Anyone who knows me well, will know that I am a huge Rush fan. Rush, known as being the world’s largest cult band, is not for everyone. Most people are turned off by, lead singer, Geddy Lee’s high pitched vocals or the odd time signatures of the music, however for me I enjoy everything about the band and those qualities that most people find odd or off-putting I find actually makes them more endearing. I first listened to Rush back in my sophomore year of high school and my impressionable heart was immediately hooked to their progressive song structures and introspective lyrics; one such notable song that I remember listening to on repeat was “The Trees”; an allegorical epic about different types of trees battling against each other to reach the sunshine! My interest in Rush has deepened over the years as I have tremendously enjoyed delving into every single one of the albums and have made a real connection whilst reading drummer Neil Peart’s travel memoirs.
For years, I had a giant Rush poster on my wall from the Farewell to Kings album and continuously hoped that one day I could see the band in concert. In the summer of 2015, I would have my chance, Rush was about to set out on massive 35 show tour around the U.S and Canada. After seeing the announcement on their website I immediately went to check out the show dates and see if there was a concert coming anywhere close to where I lived. As it turns out there was one fairly close to me in Alpharetta, GA (essentially Atlanta) and having never been to a large scale concert before I knew I had to go. Especially, to see my favorite band on the planet! From what I can recall I purchased my ticket as soon as the online ticket booth was open, I’m thinking this was a few months in advance because I remember still being on the tail end of the second semester of college. I purchased two tickets; one for myself and one for my dad. (Before I actually asked him I might add, but I knew he would want to go and I didn’t want to go alone).
After convincing my dad to go with me on the trip I set about the task of planning. Essentially, this just meant booking a hotel for one night close to the concert venue. The hotel I chose was at the time what I thought fairly close to the venue; later in the course of researching information for this story I found out that it was a good two miles from the amphitheater, more on that distance later though.
The concert was on Tuesday night, so after a long hot day laboring as a lifeguard at the local recreation area I left work hyped and ready to leave early on Tuesday morning to make the quest to Alpharetta, GA. The most essential item in my suitcase for the trip was my lone Rush T-shirt equipped with the 2112 insignia of the Star-man logo. Along the four hour drive my dad I had some time to talk and reflect upon life thus far. At the time I was growing restless at being at home while in college, desperately feeling the need to spread my wings and branch out. However, this was probably one of the last trips that my dad and I would take together just the two of us and looking back I am super grateful for the time we shared. On the way, I took it upon myself to be the DJ for the trip showcasing all manner of Rush toons, especially a lot of the newer Rush music from their 90s and 2000s catalog that I knew my dad had not heard before. As well as playing a lot of the 70s rock and roll that I had heavy in my rotation such as The James Gang, Dave Mason, Wishbone Ash, and Captain Beyond.
On the whole apart from good conversation and honest music the drive up was fairly uneventful and we made good time to our hotel. After checking in we decided we had best be sure that we knew where the Amphitheater was, this was before I had a smartphone and for some reason I didn’t think to print out directions to the concert hall ahead of time (que the Analog Kid). After a quick search on the hotel computer we plotted out a course to the venue and decided to see what other attractions the area held. The location was one of those booming areas that was growing overnight littered with all manner of shopping malls, stores, restaurants, and outdoor attractions to see and visit. We found the venue in short order and parked to see how close we could get to the stage, this was shortly after midday and from our closest viewpoint we could see the stage and the technicians buzzing around doing all of their pre-show checks. I think we missed the original sound check…bummer.
Then after gleaning all we could, we decided the best thing to do was to get some food and chill back at the hotel room until closer to show time. Our restaurant of choice that evening was one of my favorites as a kid, Waffle House. Just for the simple reasons that it had a highly distinguishable bacon, syrup, and coffee smell as well as the Jukebox and cook in front of you kitchen style. As we were eating I began to notice lots of other customers in the restaurant wearing Rush t-shirts. Instantly I knew they were concert goers. I remember having the thought then that I wish I had some friends my age that were as into Rush or music in general that I could go to concerts with. Not to take anything away from my dad’s company but the idea of having close friends has always appealed to me even though it has also typically eluded me. Maybe it’s because of my introverted nature or my pickiness but nonetheless I was too excited for the show to be weighed down by my own existential crises. I was about to see RUSH man!
