Last night’s awesome performance by Mick Jagger and Jeff Beck instantly had me remembering my friend Dave MacMillan. David has been a friend for roughly 28 years, and even though we don’t see each other as often anymore (he lives in Toronto, and I’m in California) he’s the type of friend that no matter how much time goes between seeing each other, we just pick up where we left off. Long-time camping buddy & canoe partner we’ve weathered family events and marriage breakups, and I always know that if I needed David, he’d be there.
David is a music-head (like me) and while our tastes didn’t always mesh 100%, we share that common passion for great music, of any genre. David is a Stones fanatic, and has seen the band more times than is likely sane (he followed them across Canada once – or was that twice? – to see multiple shows on the same tour), and because he is still in ‘the business’, he’s met many (if not all ) of the band-members. (David I’m sure will chime in and let me know). He has also worked professionally with Jeff Beck, and the moment I saw these two icons on TV, I instantly tweeted “Bet Mac is taping this now”.
But that performance, and my thoughts of David, also got me to recollecting “Sarstock” – the July 2003 Rolling Stones concert event in Toronto that drew approximately 450,000 fans to a sun-baked, hotter-than-hades day of music, ‘experience’, and Rolling Stones extravaganza
July 30, 2003
In the spring of 2003, the City of Toronto got hit by a SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic of significant proportions which eventually left 44 people dead.
By March, 2003, the premier of Ontario issued a provincial declaration of emergency. This was the first time in its history the province had declared such an emergency. By that time, 25 cases of SARS had been reported in Toronto, and 23 suspected or probable cases were admitted to local hospitals. Three people had died from the disease. This lead to the World Health Organization issuing advisories for travelers to avoid Toronto. While health authorities struggled to both better understand SARS, as well as get the epidemic under control, the economic impact of those global travel advisories started to have an effect on the tourism industry in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Hotel bookings dried up, restaurants experienced severe downturns, and the impact was both swift and measurable. Media-fed hysteria didn’t help anything.
While the health crises was managed and eventually overcome, re-starting the tourism industry was a little more complicated. The solution? A massive benefit concert, featuring the greatest band of all times, the Rolling Stones! (The concert was allegedly the idea of the band) The entire event was pulled together in roughly a month, and the plans were grandiose to be sure. Somewhere around the middle of June, David called me up: “Hey man, I have tickets to the SARS concert, wanna go?”. So I packed up some stuff and headed to Toronto to go and see the show.
It’s Only Rock and Roll
And so on Wednesday July 30th, 2003, David and I, along with 450,000 other fans, headed of to the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history, and one of the largest in North American history. The concert was held at Downsview Park in northern Toronto, which was a former military base, and the fans gathered on what was once the runway area – which meant that there wasn’t a stick of shade to be found. The heat that day was unbearable! The day’s line-up included a number of well known Canadian acts (Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards, La Chicane, The Tea Party, Sass Jordan, Blue Rodeo, The Guess Who, and Rush) as well as International acts including The Isley Brothers, The Flaming Lips, Justin Timberlake, AC/DC, and of course The Rolling Stones.
The specifics of the day have faded from memory now (in part thanks the the copious amount of beer consumed that afternoon and evening), but it was a great day. David’s wife Jan, anticipating the two of us getting into shenanigans, made us special laminated tags (“Hi, my name is John Foliot. If I’ve fallen down, please call 905-xxx-xxxx”), and thanks to David’s music industry contacts in Toronto we snagged passes to the Molson tent (which got us out of the unbearable heat and provided access to plenty of cold beer). While we were not supposed to bring cameras into the festival, I was not the only person snapping souvenir photos of the day.
The road-trip proved to be just what I needed (I was dealing with the collapse of my marriage that spring), and David’s invite was just what the doctor ordered. So David, if I never properly thanked you for that day, allow me to do so now. And while it was only Rock and Roll, we liked it!