I didn’t know who the Hip were, I didn’t know what they sounded like, I didn’t know that they’d be bringing their own sold out crowd from North of the border, I didn’t even know they were Canadian. But we were in a van, like a 98 Chevy Lumina van, with it’s pointy nose that reminded me of something that would drop the astronauts off at the launch tower before blast-off, and we were flying West on the Thruway toward Buffalo, toward the Hip.
We knew the opening band, though, or at least my brother did. My uncle, he knew the Hip and he got us the tickets. My brother said sure because he knew the opening band and he knew that Uncle Chris wouldn’t take us to a bad show, and I said sure because he had.
We get to the amphitheater, a mid-sized venue in the middle of farm country attached to a theme park. It was its own stop off the expressway, not far from Buffalo, not far from the Canadian border. And the parking lots are full of people drinking Molsons and Labatts and waving Canadian flags. We rushed past the tailgaters and in to the lawn, in time to get a good spot and see Guster open the show. At first, it was like any other show. Fans strolled in, we stretched out in the grass, and the sun began to go down behind the pavilion.
The lawn was filling in as Guster ended and the changeover began on stage. And it kept filling in. I’d never seen so many people there. The lawn section was about the shape and size of an outfield at baseball stadium and it was packed back to the fence. This was the A team, the travel squad, the ones who paid to come down to the States to see the band, and they wouldn’t be disappointed. They were clad in Maple Leafs jerseys. So many Maple Leafs jerseys.
We were next to a group of boozy fans a little older than we were (I was 14, my brother was 17) who were mystified when they found out we were at a Hip show but had never heard the Hip. “Why are you here then,” they asked. “Because we wanted to see Guster.” “What the hell is a guster?” We explained it was the band that was still on-stage and they went back to their beers, getting ready for the real show to begin. We picked the conversation back up once the changeover on stage had begun. At this point, they were starting chants of Go Leafs Go that the entire lawn section, probably 10 or 12 thousand strong at this point, was joining in in. We began to chat again with them, and between chants of Go Leafs Go, they started singing Hip songs, but noticed we couldn’t join in. Finally, they found a song we could sing along to: the Canadian National Anthem, so they kicked into that, “shhhing” us when they forgot the words, afraid their fellow countrymen would know they had come down to Buffalo and then forgotten the words to Oh Canada.
Finally, the lights went down, the crowd roared, and the Hip came out. They started with Tiger The Lion, with it’s ambient guitars and paranoid lyrics, followed by Fully Completely, and other classics. The crowd sang and sang loud, and our neighbors wanted us to sing along too. They began belting out the songs a line ahead of Gord so we could sing with him.
The Hip were entertaining, they provided fantastic nights, amazing YouTube sessions listening to the Killer Whale Tank and other rants. They gave me something to sing loud on lonely road trips and a soundtrack through college to drown out whatever I needed to drown out. But more than that, The Hip gave me poetry to consume, culture and stories different from my own to consider.