A long, strange trip to the Pacific Northwest (August 2006)
Trips are never dull. Some may be more exciting, more intense, and more challenging than others, but none are dull. And my latest trip turned out to be eventful in several ways, which you'll read about later. I guess that with travelling so often, it's inevitable that at times my travel will coincide with some global event or other. In the past couple of years I've travelled on US Election day, British Election day, 7-7 - the day of the London bombings in 2005, and others and the end of this trip saw my travelling during another global event. But more on that later.
Whilst travelling I'd decided to try to write this review a bit differently than normal, as I feel that perhaps my reviews have become somewhat stale and predictable. Well, I am Government trained in writing, so perhaps my style is unsurprising! But some events (no, not the global one alluded to above) during this trip led me to think about pitching this one a little differently. I don't know if it'll work or not, but I'll certainly try to make this a little different to my normal reviews. However, certain elements will remain as usual the chronological layout, the detail, and the length! Anyway, if this reads a little fresher than usual, that'll be great and if it doesn't, then I apologise in advance and perhaps may consider retiring my travel pen. Many others write lively, interesting and funny reviews of CT shows, and perhaps I should think about leaving review writing to them. Ten years is a long time to be boring people with long and rambling reviews! We'll see but for now, let's climb aboard the ride.
Introduction to the Trip/Review
Music fans are pretty much the same the world over, regardless of which band/artist we like and regardless of how many shows we go to. Whether following one band to see many shows, or just going to the local County Fair and seeing the headliner one night, we all pretty much go along with a slightly blinkered view. And no, that isn't a critical statement at all, and the view is entirely natural. We go along expecting to be entertained by the artist(s) we're seeing. We expect to hear their biggest hits, perhaps hear some new songs. Depending on the band we might be expecting pyrotechnics or theatrics or choreographed dances whatever. But what we don't tend to do, naturally enough, is to really think about what happens to make the show happen. Setting up the stage, the sound, the lighting, the backstage logistics, selling merchandise and behind every artist, there is a body of people, whether ten or two hundred, who work hard before, during and after each show, who make things go along like clockwork well, mostly.
The four members of Cheap Trick are fine musicians, highly respected both as a band and as individuals, and plenty has been written about them by both myself and others. And of course I'll be writing about them later in this review! But behind the band there is a small but dedicated group of people who help make the shows happen. From the management office where bookings and legal issues are dealt with, to those who travel on the road, looking after the band and setting up the stage. Without them, it wouldn't happen. As one phrase from another band aptly put it "If the crew doesn't roll, the Crue doesn't rock".
I'm no expert, so please don't shoot me down for inaccuracies! I'm writing this purely from my observations of seeing these people at work. I don't travel with them, but I do know that they work hard and (sometimes and deservedly) party hard. They're generally unheralded too, though of course they're not the main attraction anyhow. They travel long distances overnight between shows in cramped, (and contrary to popular belief) unglamorous tour buses, and often work 12-16 hours each show day setting up, working the actual show and dismantling. They're away from their families for days or weeks at a time, and sometimes spend birthdays and events like that on the road.
OK, that introduction was longer than I planned, but suffice to say, I hope in this review to include looking at a few things from the road crew angle.
Thurs 3 August - Travelling to Seattle
As usual, a very early start for me. After just a few short hours of sleep, I was up at 3am and out of my house before 4am. However, I only had a 25 minute drive along empty roads to my local Leeds/Bradford Airport. Normally its cheaper to fly from Manchester (75 minutes away) but on this occasion, the difference in flight fares wasn't enough to make me have to travel there. I was checked-in before 5am, and my short flight from Leeds to Amsterdam was airborne by 6.10am. The plane landed at sunny Schipol at 7am, and I had 4 hours to kill in one of KLM's lounges, as the non-stop Northwest flight to Seattle was scheduled for early afternoon departure. And shortly before boarding, I had a bonus to hear my name called out to upgrade, my first in some 15 months! So I sat in Business for the 9½ hour flight to the West Coast, which was definitely a nice start to my week! As usual I found it hard to sleep, so I got to watch two mildly entertaining new movies - the animated "Over The Hedge" and Steve Martin's "RV". Somehow I suspect I won't be seeing "Snakes on a Plane" on any inflight entertainment system anytime soon though! Oh, and about an hour out of Seattle I started chatting with the British lady seated next to me to find that she leads an office just a mile from my office in Leeds, and for whom a number of my ex-colleagues work! Sometimes its a very small world!
