One Happy Night at a Bar – Ryan Adams & Elton John (p.s. Evan turns six on Sunday)

When I first started venturing my way back towards vinyl in the late double zeros, I was walking through snow covered sidewalks in downtown Toronto. My wife sent me out of her hospital room for a couple hours as my worried eyes just wouldn’t allow her a moment to rest. All the concern I was showing was ‘overly concerning’ to her about how much sleep I was getting. As if I was the person who people needed to be worried about. So I decided to wander over to the record store to pick up some music.

I needed to get something that brought back a good memory, something powerful, so I knew what I was hoping to buy. Sure enough, both Heartbreaker and Gold were in stock and I bought them. As I went back into the cold my mind wandered back a few years.

heartbreaker gold

In 2001, I had been having a very rough year… I had back surgery that saw a couple discs removed from my spine, and the medication I was taking for pain had sent me into a very deep and extreme depression. As I sat in a hospital room of my own, de-toxing from prescription medication, I leaned heavily on music to see me through. Lucinda Williams, The Pernice Brothers, Deathray Davies, Dressy Bessy, Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams were beside me as I spent many an hour contemplating a single orange screw in the ceiling of my room.

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(I know it doesn’t sound happy, but I’ll get there)

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Anyway, shortly after my ‘little vacation’ and of course 9/11, Ryan Adams released Gold, which was a phenomenal record, and in the lead up had done Austin City Limits with Elton John. Anyway, I had a $15.00 ticket to see Ryan Adams on a nice warm October night at Lee’s Palace, a bar where I had seen many a band play before.

So, I walked in and the bar was filled with friends and acquaintances from my university days who were all there to check out this guy who seemed to turn heartbreak into a sweeter kind of sorrow; the kind of pain you can live through.

Anyway, the set began, and the crowd was really into it. Smiles and drinks and laughs and a set that was pulling people together, a community of strangers were having a great time. In the crowd I noticed a local musician(Ron Sexsmith), which was pretty standard for shows here, except that, well, he looked to be more excited than the audience. It was at this point, perhaps about 10 songs into the set, that Adams smiles and introduces his friend – Elton John.

Elton “F’n” John… in Lee’s “F’n” Palace… Sir Elton “F’n” John

The energy level in the bar went through the roof. I honestly can’t say how many concerts I have seen over the years, but nothing compares to the moment when Elton John took the stage. They began to play “La Cienega Just Smiled” with John behind a piano and taking over a good chunk of the vocal duties. Then Ron Sexsmith and a couple other local songwriters took the stage and the gathering blazed into John’s “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time).” With smiles going from ear to ear and every person on stage staring at Elton John; it seemed to me that the knighted one was the only person in the bar to have any semblance of calm.

So the night went on. John would stick around for  “New York, New York” and depart leaving Adams to play two sets of encores that lasted out for another eight songs. By the time we all exited the bar there was a sense of euphoria that I had never felt leaving any concert either before or since. People were happy. I was happy. In the midst of my shittiest year to date, a year when the whole world looked to be falling into chaos, I went to this concert expecting only music and instead found a life affirming spectacle. Lee’s Palace is only a 600 person venue, but that night felt like a friendly get together with a musician I adore and his friend the living legend. It was the kind of night, the kind of memory, that you can cling to as the weather grows colder.

The snow that night kept falling as I walked back to the hospital holding tight to my vinyl. Several hours after visiting hours I was sent home. Of course, I didn’t sleep, but I did spin my albums, as I watched the clock that would give me permission to go back. Two days later, my wife gave birth to my second son, and after a bit of scary, crazy… stuff – things were good. Yeah, life has provided more snowy nights than I care to think about, but little moments like that night (and the birth of my kids) continue to see me through to another spring. Evan turns six on Sunday.

Thanks Ryan & Elton

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