Last week, my son wanted to take the car and drive to Toronto with a friend – primarily to visit the one-day pop-up store that would be selling the Kendrick Lamar line of Nike products, but also because he grew up in Buffalo, where day-trips to Toronto are part of the rich cultural pastiche that is our birthright.
For the first time, I worried. I wondered if he'd be hassled at the border, or if Americans would be received with the same open arms we've grown accustomed to. Lately I've been reflecting on something I've long taken for granted – the fact that Toronto is a part of the Buffalo music scene, and has been for all of the 28 years I've lived here.
Above and beyond the fact that a healthy portion of my "favorite artists of all time" list is populated by Canadians – Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rush, the Band, the Tragically Hip – I'm reminded of the many pivotal concert experiences I've had on the Canadian side of the border, and the many incredibly kind people I've met during those experiences.
In fact, I owe a debt of gratitude to Canada for launching my career as a music journalist.
The Lollapalooza '93 lineup was too tantalizing to pass up, and since it wasn't coming to Buffalo, packing the car and heading to Molson Park in Barrie, Ont., felt like a no-brainer. The show was on my 25th birthday, and the fact that Alice in Chains, Primus and Fishbone would be rounding out the evening felt like a pretty wonderful birthday gift. One of my best friends, Kim, offered to drive me and my girlfriend to the show, and to shoot pictures to accompany my review, which was slated to run in the Buffalo entertainment weekly Metro Weekend.
That review would be my first published work. Metro Weekend turned into Buffalo Beat. I became music editor and then editor in chief. I haven’t stopped writing since. The girlfriend didn’t last. Kim is now my wife.
Also, I caught a great band I was unfamiliar with at the time, up close and personal on the second stage. It was Tool. They turned out to be one of my favorite heavy bands.
I've lost count of the times I've traveled to Toronto – or Hamilton, London, Barrie, etc. – in the years since. The Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto SARS relief concert, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the The, Mercury Rev, David Bowie, Cheap Trick, Peter Gabriel, Rush, Neil Young, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Paul McCartney, U2, Iron Maiden, Yes, Deep Purple, Daniel Lanois, the Tragically Hip – Canada welcomed me warmly to shows by all of these artists, some of them multiple times. I've made many Canadian friends over the past quarter-century. I've also partied with many of my fellow Buffalonians, none of whom thought twice about crossing the border to take in a show.
I'll be going back in a few weeks' to add another show to my list of Canadian dream gigs. Radiohead is one of only a handful of artists on my must-see bucket list. I'll be checking the band off the list when it plays Toronto's Air Canada Centre on July 19.
I made a new friend when Marillion played the Town Ballroom in Buffalo recently. He had driven down from Toronto for this rare and intimate gig. We got to talking, hit it off immediately, and within a matter of minutes, he had invited me to an exclusive club appearance featuring Alex Lifeson of Rush with the Rheostatics, a benefit concert for the Canadian alt-weekly the West End Phoenix. He was, in concert-lover parlance, a totally chill and cool dude. Much like every Canadian I've encountered at concerts over the years.