Landed at mostly sunny Seattle at 1.45pm, but was delayed in getting out by having my luggage fully searched. What is it with Customs officers in Seattle and Vancouver being suspicious of single male travellers arriving from Amsterdam? This was about the third time it has happened to me. Oh well My regular travel-mate on the West Coast, Tricktoria from northern California, was there to meet me, and we left Seattle-Tacoma Airport and hit slow traffic almost right away. However, that soon cleared and we headed east on I-90 for a mini pilgrimage for me. Over the past few months I've finally discovered the TV series "Northern Exposure" OK, about 17 years late! I've literally devoured the first 3 seasons on DVD over the summer, and had just started s4 on DVD before I flew over. And from research I discovered that the outdoor street scenes were not filmed in Alaska but in Roslyn, Washington, some 70 miles from Seattle. So Victoria kindly acceded to my request with only a mild sigh and roll of the eyes! Anyway, we reached the small town of Roslyn around 4.30pm, seeing the famous camel wall mural, as well as the Brick Tavern, the KBHR radio station office and Joel's office, and had a snack in the Roslyn Cafe. That was fun to do, and we got to our hotel north of Seattle around 7.30pm. I managed to stay awake for dinner, but crashed around 10pm after my 27 hour day.
Meanwhile in another hotel in the Seattle area, members of CT's crew were probably arriving and bedding down too. Tomorrow's show was the first of three festival shows in 4 days, and with the crew members being based in the Midwest and East Coasts, they'd almost certainly have had to travel in a day early. Tomorrow would see them having to travel out to the first venue in the forest a couple of hours north east of Seattle, check equipment and set up. The band members and road manager also probably arrived in Seattle today too.
Fri 4th August - Cheap Trick at Darrington WA or not
Another beautiful and sunny day, and Victoria had agreed to another tourist request from me. At 9.15am we arrived at the nearby Boeing factory at Everett. I'd never made it here before, but since I spend so much time travelling in airborne metal tubes it was something I'd long wanted to do. We took the hour long tour, which included being bussed over to the enormous factory hanger where twin aisle planes such as the 747 and 777 are constructed. We got to see several 777's being built, but sadly camera's etc are not allowed so I've got no photos.
Anyway, we later did some shopping in Everett, then headed north and east through forests and hills until we reached the Darrington Amphitheatre a little after 6pm. With reserved seating and CT not due on until 10pm, there seemed no reason to get here much earlier. Surprisingly, an AC/DC tribute band was playing when we got in, when Marty Balin and Slick Aguilera (ex Jefferson Airplane/Starship) were scheduled to be on stage. Cheap Trick's crew were backstage, and regular merchandiser Jon was up in the merch hut, complete with new yellow "Rockford" t-shirts for sale. The venue was pleasant, a small outdoor amphitheatre surrounded by tall, evergreen trees. There was a main seated area in front of the stage, with grass further back, and to the stage right side (Tom's side) were banked concrete levels up to the food and concessions level. If full I'd say the venue could have held maybe 4,000, but at early evening there were probably not more than about 800 people there. I don't think this necessarily reflected on Cheap Trick, as this was a 3 day festival with the majority of attendees expected to be camping for the 3 days, but it was both surprising and disappointing. I saw a handful of CT fans/friends, including Willem, Catharyn and young Max from near Seattle, also Laura from Colorado, and there were a few others in CT t-shirts.
The Outlaws played at 8pm, and when they were done, it was time for the crew to get the stage ready. However, there were business issues being negotiated backstage, and stage setup was being done with those things going on. However, the stage was made ready, with people like Bill and Larry ready to man the soundboard and lighting desk, and stage crew members Dave, Steve, Matt and Rick's new guitar tech Wookie ready to do all the stage work.
