to laugh at the big “How Was Brittany?” sign someone down front held up for him).  I also felt sorry for him as he was just pelted by water bottles (Keef came to his defense and threatened to personally “pound people” –  not I’m not sure how tough ol’ Mr Richards actually is, but a nice gesture none-the-less).

Nice also to have the DVD that came out later to revive this very long day!