How I Got Into Hawksley Workman

Someone on the Hawksley Workman “Papershoes” message board re-posted a review of the Hawksley Workman concert we went to in London last May.  Because I'm not a regular contributing member there, I think some of the commenters who had the impression I was a new Hawskley fan attending my first concert of his for some reason. 

This is quite far from the truth and since it's a pretty funny story, I thought I'd post the true history of my Hawksley fandom going back to a concert just down the road from London in Waterloo, way back in 2000 (probably when some of the posters on that board still thought Raffi was the biggest thing in music </grumpy old man>)

(Oh, and nobody ever posts when I put out blatant calls for comments but if you're so inclined, I'd love to hear your stories of how you got into your favourite bands or memorable concert experiences.)

Okay, on with the story…

Through my work, I was sent to a conference in Toronto in June 2000.  The person who did the same job as I did but for the Book Publishers Association of Alberta instead of the Saskatchewan Publishers Group, wanted to go to a concert by some guy I think she says is named “Hawkeye”.

One catch is it's in Waterloo and we're in Toronto. I keep putting her off all week, trying to get her to find somebody else to go, saying “it's Toronto – there must be ONE band we could see here instead!” and making various other excuses.  Finally on the day of the concert, she really starts hammering me. We'd seen Lou Reed at the Hummingbird Centre the night before and she goes “Okay, that was cool. But now imagine seeing Lou Reed when he first started with the Velvet Underground. That's what going to this concert will be like. And in twenty years, when Hawkeye's doing a tour like Lou just did, you'll be able to say 'I saw him when…'”

Hmmmm… Maybe she's serious and it's not just some singer she's got a crush on after seeing him once in Edmonton? (She had earlier admitted to me that she tends to do that sometimes!)  But now, it's getting later in the day and once we've fulfilled our conference obligations, we get the hotel concierge to help us figure out what we should do – we could take a bus to Waterloo but have no way to get back (unless we happen to find someone driving back to TO), paying a cab a lump sum but that would be WAY too expensive.  I even ask the concierge what time he gets off and if he owns a car/wants to go to a concert? No dice. Sophie wants to rent a car and I have to admit this is probably the best option. But another catch – she doesn't drive which is why she's so insistent about getting someone to go with her. “At all?” I ask, seeing maybe an ulterior motive for why she wants me to go so badly. “Okay Jason, here's the deal. If you say you'll drive to the concert, I'll pay for the car rental. I'll pay for the gas.  I'll pay for your ticket to the concert. I'll buy you a beer when we get there. And I swear, you will not regret this!”

Holy crap, I think – she's willing to spend somewhere north of a hundred bucks for a $7 concert. Yep, she's serious all right! I finally give in and agree to go with her. By now, it's past 6pm and all downtown car rental locations are closed. (I'm secretly glad because one of the reasons I was so resistant is that I was nervous about having to drive in downtown Toronto and also on the 401 in a rental car.  Up until then, driving in Calgary once as part of a long wedding procession was the biggest driving challenge I'd faced. Otherwise, my experience was limited to dirt roads and “Regina Rush Hour” ie. three cars at a stop light at 5 p.m.)

We catch a shuttle to the airport where the car rental agencies are still open. She rents a car no problem and we head off – for Hamilton. Oops, wrong turn immediately after leaving the airport. Finally get to a gas station and get straightened around. Hit the highway and the 401 (with a line from the Tragically Hip running through my head: “You don't fuck with the 401”) is everything I'd heard – 120kph is the average speed, people are whipping past me even as I do that, the traffic is super heavy, tons of semis (which I've since learned that people in Ontario call “transports”) even on a Saturday night and when we finally get to Waterloo, I somehow manage to miss the proper exit – twice! – and have to keep backtracking.

We're not even sure exactly what time the concert starts and it's now 10pm. Neither of us say it but there's a good chance this whole adventure will lead to us (maybe) just catching the encore.  Or worse, turning around when we get there because the concert is over.

Finally finally finally, we get to the Jane Bond Cafe (to my memory, a small house converted into a pub/hangout-type place with seating for maybe 50?  Someone who knows it can correct me or expand a bit.) Some performance artist from Montreal is on stage talking about masturbation and why men should have breasts and other similar topics. “What have I gotten myself into if this is the opening act?” I remember thinking, still a fairly sheltered prairie boy (unlike the well-educated world traveler I have become six short years later! )

I'm hoping she's the opening act but who knows? I go up to the bar to ask but Sophie doesn't come with me.  I'm already a bit steamed thinking this whole trip was for nothing and this makes me even madder.  Now she's embarrassed of me or something?