At 9.45pm the band members were ushered into a minivan and left the venue. The crew had to then set about dismantling CT's backline and other equipment and load it all back into the semi. The crowd watched, not knowing what was going on or why, and it took 45 minutes for one of the Festival promoters to announce that "Due to circumstances beyond our control, Cheap Trick will not be playing this evening". Of course the crowd voiced their disappointment, and there was enough anger from some for me to need to throw on a sweatshirt and cover up my CT logo shirt.
An interesting and disappointing evening, and though I've had shows cancelled on me before, this was the nearest to stage time. I didn't know all the details at the time, but from what I've read published online from local press since, it appears that the promoters/organisers were unable to meet all of their financial obligations, and hence several acts were unable to perform. Well, Victoria and I left at 10.35pm, but the crew were still there, loading up the semi to hit the road up for the 8-10 hour drive up into Canada. For the crew, I guess this was all in a days work, with only the actual show missing. But I guess that must have been frustrating for them too, to have been at the venue for much of the day, set up the stage and boards, and then have to take it all down and pack away, all without the show happening. All in all, a non-event for everyone concerned.
We had a brief, midnight supper stop at a Denny's near Bellingham, then drove along small, dark roads until reaching the Canadian border at Sumas. Getting into Canada at 1.30am was painless (Eh?) and we were at our booked hotel at Abbotsford soon after. It was good to fall into bed after a long day.
Sat 5th August - Cheap Trick in Kelowna, British Columbia
Despite the late night I woke up early at 7am, and it was sunny outside with the motel actually having the view of spectacular Mt Baker that its name suggested. I do love this whole region, stretching down from British Columbia into Northern California, because of the fabulous line of mountains running through it. Meanwhile, the crew bus was still en-route up to Kelowna, I gather not getting there until late this morning. Hopefully the crew would have got enough sleep in their bunks overnight, though would of course have had to be awake for the border crossing into Canada in the early hours.
Victoria and I left Abbotsford at 9.30am, driving along Highway 1 through attractive countryside and stopping at the small pretty town of Hope for late breakfast/early lunch. Located between steep, green, tree clad mountains and beside a pretty river, Hope was a nice place to stop and I was very taken with the various wood carvings around the town, including the large bear nearly opposite the Blue Moose coffee shop. That's certainly the closest I'll ever get to a bear I think!
Moving on, we drove north up the Coquihalla Highway, through mountains for the first 30 miles, before the scenery opened out a bit. At this point I must state the obvious, that much of the scenery in the Pacific Northwest is spectacular. I remarked in a review some months ago about the lovely Oregon coastline, but the forests, mountains and lakes of northern Washington and southern British Columbia are also magnificent, and its a beautiful area to visit and see. Obviously many folks think the same, given the numbers of RV's and other obviously tourist vehicles we saw.
We reached the outskirts of Kelowna by Lake Okanagan around 2pm and quickly checked into our hotel. Then drove into the town to shop, and eat at a White Spot restaurant - the BC Burger is to die for! Really, very good! We got to "The Bluff" venue at 4.30pm for the "Rock'n'Ride" Festival, with Cheap Trick headlining tonight. We parked in a dusty field about 3/4 mile from the actual outdoor venue, and then had to walk that distance up a long, dusty track. The festival was on open land (a bluff), with the lake about a mile behind. There was a large stage set up, with a large, enclosed standing area to the front, flanked on both sides by bar areas. Further back was a lot of open, standing area, and further back was another large, covered beer tent and the campgrounds.
A band was already playing to a handful of people, and it was interesting to see CT's Larry at the Boards. I'm not sure if he was actually working lights for that band (somewhat redundant in bright, late afternoon sunshine) or whether he was still setting up for CT's show later. But he was certainly working already, as the rest of the crew had been with CT's backline etc already set up and covered over on stage.
