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The time-travelling cowbell, and other tales from Rock The Kootenays

I wasn’t expecting the time travel, but it was surely an added perk. The time travel was maybe even the best part of the Rock The Kootenays Festival.
It’s estimated 10,000 concert-goers attended the inaugural Rock The Kootenays Festival over the three days, Aug. 11-13. (Barry Coulter photo)

I wasn’t expecting the time travel, but it was surely an added perk. The time travel was maybe even the best part of the Rock The Kootenays Festival.

It was the good kind of time travel, where you travel back in time and find closure. Not the weird kind of time travel, like the Bootstrap Paradox or the Butterfly Effect, or travelling forward in time into the post-apocalypse.

I was struck by a lot of things about Cranbrook’s inaugural Classic Rock Fest, August 11 through 13. The great enthusiasm of both crowds and performers, and the whole peace and love vibe of the event — and I say that without irony. I’ve always been interested in the synergy between audience and performer, and have sought it out, and on this occasion it was very special indeed. I felt this synergy all weekend long, and understand that this music and these bands hit Cranbrook’s demographic precisely. While all generations were represented at Rock the Kootenays, those in their 50s and 60s made up the majority of concert-goers — as great number of Cranbrook residents indeed are — and so the music of the performers would speak to them like a direct voice from the past. The music we’re digging in our teens and twenties is the music that gets locked right into our hippocampuses, the part of the brain involved in the emotional processing of music. The hippocampus is also where memory is encoded. So there.

But there’s more to it than just biology. This, to me, was time travel, and I had the actual experience, kind of eerie, of actually being transported back in time to find myself 20 years old again. Standing there in front of the stage, I looked around at the crowd, everybody rocking out, and I could, I swear, see the same thing happening to all of us. I felt 30 pounds vanishing, all that heavy experience of the past 40 years fading away, and, most amazing of all, all that hair growing back on my head, including the bangs and the perpetual bedhead and tangles I could never control. That’s the power of Rock and Roll, Man!

Back at age 20, on this remarkable weekend, I suddenly felt a sense of closure, like I was meeting my 20-year-old self, and nodding at each other, as if to say, “It’s going to be all right. Rock on!”

I applaud the organizers of this inaugural event. Any organizational chaos or snafus leading up to the Festival were resolved, and adjustments were made on the fly to deal with the heat and the long lines, and ticket issues. The choice of venue made sense too, once ensconced down at the Western Financial Place parking lot. Besides the space, power, parking and set-up requirements, it was great to have such an event downtown. It was very, very hot, all right, on the asphalt, but the misting station, plentiful water and other amenities provided helped with that.

As to the music, I was struck by the mix of the familiar and the new, and the energy which all bands brought. I enjoyed how they had all seemed to have aged so well, in that rock and roll sense, and how, being Canadian after all, they were like old friends playing for us, without that great separation between audience and star.

Cranbrook is very much a Rock and Roll town. That’s been proven.

* * *

I was walking through the Safeway parking lot, on Sunday early afternoon, about to head down to the Festival, when Mike Nix drove past. He stopped in the middle of the intersection.

“One of the bands needs a cowbell,” he said to me from his car. “Do you know anyone who’s got a cowbell.”

What are the odds? “Why, I have a cowbell,” I said.

“Can you bring it down?” Mike said, and drove off.

I do, in fact, have a cowbell. I got this cowbell so I could pull it out at parties, bang on it with a drumstick, and yell “More Cowbell!” Like the Saturday Night Live sketch. That’s the only reason I bought it. But now I realize that this cowbell could be part of one of the great musical moments of my life.

I hurried home to get it, then walked to the Festival. As I walked along, I banged on the cowbell and shouted “More Cowbell!” at other people who were walking there. Everyone of them raised their fists in response, and shouted “More Cowbell!” back at me. It was really quite perfect.

At the side of the stage at Western Financial Place I handed the cowbell to Mike Kozak, drummer for Teaze.

“You can keep the cowbell,” I said. “I’m donating it to the cause of Rock n’ Roll.’

“It’s funny,” he said. “You don’t realize how many songs you actually use the cowbell on.”

“You know,” I told him, “Teaze was the first Rock band I ever saw live.” It’s true. I had just left the farm and moved into Saskatoon, summer of 1980. Teaze was playing at the Saskatoon Exhibition. Mike Kozak would have been drumming there and then.

We shook hands, and I went out front and watched Teaze. I enjoyed them even more than I had 43 years earlier. Mike Kozak was really rocking on the drums.

Mike Kozak, drummer for Teaze. (Barry Coulter photo)
Mike Kozak, drummer for Teaze. (Barry Coulter photo)

Up next was Streetheart, who really are one of the great Canadian Rock bands. They also put on a killer show. At one moment, lead singer Paul McNair reached behind the monitor and pulled out … my cowbell! He played it for a few measures with a drumstick, accompanying a sizzling guitar solo by Jeff Neill. “Fantastic!” I said to myself, as I banged my head in time.

The next day, I was walking home from work, reflecting on time travel, and how music is the best tool for time travel, and how music is timeless, how Rock and Roll, does, in fact, keep you young — it’s much better than Jazz in that way — and on my cowbell, and what a great destiny it could enjoy, touring and playing with the band Teaze, and maybe Streetheart too. All of a sudden, Mike Nix drove by, and stopped, once again, in the middle of the intersection. “How fortuitous,” he said, and handed me my cowbell from his car

“Oh, I told them they could keep the cowbell,” I said. But I was delighted to have it back. “This,” I said, “is a time travelling cowbell. It’s the only thing I have that I know for sure has travelled through time, and I shall treasure it accordingly.”

So, if you are ever in my neighbourhood and you hear a loud “TOCK-TOCK-TOCK-TOCK” that reminds you of Blue Oyster Cult, you’ll know it’s me, rocking out.

Paul McNair, singer for Streetheart (Barry Coulter photo)
Paul McNair, singer for Streetheart (Barry Coulter photo)

Barry Coulter

About the Author: Barry Coulter

Barry Coulter had been Editor of the Cranbrook Townsman since 1998, and has been part of all those dynamic changes the newspaper industry has gone through over the past 20 years.
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