About two hours before the concert we were ready to ride out when my dad had the brilliant idea that it would be better to walk to the concert instead of driving because that way we could avoid the hassle of finding a parking space and trying to exit amongst thousands of other people in such a small area. At the time this seemed like a great idea, and we set about our journey. About halfway to the venue storm clouds began rolling in out of nowhere and within minutes we were pelted by rain showers for about the last half mile to the venue. We decided to take shelter from the deluge in a building that was being constructed. It was about halfway complete with exposed wood and wiring laying around, however it had been dried in so we were able to sit out from some of the rain and whenever it had slowed down a bit we decided to continue on. Soaking wet, we arrived to the check in gate to stand in line amongst hundreds of other eager Rush fans who were all braving the showers as we were. I, like many of the concert goers could care less about being wet as my enthusiasm for the show far exceeded any discomfort rain could cause. However, I did worry about the rain getting my ticket wet, which I printed out back at home, there was a barcode on it that if it had gotten wet would have been mired beyond recognition of the ticket taker’s scanner. For me, that would be my worst nightmare having traveled all that way to be denied entry.
However, the rain did eventually let up and as we were waiting in line there was a trailer set up selling Rush merchandise where I was able to score some sweet Rush memorabilia including a R40 Live Concert-T, Rush Lanyard, and Star-man bandanna. With our treasures in tow, we made our way to our seats navigating the maze of entrances and exits to the various sections of the venue. The Amphitheatre in Alpharetta is set up as an outdoor music hall with about three quarters of the seating under shelter while the rest of the seating is on the lawn area surrounding the back of the bleachers. The stage is the smallest area of the venue and the rest of the building structure emanates from it in a general V-shape. Our seats were towards the back of that V, in what you would consider to be the nosebleeds of that type of arena, even though we weren’t very high up. However, we were at least protected from the rain and had a pretty good view of the show. After getting to our seats my dad and I began to take stock. First things first, we had to try and dry off somewhat before the show started. I set about taking my shoes off and placing them out by the aisle, luckily I had the aisle seat and had a little extra room to place my shoes so as not to disturb anyone. With that task complete I had to settle for my shirt and pants to air dry.
Next, it was time to take in the ambiance of the show arena. The energy of the outdoor amphitheater was electric and not just because of the inclement stormy weather; concert goers were scattering about speaking in excited tones preparing for the onslaught of rock about that we were about to be doused with. To wet our appetites, over the loudspeakers, there was constantly music playing most of which I had heard before as they were a mix of mid 70s progressive rock and roll hits. Some notable bands that I remember hearing were Pink Floyd, Yes, and Jethro Tull. Later, I learned from reading Rush drummer, Neil Peart’s, autobiographies that he himself picks out the songs to be played before the show. Which to this Rush fan, is another reason why I appreciate the band so much. With the minutes ticking down the lights began to dim, smoke began rise, and the jumbo Tron TV monitors began the short prelude to kick off the show. For the show, Rush compiled a massive set list featuring songs from most of their 20 something studio albums in reverse chronological order.
Like many Rush fans, I at the time was more into their earlier work and found myself looking forward to the second half of the show longing to hear their classic hits like Tom Sawyer, Working Man, Closer to the Heart, and an early favorite of mine the Trees. Nowadays, I am actually more appreciative of their newer albums but I digress. As soon as the opening note of the first song “The anarchist” rang out my ears immediately went numb! Nothing can prepare you for just how loud a large concert like that is and we were pretty far back from the stage! The drum beats could be felt resonating through your body throughout every song while the guitar solos were face melting. To me, they sounded exactly how the do on the album, totally delivering! For about half of the time myself and the people around us would stand up out of our seats and sing along to each song. However, for the other half we just sat down and watched the concert like we were at the opera. For me, I would have liked to stand up the entire time but I didn’t want to be the one guy who did that and block the persons view behind me. I noticed other areas of people who remained standing the entire show, but I guess that’s what happens in the back seats.