Later on a Deep Purple tribute band ("Highway Star") played, they were pretty good. Then the stage was cleared for Cheap Trick and the couple of dozen people in the front stage enclosure (which probably went back at least 50 yards to the GA area) were cleared out. Security said that only those who'd purchased "VIP" tickets were to be allowed in here. That seemed somewhat ridiculous, as up to 5 minutes before CT were due on, there were maybe only 40 people at the front stage barrier, then 50 yards of open space, with most people standing back in the GA area. Like last night the Festival didn't seem that well attended either, but Security finally opened up the front enclosure to all, and so there were maybe up to a thousand people there when the band finally came on stage at 9pm in the twilight.
RN black suit, black t-shirt w/small Beatles logo
(drone intro), Hello There, Big Eyes, Taxman Mr Thief, Welcome To The World, If You Want My Love, Perfect Stranger, Best Friend, I Want You To Want Me, I Know What I Want, Voices, If It Takes a Lifetime, Flame, 70s Song, Surrender // (encore) Dream Police, (RN guitar solo intro to ), California Man, Goodnight Now
Despite the modest sized crowd, the band looked to be in good shape and good spirits as the show started, possibly all the more so because of last nights cancellation. After "Big Eyes" Rick announced at "we are the one, the only, accept no substitutes, Cheap Trick and it's our pleasure to be here in Kelowna, British Columbia. We have a new CD which came out a week ago in Canada " at which point someone shouted out "Rockford!" prompting Rick to point out "There's the smartest person here tonight!" The band actually then went into "Taxman", which has been a welcome recent addition in the setlist in my opinion, being as its one of my favourite CT songs! The next song was introduced as "This one we've never played before in Canada", with the band launching into "Welcome to the World". As I'd thought at the two UK shows in June, this is played a little faster live than on the CD, but sounds good.
As ever, Rick was the in-your-face showman, covering every inch of the stage, flicking picks, having fun. Robin was cool, playing guitar on some songs, and with his voice in fine form. And the two "less visible" men on stage were also in fine form. Whether on a dusty bluff in the wilds of Canada or in a packed arena, Tom was enjoying the show in his own way - at times surveying the crowd and smiling that winning smile, and at other times rooted to the spot, head down and intensely lost in playing the music. And last but by no means least, Bun E was behind his kit at the rear of the stage, happy to be out of the limelight but controlling the show with his effective beat, and I do enjoy at times (when sightlines allow) taking time just to watch his movement and technique.
After "Perfect Stranger" (for which Rick played the square, yellow CD cover design guitar), Rick again addressed the crowd as the others grabbed a few moments break and towelled down. One thing I do particularly enjoy about the bands shows is that Rick actually talks to the crowd and does tailor his remarks to where they are. OK, so there are obviously standard lines, but for example at this point tonight, Rick noted the support the band had had from Canadian fans since the early days. "Hello to our good friends from Canada since 1977 we came here with KISS " which brought about a big crowd cheer and many shouts from the audience of "I was there!" Rick continued " and toured all across Canada. It was a good tour for us though we were still in grade school in 1977! We've played with Loverboy, Glass Tiger, Tim Horton <big laugh from the crowd - Tim Horton's is a chain of Canadian donut shops!> we got sick at Tim Horton's! But hey, the Police still go there!" The band then went into "Best Friend", during which Rick kept messing with a security guard at stage front! As ever, this song sounded great and its a pleasure to see the band let themselves go, including Robin at stage right hitting his guitars whammy bar during the frenzied latter part of the song. Actually, I thought this song sounded more controlled than usual, though still intense.
"I Want You to Want Me" was the usual crowd pleaser, afterwards Rick commented on the surroundings, noting that "Its a beautiful setting here it reminds me of Bun E's ranch!" There was a shout for "Dream Police", which Rick sort of ignored and mentioned that Lynyrd Skynyrd were playing here tomorrow. But the shouter in the crowd was not to be denied, shouting out "Don't Be Cruel". Bun E heard that and started up the beat, and though Robin was off stage, both Rick and Tom took up the song, playing for perhaps 30 seconds and Rick even started singing the chorus before they let it fade out! A fun, impromtu moment! After being introduced, Tom then played solo for a minute before launching into "I Know What I Want".
