Back in 1994, I was making a go of it as a full-time rock and roll drummer, and my cover band The Neurotics managed to snag a spot along the route of the annual Vancouver Sun Run, where we got paid a bit of money and had the chance to entertain tens of thousands of people as they ran 10 km through Stanley Park.
We were pretty silly (as we always are), and the runners liked us, so somehow the next year we were recruited to play on the scaffold above the starting line for the race, downtown at Burrard and Georgia streets. We've been the band there ever since (among numerous others along the route), and next Sunday, April 20, 2008, marks our 15th appearance at the Sun Run. (The band's lineup varies a bit each year, but for once the group of four musicians will all be guys who've done this show before.)
It's a strange gig, and one of the reasons the organizers keep calling us back is that we've honed our ability to play what guitarist Sean calls "heads-up hockey" up on the temporary stage. We have to show up before 5:00 a.m. to beat the road closures, haul our gear up some rickety scaffold stairs, do a very quick setup, and then go get some breakfast. Once we start playing around 7:30, it's pretty much a continuous performance until all 50,000-plus runners and walkers have gone by. That takes several hours.
But while we're up there playing much of that time, there are a lot of stops and starts, dictated on the fly by the race organizers and announcers on the platform with us—and we get little warning. Sometimes we only play 30 seconds of a song. Others we get 10 seconds (or less) of warning that we'll have to stop another, or just as much notice that we have to start. The mayor might speak, or other local celebrities. There are speeches and announcements, and each group of runners has its own starting announcement and air horn. A group of Fitness World aerobics types helps everyone get warmed up. We need to fit into the gaps, so we learned years ago that a set list does little good.
It is an awesome thing to see tens of thousands of Vancouverites thronging the streets below. It's also a huge load of fun. I was unable to play last year because it was early in my combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments. This year the timing is better, so while I'll be tired, I expect to be able to play the show without a hitch.
If you're in downtown Vancouver early on Sunday morning—especially if you're running by on Georgia Street in front of the RBC tower—look up, way up, and maybe you'll see me bangin' like Charlie Watts. But I'll probably be too busy to wave.