Busking the McCartney Concert

This blog has been pretty quiet on the busking news for the simple reason that there ain’t been much happening. The football season is over and the NHL is locked in a prolonged contract dispute. Those are my busking bread and butter. However, there have been a few big concerts at Rexall place lately. The Chili Peppers played the arena two nights in a row and the first night was a sold out show. I was able to busk the first show and it was pleasantly lucrative. That was nice.

The big one was last week:  Paul McCartney played sold out shows on two consecutive nights. He’d never played in Edmonton before and the city was abuzz. As musical celebrities go they don’t don’t come bigger than Sir Paul. I think that most people regarded this as a once in a lifetime opportunity as he is not likely to make an appearance here again. And for your humble blogging busker there could scarcely be a better crowd to play.

On the night of the concert I was pretty tired from a hectic day at work. On the way home I detoured through downtown to stop at ETS Customer Service and renew my busking permit for the upcoming month. As I approached the MacDonald hotel there was a lot of activity on the street. There were police cars blocking all lanes of traffic and and more than a few camera crews. A little convoy of black SUVs pulled out of the hotel parking lot and were followed by a police escort. McCartney on his way to the venue, I assume.

McCartney leaving the MacDonald.

Once home, I barely had time to grab a small bite to eat before heading off to the LRT station for the busk. The walk to the station was a crisp one with the temperature at -15C. This would become a important factor later in the night. My busking compatriot was already installed and playing when I arrived. We moved directly into me playing melody and him accompanying on guitar and we’d continue this for all of the incoming crowd. As expected, the crowd was genial and generous, an excellent combination. The fans were also an early arriving crowd with the LRT disgorging trains full of concert goers long before the doors were scheduled to open. As a result an unusual thing happened. Often the outgoing crowd of a large event stalls to a standstill as the trains cannot transport sufficient volumes of bodies away at a rate large enough to keep the crowd moving forward. In my decade of busking in Edmonton this has never happened with an incoming crowd. Until McCartney, that is.

The incoming crowd backs up and stalls.

The incoming crowd backs up and stalls.

I’d never seen the like and my busking partner who as been at it far longer than I had not either. This is the drawing power of an iconic musical legend. Of course, this worked to our advantage as the crowd had no alternative but to listen our excellent ( in my opinion) instrumental prowess. Many people who I think would have otherwise passed us by took the time to chuck a few coins or bills in the hat.

Eventually the arena doors opened and the crowd began moving forward again. It was about this time that something special happened. A young woman stopped and asked if we were going to the concert. We answered that we were not. She said that if one of us was interested she had an extra ticket to the concert. She handed it to me and moved off into the crowd. I was still somewhat in my busking trance (try playing for  hours for a cacophonous, serpentine crowd and you will know what this is) , bemused and not sure what had just happened. The ticket looked legit. Cool. Which of us would go?

For various logistical reasons, we decided that I’d be the lucky concert goer. I had to decide what I’d do with my instruments as there would be no room for them in the cramped arena seating even if I was permitted to bring them in.  I decided to stow them in my friends car for the duration of the concert, something of gamble as -15C is not particularly friendly to instruments.

One of my two main busking implements. This instrument has seen a decade o hard strumming and picking in some unfriendly environments. It is scratched,scuffed and worn with a crack on one side. I felt safe in leaving it at -15c for a couple of hours.

One of my two main busking implements. This instrument has seen a decade of hard strumming and picking in some unfriendly environments. It is scratched,scuffed and worn with a crack on one side. I felt safe in leaving it at -15c for a couple of hours.

We busked until the scheduled start of the concert, I stowed my instruments and raced into the arena. I was not well prepared for a public event  in close quarters. I  hadn’t had time to change out of my work clothes or shower before heading to busk. So be it. McCartney hadn’t yet taken the stage when I arrived at my seat high above the arena floor. Although I was almost high enough to jump onto the overhead catwalks I was a the end of the arena closest to the stage and had a good view. I was able to properly thank my benefactors at this time for the ticket.

The concert was great. I can’t claim to be any sort of fervent Beatles or McCartney fan, but Sir Paul put on a heck of a show and I was reminded of how many great songs he was associated with (I might have to learn Blackbird now.). He played for almost three hours (37 songs!) without an intermission. He was in fine form and he sounded just like Paul McCartney. His voice only sounded strained at a couple of points. Over the evening he played bass, guitar, ukulele, mandolin and piano. There was a good mix of Beatles, Wings and his solo material. He had the enthusiastic crowd in the palm of his hand. I didn’t have a decent camera with me so I as able to actually watch the stage unlike many others who spent a lot of the time staring at their little camera screens while recording the concert.

I stayed until the last official song of the show (Hey Jude) but then scooted out before the inevitable encores. I’d have liked to stay for them, but a working busker’s gotta busk. I ran down to get my instruments and settled in for the outgoing crowd. I had horrible tuning problems as my cittern warmed up from it’s stay in the frosty car. It had just stabilized when the station doors opened and the icy air accompanying the arriving crowd knocked it out of tuning again. I probably spent half the time either playing an out of tune instrument or else tuning it (10 strings to tune !).

All in all it was a great night and a busk to remember, with money earned and memories of a good show. I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 2am making my 6am alarm feel earlier than usual. Still, it was worth it.

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