After Tom's song, Rick did what he does occasionally and good humouredly picked on a security guard, the one in front of his steps. "Hello to my brother-in-law Fred " he started, pointing to the young guard with the cool Mohican haircut " he's a real ladies man! How's Mom and Pop? He's got a good smile and a great looking haircut!" and Rick hit him with a pick or two before getting his next guitar!
After "Voices" the band went into their third new song of the evening "If It Takes a Lifetime" which they've only just started playing live. Robin was particularly intense during this, with the chords of his neck standing out, and he really delivered through this song. Rick and Tom provided backing vox, though I think it fair to say that these will improve on this song as time goes on!
"Surrender" saw the usual high-tempo climax to the main set, and the crowd were enthusiastic for more. As the band came back on to encore, Rick mentioned stage manager Colin's birthday and right on cue Colin was carried on stage by new tech Wookie! Robin and Tom's tech Dave emerged from the other side of the stage with a cake, and the crowd half heartedly sang "Happy Birthday"! All in all, a nice touch for a crew member having a birthday on the road. As Colin left carrying his cake, Rick commented that he has a lot of tattoo's "one for every year he's lived!"
The encore was well received as usual, and "Goodnight Now" saw 4 (yes, count 'em! Four!) endings! I guess we had a carry over from last nights cancelled show! Anyway, the show ended at 10.25pm, the band leaving immediately in a minivan and the crew hurriedly dismantling Cheap Trick's backline, Boards etc. In the hour after a show its a frenzy behind the stage, with local crew helping out and Colin and others of CT's permanent crew making sure that equipment was loaded into the semi in a particular order. Space on the semi is naturally limited, and it's racked in a very specific way to get everything in.
From there, the next show was in Sturgis, South Dakota the day after tomorrow. I'd guess that the band members flew there next day, but the crew guys most likely had a long, long ride in the bus ahead of them (including a border crossing back into the USA). I don't know the exact mileage but its certainly over 1000 miles, so perhaps the crew would get to Rapid City or Sturgis in time to have a free evening tomorrow, before the next day and the routine of setting up for another show. Everyone works hard to put on a show, from the band members themselves to management and particularly the small, permanent road crew that Cheap Trick have. To every one of them, thanks for making it happen night after night after night after
Sun 6 August
Well, the rest of my trip was vacation well, pretty much. There was another show actually, but not Cheap Trick (yes, those were traitorous words!)
Sunday was warm and sunny, though a bit hazy. Victoria and I headed down alongside Lake Okanagan, stopping en route in Peachland where it was cool to see vineyards as well as peach and cherry orchards, and to get some magnificent lake views. From Penticton we drove through spectacular Manning Park, through magnificent mountain valleys and following a clear, bubbling river. We reached Vancouver late afternoon, it was very quiet since it was a holiday weekend here in Canada. After checking in, we drove downtown and across to Stanley Park with its famous totem poles and wonderful view of the downtown skyline.
Mon 7th August
Happy BC Day! Whilst most roads were quiet on this warm and sunny holiday, those to Vancouver's Granville Island were busy, with many vehicles vying for one of the limited parking spots. We eventually parked and walked around the crowded small shops and Public Market.
Tues 8th August
Farewell to Canada, and back to the USA. We headed south on an overcast morning, and got caught up in solid border traffic waiting to cross at the Freedom Arch <sigh>. We eventually got through and literally zoomed our way south as we had the whole of Washington state to drive through. We were hurrying as Alice Cooper was playing at the County Fair down at Ridgefield at the bottom of Washington, close to Portland in Oregon. I know that there is some divide amongst CT fans about the shows CT did with Alice last autumn, but I loved them! I loved Alice's theatrics and he has some great songs, so I was happy to have the opportunity to see him again. We were running late after a couple of brief stops en-route, but we reached the fair at Ridgefield at 8pm, literally driving by the outdoors amphitheatre as the crowd roared to the start of the show. Of course we had to park about another half a mile away, so by the time we got in we'd missed (though heard whilst walking) the first two songs. But we got shown by an usher to our great fifth row seats (everybody was standing anyhow!) and enjoyed the rest of the show! Like Cheap Trick, Alice knows how to deliver a show, and he had the crowd of 3-4,000 in his hands for 90 minutes, and he only lost his head once! But then again, that happens every night!