I order a beer and ask “Has Hawkeye played yet?”. 

“No, he's up next,” the bartender replies, looking at me strangely. 

I look back and Sophie is standing by a pillar, just sort of staring at me.  She's probably PO'ed, thinking that my hesitation about whether to come or not means we missed the concert.  I smile and give her a thumbs-up to show that Hawkeye is still to come. 

As I sip my beer, I look around at the crowd in the packed venue.  Mostly college-aged kids filling every seat in the house.  The performance artist finishes and after a brief intermission where people shuffle around, buy more drinks and the room gets even more full if that's possible, Hawkeye comes out on stage (such as it is – not even a raised platform at the front of the room if I remember correctly) and introduces himself.  “Hello, my name is Hawksley Workman…”

I'm carrying my camera (film, not digital in those days).  This is a photo of what he looked like that night: 

And it hits me – why Sophie didn't join me at the bar, why the bartender looks at me funny when I ask if Hawkeye had played yet.  Hawksley was standing at the bar right beside me and probably even heard me!  Sophie held back
because she was too intimidated to come near her idol so I was left to bask in my own naivity (as usual.) 

I don't remember what songs he played first – I think it was “Maniacs” – but from the first notes, I was like “whoa! Sophie wasn't lying. This guy is amazing.” The theatrics of early David Bowie. The originality of Lou Reed. The vocal range of Freddie Mercury. The romanticism of Sinatra. All rolled into one.

I'd never heard of him before but the assembled college kids in the overflowing cafe obviously knew Hawksley well. They sang along to every word and he often stopped singing to let the crowd carry the tune. He went off on wild tangents about the stars and his father,
make-up and exit signs, cellular phones and silence. Sophie pointed out her favourite song “Don't Be Crushed” when he played it and I was taken by “Safe and Sound” which perfectly captured for me the feeling I often get on a long drive at nightfall on the prairies with Shea in the passenger side asleep beside me.

Magic – there's no other word. He finished and to top it off, Sophie ended up bumping into somebody she knew from Edmonton and I still remember their exchange.

Sophie: “Isn't that wild that we'd bump into each other here at this show a million miles from Edmonton?”

Him: “Well, when you think about it, not really.  You and I are similar ages, we have similar tastes, we have similar backgrounds.  Of course we're going to bump into each other – it's not as big of a coincidence as it seems.”

(As somebody who's really interested in the concept of coincidences, that's stuck with me.)

So anyhow, we sat and had a drink with him and his friends, gaining entry into this tightknit group of people. We left at closing, me buying the Hawksley CD on the way out. We listened to it all the way home over and over (thanks, rental car with full options!) and even the fact that we get totally lost trying to get back to downtown Toronto to drop off the car (if we'd gone directly, I think we would've been okay. But Sophie's friends gave us “shortcut” directions which are probably great on a weekday to avoid all traffic but not so good at 3am in the dark with no real map in the car) and we ended up driving around till 6am, stopping at more than one gas station and/or doughnut shop to get directions. But this only served to prolong the night (plus I didn't care – Sophie had to work at 9am, I didn't!)

Since then, I've seen Hawksley probably a half a dozen times at various venues – fairly intimate venues like the Aeolian Hall in London and the Exchange in Regina to big folk festival and bar settings.  It's always great but I think of a friend who talked about the thrill of going to see a movie “blind” – having heard no publicity or reviews, good or bad, and what a thrill that can be if the film turns out to be a good one.  That's how I first saw Hawksley Workman – I had no preconceived notions (you'd think Sophie's raves would've influenced me but until he stepped on stage, I honestly thought I was just being a chauffeur.) 

In the end, simply amazing!

