People always say white folks have no culture but of course that isn't true.
To state the obvious, "white" is a descriptor that applies to people of various backgrounds. But there are also things that are distinctly white, even though you may not think twice about it: Salads. Hockey. Burning Man. Gore-tex. As a brown girl growing up in Canada, I never really identified with the stereotypes of the Canadian identity because they seem to be based on white interests. But something changed on Tuesday night.
It started out as a joke. I found out a bunch of my coworkers were going to the Nickelback show, some for content, others (seemingly) for pleasure. At first, no part of me was interested in attending, but our socials producer Sasha was very convincing: "It's Nickelback. The week of Canada 150. Summer night. Outdoor show. What more could you want?" he wrote in a series of Slack messages. Fuck it, I thought. I'll do it for the irony.
After listening to Feed the Machine (the new 'Back album, I guess?) on the Uber ride to Molson Amphitheatre, and snapping a couple of photos in front of a giant sign that said 'Nickelback,' all of us furiously updating our Instagram stories, we headed to our "seats" in general lawn. General lawn is a shit show at the best of times but on this night it was a true hoser's paradise. We joked that we should do shots every time we spotted someone in plaid, or a Jays hat, or yelling "all lives matter." Our crew of eight did our best to fit in—I was wearing a three-piece Canadian tuxedo—but notably only one of us was white. As was everyone around us.
As the stage lit up signifying the band was about to get onstage, everyone started screaming. One of the big screens played graphics that looked like a Windows screensaver from the early 2000s—the ones that are supposed to look like inside of a machine. The crowd seemed endless. Finally Chad and crew took the stage. I'm not gonna lie, I don't even know what the opening number was. Maybe "Feed the Machine"? It was definitely from Feed the Machine. But this isn't a proper concert review anyway.
Afterwards, Kroeger engaged the crowd in some pretty weird banter.
"Daddy needs his medicine," he said in a surprisingly not-gruff speaking voice. He told the crowd he was working through a hangover after a rowdy Monday night at the Brass Rail strip club. Then he did a shot of Jager and said it was time to "get back on the horse." He also gave a shoutout to all his fans who needed to fight through traffic, get a babysitter, and maybe even take the next day off work just to see him play, suggesting he knows he's catering to suburban crowd.
I was enjoying myself well enough but I still felt like an outsider—a voyeur—until, a few songs in, the band played "Photograph." As the audience screamed "WHAT THE HELL IS ON JOEY'S HEAD?" unabashedly, I realized no one around me was being ironic nor did they seem embarrassed. And it was liberating. I added my voice to the chorus. My irony had become earnest.
Other hilarious things happened that night. A woman standing next to us fell facedown upwards on the hill. Upwards, as in, against gravity. A guy started yelling "Happy Pride" in my ear and I still don't understand why. And a firefighter volunteered to go onstage and "play karaoke" with Kroeger only to choke after one verse. You could tell he wanted off but Kroeger made him stay up there for the whole dang thing. There was terror in his eyes. I felt bad but also who the hell tries to perform with their idol at a stadium show if they don't know the words? The answer is: only a white man.
But, just as I felt like I was truly embracing the 'Back and their fans, our crew had a bit of a dust-up with some drunk, obnoxious white bros who kept bumping into us. It escalated for about half a minute, before it sorted itself out. But in that moment, I became acutely aware that we were the only people of colour around and that if anything went down, we would likely be blamed. My instinct, funnily enough, was to whip out my phone, ready to take video to use as evidence. Luckily, everyone chilled out and it didn't amount to anything. But it was a stain on an otherwise great night and frankly it's exactly why I feel justified in tweeting things like this.
The crown jewel of the night was when the band played "How You Remind Me" during their encore. When I first heard that song, back in grade 8, I thought Nickelback was dope. Obviously, over the course of the next 17 years, I would come to "despise" them for reasons that no one can really seem to articulate. (Yes, they are corny, but their music is still better than Creed's.) But in that moment, I was transported back to a simpler time when I was free from the oppressive chains of having performative tastes and public playlists. No one at the show was cool. And we were united in that, free to sing along to every word because deep down we knew them all.
I noted earlier how I've always struggled with my "Canadian" identity. I never really got into the Tragically Hip and thus couldn't relate to the many, many thinkpieces that were written during their final tour. I am from Vancouver where we drink more Starbucks than Tims, so I didn't even know what Roll Up the Rim was until I moved to Ontario. Ditto for bagged milk. But Nickelback I know. I was raised on Nickelback, even if just by the osmosis of watching Much Music and owning Big Shiny Tunes. And at that show, I felt the most Canadian I ever have, at least in the traditional sense.
When the show ended, I peed in a bush, and we headed to a bar on Dundas West. They were playing 90s rap. In particular, I remember Biggie's "Gimme The Loot." Hearing that after the show we'd just seen was like taking a shower after a day at the beach. Because, as much as we'd enjoyed 'Back, I will never be a true 'Backer (is that what they are called?) nor do I want to be. I like my Canada with a heavy dose of dive bars and hip-hop and people of colour. But I'll be damned if it wasn't fun being a tourist for the night.
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