Weds 9th August
The trip home. Ah, so a quick end to this review? Well, not quite
Victoria drove us back up through Washington to the Seatac airport at Seattle for late morning, and it took awhile to check-in, get through security and take the underground tram to the gates. I boarded the Amsterdam plane just after noon, and about half an hour later (before the aircraft doors closed) I had a nice surprise to find that I'd been upgraded again. I spent much of the 9 hour flight trying to sleep, but without much success.
Thurs 10th August
The flight landed at wet and grey Amsterdam at 7.30am in the morning, it was still late Wednesday evening in Seattle. I waited awhile at the gate for my flight back to Leeds/Bradford for about an hour, until it was finally announced there'd be a delay of over an hour. So I headed up to the lounge to wait more comfortably, and it was only up there that I heard about the Critical Terrorist Alert in the UK that had been implemented whilst I was in flight. I heard snippets of information from other travellers trying to get home, and soon realised that airports in the UK were pretty much closed down, with no one knowing for how long. And it wasn't just the UK affected, but US flights too, plus knock-on delays in other places as well. My Leeds flight was eventually cancelled, as was a Manchester one I'd been rebooked on, and KLM then offered to put me up locally for the night. Well, with no way of telling how much longer I'd be stuck at the airport, I took up the offer, so after 5 hours at the airport I found myself on my way to an airport hotel (Crowne Plaza, very nice!) However, my suitcase was still somewhere stored at the airport. Mid afternoon I braved the grey and damp weather and caught a train nearby to central Amsterdam, where I showed a stranded American tourist around for a few hours (I'd last been in Amsterdam only 3 years ago so I remembered my way around pretty well).
Fri 11th August - Home at last!
I was up at 5.30am local time to shower, breakfast and get back to the airport for about 7.15am. With the highly increased security for UK and US bound flights, I had to check-in my two carry-on bags. My morning flight to Leeds/Bradford was late and when passing through boarding card check at the gate the machine beeped and the KLM agent told me I'd been rebooked on the 4.15pm flight to Leeds <sigh>. As you can guess, I was more than a little unhappy to hear that, and it took a supervisor to reinstate me onto this flight which I'd been rebooked onto yesterday morning. The flight eventually took off an hour late, but at least I was finally on my way home. It had been raining heavily at Amsterdam, but Leeds was sunny and dry as we approached the airport right over the city centre just before 10am UK time. The plane finally landed and I was home at last, 39 hours after checking in at Seattle. But my troubles weren't quite over my suitcase did appear on the conveyor belt but the two carry-on bags I'd been forced to check in at Amsterdam a few hours ago didn't show <sigh>. So I had to line up and file a missing luggage claim, though hopefully they'd be on the afternoon flight. Happily they were and safely got delivered to my house early evening and luckily I was still awake.
The end, and THANKS!
And so ended an interesting and eventful week long trip. I'd seen mountains, lakes and trees, visited a TV location, had a Cheap Trick show cancelled but then saw a good one the next night, saw the moon rise over the Vancouver skyline, saw Alice Cooper be beheaded (again), and spent 27 hours at Amsterdam due to a major terrorist alert well, at least I couldn't complain about a quiet vacation, Eh?
There are always THANKS due after a trip, and first and foremost I must thank Victoria as always, for her kindness and company, and for doing so much driving! Thanks also to Cheap Trick and crew, in particular to Carla and Colin. I hope next time I see them, things are going more smoothly and with a slightly less hurried show/travel schedule!
Kim Gisborne, Leeds England - 28 Aug 2006
This Site and all material held within it are Copyright by Kim Gisborne