Comments 5

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Nice story. I don't really have a band or singer I'm a big follower of – no great stories for me. There are a couple local bands I really enjoy and will make an effort to see them, and I go to a local bar to watch the blues jam – there's some awesome kids that can play the blues here! I live in Waterloo but haven't been in the Jane Bond, 'cept once briefly to meet someone.
    In Ontario we don't not call them “transports” – it's “semis” or “transport trucks”. well I s'pose you must've come across an Ontarian or 2 that called them that though, otherwise you wouldn't've pointed it out. Maybe on occasion we say “transports”; I might say semi more often since that's what my dad says. 😛

    Posted 15 May 2007 at 1:17 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    Geez, I have a lot of concert stories. None that were really like that, though. I usually know at least a little about what I'm getting into.
    1. Small Religious Experience: First David Bowie concert. Even if it was the Glass Spiders tour and not Serious Moonlight.
    2. Large Religious Experience: First Peter Gabriel concert.
    3. Interesting Juxtiposition: Saw Dylan in Ottawa in '86 and it just freakin' rocked. I mean it took a verse and sometimes a chorus to figure out which song he was playing but musically it was tight and rockin' — just different from the albums. Saw him again in Kingston (in the local hockey barn) and I knew exactly which song he was doing from the first note, but it was sloppy and lazy and boring.
    4. Best show I never saw: The Stones were supposed to do a surprise show at a small pub in Kingston while they were stopping over at Dan Ackroyd's place between T.O. and Montreal. A bartender friend gave me the inside track and I got there in time to get a seat. Mick cancelled and bought a round for the pub because they didn't feel like it. The Stones playing to 50 people in a back-alley pub is the only way I want to see them live.
    5. Time I felt really bad for the opening act: Went to a double-bill on a football field with Paul Young and Power Station (you can guess the year). Paul Young was giving it all he had with his blue-eyed soul — that guy has pipes. Then limos pull up on the football field behind the stage and a bunch of Taylors formerly of Duran Duran bolt out to their dressing rooms. 10,000 girls go wild and Young lost the thread. They were screaming for their favorite Taylor until the end.

    Posted 16 May 2007 at 1:32 am
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Great stories – I'm thinking of doing a “My Top 10 Concerts” entry but it will take some serious head scratching to finalize.
    My secret show that never was isn't nearly as good of a story as yours but was still fun at the time. A wicked jazz guitarist from Sask named Jack Semple was playing at Kaos Blues & Jazz club in Calgary. Bryan Adams was playing at the Saddledome with Colin James as the opener and since Colin James is from Saskatchewan (and may have been taught by Jack Semple – I can't remember), there was a rumour that Colin James was going to show up. A friend from Sask who was now in Vancouver but happened to be in Calgary for training met me for supper and we decided to go and have a Saskatchewan-themed night (plus secret shows/surprise guests are always cool.) Of course Colin James never did show up but it was still a fun night.

    Posted 17 May 2007 at 12:25 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    I think I've been called out once already on this blog for saying “transports”. But I swear that at least one Ontarian says that – she drove me into Toronto once so I know because I heard it *a lot*.
    So the Jane Bond still exists. I should've swung by the one time I got to Waterloo last year for old time's sake.

    Posted 17 May 2007 at 12:30 am
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    That's a great story, I've been trying to think of a good story to post, but frankly, all my musical history has been fairly straightforward, I hear something (radio, muchmusic, something a friend is listening too), decide I like it, do a little research (because I was born a library geek), buy a cd, download a song or two, go to concerts, etc.
    My great musical loves, like U2 came to me very organically, I've been hearing their stuff since I was little and along the way became more of fan, so on and so forth.
    My first concert was Jann Arden (who is hilarious, and lovely and always impresses), with my mom, at Hamilton Place.
    My ultimate concert experience has yet to take place, U2, it will happen…oh yes….
    Recently, I was talking with someone about the soundtrack of my childhood, which was a mixed bag. My mum would put on Dark Side of the Moon when she cleaned the house (Mom and Dad are big Floyd fans), and she would sing us to sleep with Elton John, Cat Stevens and James Taylor.
    My Dad and I would dance to Bruce Springsteen and he would rock with us in the rocking chair to Roy Orbison. Throw in a little Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Traveling Wilbury's and Simon & Garfunkal, and you have the 'interesting' girl you see before you today.
    My only musical disappointment as a child; I never got to see nkotb, because I was nine and my parents weren't going to pay those prices, but my Mom did tape Oprah for me the day they were on. 😛

    Posted 17 May 2007 at 3:32 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 1

  1. From Head Tale - Random Thoughts on the @PaulMcCartney #outthere Concert in #yqr on 16 Aug 2013 at 12:46 am

    […] With that in mind, I’ll admit that I had half-jokingly thought about my first post after the McCartney concert being that it was great but that my favourite concert of all-time was still an intimate little show by Hawksley Workman in an artsy cafe in Waterloo, Ontario. […]

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