I’ve been to the Grey Cup in Regina. That was back in 1995. My sister and I parked at a mall on the north end of the city and made our way to Taylor Field on one of the school buses that had been pressed into service to move the hoards to the stadium.
It was an orderly process and at no time did my inherent itchiness when among teeming humanity take over my enjoyment of the event. Likewise a later visit to Vancouver to take in Grey Cup Week festivities resulted in little unwanted jostling from other attendees.
Fast forward to Saturday, June 11. My daughter had surprised me a week or so earlier with the news she, along with a friend, was taking me to see Garth Brooks at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon. Her friend’s mother was also taking in the show.
I’m not certain if my daughter is really a Garth Brooks fan, but she did point out she grew up listening to his music. I’m the fan, and have been since early in the man’s career. Her friend is a true second-generation fan of his music and warned us she was going to shed tears more than once, and she didn’t disappoint. That Summer had her tearing up early on in the show.
We attended the second show of the day, and dutifully trooped to the downtown bus mall from where we were staying on Avenue D and caught a bus in plenty of time to make it to the 10:30 p.m. show. The bus passengers were in sharp contrast to a bus heading to Mosaic Stadium on game day. Those buses tend to be jammed with boisterous women of a certain age sporting all kinds of green and white bling. In this case I was the sole obvious Rider supporter in the crowd, as I had dutifully chosen to wear my Rider jersey. It was game day. The bus riders were also rather low key, holding quiet conversations or merely gazing out the windows.
The diversity of those heading to the concert was also apparent. My husband quipped the arena would be filled with grey-haired women. That wasn’t the case at all. The stadium was, in fact, filled with enthusiastic fans of all ages.
The bus dropped us off about six blocks from SaskTel Centre and as we made our way to the stadium we got our first taste of what was to come. There were literally tides of people making their way towards the building. We chose a lineup at random and waited as the concert’s 10:30 p.m. start time came and went. As we stood in the rain it became apparent ours was the only line that was not moving. After some hemming and hawing we made the decision to leave the queue in favour of one that was actually moving people into the centre.d
Wham! Wall-to-wall humanity was what we encountered next and it all seemed to be moving toward us as we tried to progress way, way over there to section H. It seemed an impossible task, but I tucked myself in behind my daughter and took the advice of the big cowboy behind me. “Turn sideways and shuffle,” he said, and his advice seemed to be working.
My daughter and I are tall people, so I was able to keep her in sight, but her more diminutive friend and her mom were soon swallowed up in the masses.
Once we got past the drinks and merchandise outlets the crowd thinned out noticeably and we were reunited with our friends and tucked into our seats just as Garth Brooks hit the stage. It was 11:30 p.m. I think most of the concert goers were able to get to their seats before the show started, but I think it is fair comment that SaskTel Centre does not handle a capacity crowd of 15,000 well.
As my daughter was arranging this adventure, she worried I wouldn’t be able to stay awake for a 10:30 show, but here it was, an hour late getting going, and, believe me, I was wide awake!
To say the acoustics at SaskTel Centre aren’t great is an understatement, but I can’t hold them responsible for the fact I wear hearing aids. They tend to amplify everything, including bass, steel guitar and fiddles, so for much of the show I wasn’t actually able to hear Garth’s voice. I didn’t let that interfere with my enjoyment, however, as I know most of his songs by heart.
And the show was a complete hoot. I have a VCR tape of the concert Brooks performed in New York City’s Central Park in 1997, almost 20 years ago. Back in the days when I was able to soak in my Jacuzzi tub to escape my life, it was favourite background music to my retreat.
The man’s energy level then was inspiring and after seeing him put forth for the second time in one day that Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, I’m still inspired. He was as energetic as if he’d just arisen from the breakfast table to start the day. And the crowd loved it. They danced and sang along and responded to his frequent interaction with the audience.
There was no warm-up act, and even though he was soaked with perspiration just a few minutes into the show, he took only one brief break from the stage during the entire performance that didn’t end until 2 a.m. The obligatory encore was my favourite part of the evening. For the most part the half-hour segment featured just Brooks and his guitar and for the first time I was able to clearly hear his voice. And he saved The Dance for the encore, just for me. I got the shivers, but I didn’t cry. My daughter’s pal did.
The band was flawless, Trisha Yearwood’s contributions were superbly performed and the lights and other effects were entertaining. The performance is an experience I shared with my daughter that I will always cherish, but what came next was somewhat hair-raising.
After two standing ovations the show was over. My daughter turns 30 this summer and we haven’t held hands for a long time, but I was hanging on tight as we joined the teeming masses to exit the stadium. We were pulled along by the crowd and quickly lost track of two other members of our group. Cellphones are wonderful things and we were all soon reunited.
We walked the six blocks back to where our bus was waiting, crammed to the gills this time so we rode standing up. Five minutes after boarding the bus was on its way heading down Warman Road into downtown. I was still wide-awake, but one young guy hanging by a strap yawned all the way. I felt rather smug that I’d held up better than someone 30 years my junior.
We were back at our lodgings in about half an hour, walking through downtown Saskatoon in the dead of night. But it wasn’t quiet, as nightclub attendees were milling in the streets, some of them not all that steady on their feet.
So, I did it! I swallowed my aversion to crowds, turned the evening into an adventure and experienced a memorable concert by one of my favourite artists. It was a successful foray into the “unknown.”