Of the show there were three highlight moments that I will always remember, first was the song Roll the Bones. I had maybe only heard it once outside of the concert. It features a rap interlude, which for the R40 version had celebrity guest stars such as Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, and Jay Baruchel. The driving beat of the song along with the catchy chorus made it a fun concert tune. The other highlight was the song Jacob’s Ladder. The song starts off very slow and ominous sounding and to go along with that there was an incredible laser display that danced about the entire arena blanketing the audience in green lasers and sweeping light arrangements in sync with the music. And finally third, Neil Peart’s drum solo. The whole crowd knew it was coming and as soon as he had the stage to himself and began hammering away at the drums the crowd erupted in shouts of elation. Even from our view, the entire show was spectacular and when Rush finally concluded the show with an epic encore performance of Working Man me and my dad were very well satisfied. With the show over though that meant another trek back to the hotel room.
On the way back it began raining harder than even on the way there and as we were sloshing through the downpour, our $1 ponchos did little to prevent us from becoming utterly drenched. I remember my dad distinctly saying, “Well…with the rain at least it will make it a memorable experience.” True that my friend. After two miles of tromping in the pouring rain we finally made it back to our hotel room where we were comforted by our dry clothes and warm beds. However, before we could sleep that night we were both mightily hungry. A three hour rock concert will do that to you. So we decided to get some pizza which we ordered on the hotel phone and shortly thereafter made the short drive to go pick up in what felt like a very shady area as the pizza joint was the only store open in a little strip mall. But alas, no problems were encountered and we made our way back to the room to enjoy our score. After polishing several slices of pizza I turned my attentions to the TV and mindlessly watched a few minutes of a show while reflecting on the concert we had just witnessed. It felt good to have been a part of something like that. Then with thoughts of the spectacle I had just witnessed a few hours ago, I drifted off into sleep.
Upon checking out of the hotel the next day I thought our plans were going to be to try and get back home as quickly as possible however my dad had a different idea which would see us go about an hour out of our way to visit a park that my dad had been to a few times over the years. Our destination, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. I had never been there before then but now the location holds a special place in my heart not only for this trip but future ones as well. On the drive there I once again took it upon myself to play the DJ; playing songs from the concert we had just watched and reliving those moments. It was a fun drive to the park as are any drives to mountains. When traveling to mountains you can see them off in the distance but usually not directly and anticipation builds at each glimpse that you get through passing trees or turning a particular way.
In the early hours of the morning we made it to the park and by that time it was abuzz with runners, cyclists, and pedestrians out for a casual hike up the mountain. Having never been there before I wanted to get a little bit of history on the park itself. After parking our car in the busy parking lot we proceeded to scope out the museum and visitor center for a few minutes to stretch our legs and gain our bearings. The park itself is situated on about 3,000 acres and was officially designated a national battlefield park in June 1965 commemorating the battle that took place there during the Civil War in which 100,000 union soldiers lost the battle to about 50,000 confederate troops resulting in about 5,000 deaths.
With our history banks full of the knowledge of the area we decided it was time to actually hike to the summit of the mountain. Fortunately for me, I had brought along a pair of running shorts and shoes so my plan was to jog up the steep mile long paved road to the summit while my dad would walk the trail. We would then meet at the summit and walk down the trail together. It was a fun jog up the road and provided a good workout with breathtaking views of the Atlanta, GA skyline. At the summit we explored the various walking paths and took in the gorgeous scenery. There is something special about being able to look down upon a sprawling landscape, for me great heights have always tended to inspire awe inside me grounding me in reality. After taking in our fill of the views all around us we headed back down. As we were leaving the park I knew it was a place I was going to visit again and again. The hike down the mountain and the shear amount of people all enjoying its beauty and difficult terrain inspired me to want to continue pursuing different hiking adventures and continue learning about nature conservation and of course to keep exercising.
After our pleasant excursion exploring the mountain it was time to head home and put an end to our trip to see Rush. The drive home was peaceful filled with relaxed father and son talk about life and the sights and sounds of road tripping. I will always cherish this trip as one of the last father and son trips that we took together. Great memories of fun music, timeless adventure, and a great time… and yes made all the more memorable because of the rain soaked slog to and from the concert.