Moneymen, the paunchy lawyers, accountants and insurance underwriters. are smoking cigars, drinking double shots of Remy in the bar of the Oshawa Holiday Inn, while they discuss percentages on movie rights, groupies and the moose that collided into somebody's Datsun 2802. This is the alligator shirt crowd who've put up the money for Heatwave where Elvis Costello, the B-52s, the Pretenders, Talking Heads and many more will perform tomorrow at Mossport Park twenty-five miles away. They are hoping that tens of thousands of fans, all of whom have forked over twenty bucks will be on hand to witness what a festival publicist has promised to be "a moment in rock 'n roll history."
Milling around the hotel lobby are a variety of people associated with the festival; performers, technicians, managers and the media The Holiday Inn staff is a bit taken about (these aren't salesmen from Ottawa, after all) but the cash registers keep ringing and the night manager is smiling, shaking his head in silent amusement. Things are low-key tonight. No one has driven a Cadillac into the pool. Tomorrow is a work day. Rock 'n' roll begins at 9.00 a.m.
At 2:00 a.m., the Esso service center outside Oshawa already has them lined up at the pumps. Cars, vans, and motorcycles sporting plates from several states and provinces are filling up with gas, bags of ice and munchies. A local cop eyes the activity from a professional distance by the side of his patrol car. "For the Canada Jam they tore this place up," he says. "People drunk, breaking things, doing everything imaginable. Then this last week they had all that trouble at that Alice Cooper concert in Toronto. Don't know what to expect this time. So far all these folks have been real polite. We don't want to arrest anybody unless It's for something serious. Hell, if it's just somebody with a couple of joints we take 'em and throw 'em away."
On the exit ramp off the highway leading to Mossport stand three girls from Hamilton, Ontario trying to catch a ride. Someone stops to pick them up. They stumble into the car oblivious to oncoming traffic, screeching breaks, cursing and honking horns. Loaded, they are carrying several pints of whiskey, rum and gin, which they plan to tape to their legs underneath their jeans, and to pass undetected by the festival security. They are also carrying enough fresh cut Ontario reefer to roll a box full of cigars. "I quit my job to come here," offers one of the girls.
"Did you come more to party or see the bands," inquires the driver whose car now smells like the Segrams brewery.
"To party!" all exclaim gleefully in unison.
By 3 a.m., several thousand would-be party and concert goers are already on the festival site, camped out in front of the stage. It's time to catch a few hours of shuteye and hope no one interrupts your rock dreams tripping over you in the dark.
By the time the sun comes up a small crowd has swelled into teeming masses. It's going to be a blisteringly hot day. The ice cream vendors are doing a brisk breakfast trade.
Local bands Vladimir Rogov and Teenage Head are the first acts to take the stage. They are followed by the Rumour, sadly minus Graham Parker. All three sets are unoriginal and uninspired. So far the most interesting music Is the tapes played between sets; everything from Gruppo Sportivo to "Popeye the Sailorman". The audience is rightly non-plussed with the performances, but is content to cop some rays, greet old friends and make some new ones.
Now as Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds' Rockpile take the stage with music reminiscent of old friends meeting new ones. Rockpile's early afternoon performance is a tight mix of rock classics and smart pop tunes. For the first time all day there is cause to dance on the infield and to say it like you mean it this time: "Hey Harry, pass me another cold one, I'm beginning to enjoy the heat."
The Pretenders look like they've been enjoying their fair share of heat, Canadian ale and other treats as they launch into their first number, to an appreciative roar from the crowd. It's basically the same set they performed in Detroit last spring, only a little tighter and friendlier. Vocalist Chrissie Hynde, alternately belting and sneering out her compositions of love, pain, power and terror, is the crowd pleaser today. The Pretenders create the first real signs of real excitement heard all day. The sun is on the wane, but the temperature is just beginning to rise.
Twilight with the B-52s. Now things are really getting hot. A keyboardist and a vocalist with bouffant hairdos, on top of stick figures clothed in pastel mini-dresses. A lead vocalist who looks like a gigolo happily lost at sea on an ocean cruise. This is a band with style. And they can play. It's Gidget-goes-radioactive music, science fiction beach party frenzy grips the audience. A mad, smiling gleam is in every eye on the stage and off. "There've been three babies born here today," shouts singer Fred Schneider. "All have been named Heatwave." Hippy, hippy, hippy, hippy shake; the 52 girls, rock lobsters—there are 50,000 people swirling on this roller coaster through time and space and Betty, my god, I never knew you could dance that way before. The long drive from Buffalo, Montreal, New York, Ann Arbor or wherever is beginning to seem worth it.
The Talking Heads appear to know the crowd, as at least 50,000 strong have made a special effort to be here. The Talking Heads have come prepared to fully reward that effort. This is the premier of a new version of the band as mastermind David Byrne has extended the band's line-ups. He's brought in the hired guns; the rock and roll hitmen. The band on the stage includes bassist Buster Jones, keyboardist Bernie Worrel of Funkadelic fame, vocalist Dollete MacDonald; percussionist Steven Seal, and a David Bowie alumni; Adrian Belew, plus the original core members. They open with a perfunctory performance of "Psycho Killer". Then the magic begins. The music is as full and succinct as David Byrne's early creations have always promised. The songs from Fear of Music and the new compositions are euphoria-inducing performed live: fine rushes up and down your spine—alpha waves—funk waves—please don't let it ever stop waves—take some risks, stay true to your heart and you might go to heaven waves. The Talking Heads throw down the musical gauntlet with easily the outstanding performance of the festival.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions follow. Good luck. The band is pushing it; the music sounds forced. Elvis sounds like someone is chasing him. They empty spaces in the tunes. the fact that a four piece band can only make so much sound, become glaringly apparent on the heels of the Talking Heads' finely paced ensemble performance. Elvis does have his moments and he did hit some stellar notes. Singing "Secondary Modern" his vocal phrasing was flawless. Individual compositions shine, but by in large the band seems propelled on nervous energy, one gear out of sync so the set never gels.
Man, it's been a long day! Holly, an apprentice welder from Buffalo, and her friends are packing up. Her heavily henald hair glows in the night. Her yellow Capezio jazz oxfords are mud-stained. "The sequence of bands was kinda like sex," she explains. "Rockpile and the Pretenders were the preliminaries; you're interested and even though you've been there before you start to get excited. The B-52s were the heavy foreplay; lotsa laughing and uncontrolled fun cause you know what's next. The Talking Heads were the real action; the sun, the moon, and the stars. Elvis, I don't know if it was afterglow or post-coital depression."
The promoters have put another local band on, the Kings, to close the show. But after seeing all the headliners, three-quarters of the crowd have picked up and left, leaving the park looking like a war-torn city after the final bombing. There are several bonfires being stoked by the tons of leftover debris. Freddy the Fearless Firediver, busted lawn chair hanging around his neck, moves from fire to fire, plunges into the middle of the flames, rolls around then emerges to cheering fans and queasy passersby. Heatwave has left at least one person who needs more heat.