Monday, January 10, 2011

Canadian Mash-Up

Sarah McLachlan
15 December 1997: UCF Arena, Orlando, Florida

The other week, there was a parking and traffic mess in trying to get the kiddo to and from his drum lessons on the campus of the University of Akron because there was an event across the street at EJ Thomas Hall that night. On the way off campus, I finally saw the marquee and realized Sarah McLachlan was performing that night, which immediately transported me back 13 years to a concert Tracy and I attended at the University of Central Florida.

We went through a stretch there in the late ’90s where Tracy was winning every flipping contest she entered! Didn’t matter if it was a radio call-in, or at ou
r local CD store, or drawings, or whatever. If Tracy threw her name in the hat, it inevitable was the one selected. We had dinner and VIP tickets to see Duncan Sheik and Lisa Loeb at the Atlantic Dance Club at Disney’s Boardwalk; we saw the Wallflowers at the Hard Rock Café; we attended New Year’s Eve at Disney’s Pleasure Island with Joan Jett and Men at Work that included a night’s stay at the Contemporary resort and limo service to and from Pleasure Island. It was crazy how she scored over and over with these contests.

The particular contest tied to Sarah McLachlan was through Disc Go Round. I don’t know if they are still around, but they were a sort of used CD store franchise. “Ours” was on SR 50 in Colonial Plaza across from TooJay’s, one of our favorite eateries back in the day (and around the corner from Beefy King!). Tracy and I lived nearby in the Conway and Lake Underhill area of Orlando at the time. Because we had both worked at CD stores back in the day and have always been lovers of music, we would go to the store often and got to know the owner.

The cool thing about Disc Go Round (and, as I recall, CD Warehouse had a similar model but with less friendly staff) was that they were the
first used CD store I had been to with listening stations. But unlike full booth style ones you used to have in old vinyl record stores, these were just multi-disc players set up on a kitchen bar type counter with barstools and headphones for each station. You could take the empty CD case to the staff and they would pull the corresponding disc and queue it up for you on the player. Tracy and I could waste all kinds of time there!

Tracy had entered the contest at the store because we wanted to see Barenaked Ladies. It’s rare for me to queue up the Barenaked Ladies anymore, but there was a time they were in heavy rotation. Tracy introduced me to their music, and we saw them perform numerous times around Orlando, including in the parking lot of the Hard Rock Café (they had a cool concert series at the time that was cheap and fun and took advantage of the weather). Tracy ended up winning the tickets, and we were treated to one of the most peculiar line-ups we’d ever come across. We joked it was an odd sort of Great White North bill, with Chicago’s Freddy Jones Band opening (who we had, admittedly, never heard of before that night), followed by Canada’s Barenaked Ladies, and headlined by their then-label mate and fellow countrywoman Sarah McLachlan. At the time, she was huge, touring behind the Surfacing album and riding high off the success of the inaugural Lilith Fair music festival she had organized earlier that summer.

Tracy had McLachlan’s Solace, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, and Surfacing, but we were clearly going to see Barenaked Ladies! We wanted jokey, goofy, Kraft Cheese throwing fun! We were definitely in it for a good time. It was a cold December night in Central Florida, and the university is nowhere near where we lived. I remember finally getting to the venue after a long line of traffic snaked its way through campus and finding our seats. We weathered the Freddy Jones Band, then had a rollicking good time with Barenaked Ladies touring on Born On a Pirate Ship, and they were amazing.

Eventually, though, they finished their set and soon McLachlan took the stage and the entire tone of the night changed. Melancholy, wistful, longing, and lovely. Decidedly not what we had come for with the Barenaked Ladies set. Soon, some of the girls near us began shouting “We love you, Sarah!” It was, well, odd. Tracy and I hardly knew what to make of it initially, then we began to realize that we were surrounded almost entirely by college girls. Crunchy, granola college girls so overwhelmed with emotion they had tears running down their cheeks as they screamed in adoration.

We quickly figured out that “gay college girls” were a key demographic of McLachlan’s at the time. (Maybe still?) The combination of overwrought emotion and cries of love seemed to only grow as the show continued. Tracy and I ended up leaving the show early, maybe halfway through McLachlan’s set. We were just too unnaturally amused by this clearly odd mix of acts, the completely different tones of both their sets, and their core audiences. It was a strange, strange night.