Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Canada Day Weekend - A Big Red Music Festival, A Tour of Charlottetown and a not so Sandy Beach

I wasn’t anticipating working this summer. I was laid off from my previous job in May and had no leads on a new job so I just assumed I would be taking the summer off. That was not to be. In early June, I got a call to work a temp position with the government. The hours are good, the pay is great and I worked there before and liked it so I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity. I had many plans for the summer before I got called to work and, as per usual, I planned to leave town for the Canada Day weekend. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that there was no long weekend this year because Canada Day fell on a Tuesday. I didn’t want to take a day off that early on and I didn’t want to lose a paid work day. I succumbed to the idea that I would be sticking around home for the national holiday…that is until an unexpected invitation to attend a concert in a nearby province was extended to me.
I knew my sister made plans to attend an outdoor concert in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island with a friend of hers. When that friend discovered at almost the last minute that she would not be able to go, the idea of me going in her place was tossed around. I first said “no” because I would have to take an unpaid day off work. I thought about it…and thought about it some more. The angel on my shoulder was saying “you can’t afford to take a day off” while the devil on the other shoulder was saying “live a little! You just endured one of the worse winters on record and summer is so short…go and enjoy it”. The devil won. I rarely turn down a road trip invitation and one of my favorite bands was playing and as an extra incentive, the weather forecast was calling for sunny skies and high temperatures all weekend. It was settled. I put my notice in at work, packed my bags and set out on a Canada Day weekend road trip to Charlottetown, which, befitting enough, also happens to be The Birthplace of Confederation.
Thankfully we left on Sunday so I could sleep on Saturday after working the late shift the previous night. By 7am, we were on the road, heading to catch the ferry in Pictou that would take us to PEI. The drive and the ferry ride went smoothly – perhaps because it wasn’t me driving…bad luck has a tendency to find me on the road. Breakdowns, wrong turns and the like seem to be normal occurrences anytime I am behind the wheel.
Even though PEI is the only place I know of in Canada that has a 90kph speed limit on the Trans Canada Highway, we still managed to arrive in Charlottetown with a few hours to spare before the concert started so we checked into our hotel. Actually, it was a dormitory at Holland College but the room was very nice with a full bathroom and kitchen and separate bedrooms and we didn’t have to share it with anyone else! And, surprisingly enough for how many people were staying there that weekend, it was very quiet.
Because we had some time to spare, my sister and I decided to go out to grab something to eat before making our way to the concert grounds, which conveniently enough were located right across the street from our accommodations. We asked the front desk clerk for some suggestions on where to eat but neglected to inform her that I was a vegetarian and my sister is very picky and has a preference for seafood, which I despise. Just the smell of fish turns my stomach! She recommended we try Victoria Row, a pedestrian walkway lined with restaurants. We went there first and, although it was lined with restaurants, the majority of them either specialized in seafood or were way too expensive for our budgets. Time was ticking so we settled on a Cora’s restaurant on the main street. I had never eaten at Cora’s before and I must say, I was quite pleased with what I ordered even if the service was a tad slow.
The concert grounds were quite large and the crowd was growing when we arrived just in time for the first band called North Lakes. Fortunately, we didn’t have to weave through the crowd or wait in line for drinks or bathroom breaks because we had VIP tickets that allowed us to skip the line and retreat to a quieter, more adult-friendly atmosphere away from the screaming, drunken kids and general rowdiness that tends to take place at outdoor concerts.
It was quite hot when we first arrived. We retreated to the shelter of the beer tent for most of the daylight hours, sipping on wine and watching the people coming and going. I never heard of the first band that played but they were quite good. I had never heard Adam Baldwin play either but I liked what I heard! I love to hear new music and new bands but I was mostly waiting to hear Hey Rosetta, a band I often followed back when I lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland where they got their start on the music scene. I was also looking forward to seeing Sam Roberts again and hearing some of his older hits that always brought back good memories of concerts during the festivals on George St. back in the day when I practically lived and breathed Canada’s party street.
Hey Rosetta have been around since about 2005 but recently, the band has really started getting national recognition. In my opinion (and the opinion of many others), they are probably the best band in Atlantic Canada right now. The band is much like a mini orchestra with a number of various instruments including the violin and cello. Their set that night, as usually, was absolutely flawless. Listening to their music on the car stereo is one thing but hearing these guys live is another! I don’t usually buy merchandise at concerts but I had to have their latest album and it has been the only music coming out of my car stereo since.

By the time Sam Roberts hit the stage, the air had cooled to a more comfortable temperature and we were able to wander over to the front of the stage to get a better view. I am not familiar with a lot of his newer work but I have fond memories of watching him perform his older music at the outdoor festivals on George St. in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He was the headlining act at more than one of those memorable street parties that saw tens of thousands of people congregate on two city blocks to watch bands, drink cheap beer and wander in and out of the dozens of bars and venues that line that street. Back in those days when I was still very much into the party and drinking scene, my friends and I would make our rounds to all our favorite bars (and bars we normally didn’t frequent simply because there was no cover charge during the festivals) and drink our way to the front of the stage where we would take watch the bands perform. Sam Roberts, Blue Rodeo, The Northern Pikes, Trooper…these are just a few of the bands that graced that stage back in those days and the show always went on longer than it was supposed to. Triple encores were not uncommon. With every old favorite performed, that final set brought back many fond memories and I had a chance to hear some of his new work too.

There was opportunity to head downtown to watch a band from back home play in one of the bars but we were just too tired from the long drive and late night that we headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next day, we were not due to board the ferry back to Nova Scotia until late afternoon so we tried our best to make good use of the entire day we had ahead of us – a combination of exploring the little city of Charlottetown and seeing some points of interest outside the city. Instead we got hopelessly lost trying to get out of the city in search of Argyle Shore Provincial Park.
When we finally did find the parl, we were a little disappointed to discover that it was not a sandy beach like we assumed it would be. It was a small rocky beach. That being said, once we got out of the car and roamed around, it was quite beautiful and made for a nice place to relax before heading back to Charlottetown to get something to eat before making our way to the ferry.
Charlottetown is a quaint little city…pardon the cliché but I am not sure how else to describe it. It’s small, it’s fairly easy to get around and there are nice little parks and a scenic little waterfront. There seemed to be quite a few restaurants to choose from downtown and because we were now pressed for time, we found a parking spot and just picked the closest restaurant to it – St. James Gate Restaurant & Pub. There were tables outside, the menu looked appealing and the prices suited our budget so it was settled. I ordered the Brushetta while my sister ordered the seafood pasta. I know Brushetta is a fairly easy-to-make and widely available appetizer but this Brushetta was made differently from any other I ever tasted – in a very good way! My sister claimed her seafood pasta was also quite delicious and among the top five best seafood pastas she has ever eaten. It’s safe to say that St. James Gate will be my choice restaurant in Charlottetown if I should ever pass through there again.

And so our visit to Charlottetown came to an end and off we went to catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia. First road trip of the season? A great success with many more to come before winter settles upon us once again.

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