Paul McCartney: Now, Then, And The Winding Road In Between…

image It was 20 years ago today…

Well, not exactly today. But it was 20 years ago that Paul McCartney graced the Winnipeg stage. Yet it seems like only yesterday.

It was long enough ago that I was still young enough to know I had my whole life ahead of me. There I was, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, optimistic for what the future would bring. I was enrolled for college that fall, where a communications program would eventually lead to an awesome career in the music business myself. I can’t help but wonder if all those concerts back then subconsciously played into the path I would eventually choose.

Or the path that chose me.

I remember sitting in row 18 back then, enamoured by the presence of Paul, and the enormity of the moment. The songs were familiar, many I’d first heard through my nine older siblings. Then when I fell in love with The Beatles in my early 20’s, the songs became my own.

image (6)Back then, once you were at the concert, there were no cell phones to text your friends on the other side of the stadium. You had no idea where anyone else was. But really, you didn’t care. The only people who mattered were the ones sitting right beside you. And the ones on stage.

I was with my friend Cathy back then. She loved The Beatles even more than me, and played a big part in what would become my own obsession with the Fab Four. We were young, carefree, and moved to tears by having him merely a few meters away. We could hardly contain ourselves, and in that moment, totally understood what Beatlemania was all about. For us, seeing Paul McCartney live was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Destined to happen twice.

Skip ahead to 2013… once again I was with Cathy for a pre-concert get together. The tradition just had to be continued. We were a little older, a little wiser, and a little heavier than the last time we saw Paul McCartney play. But we loved the music just the same. Probably even more.

We went to the stadium together, parting ways once inside, each going to our own seats. I knew exactly where mine were… down down down to the floor, and then up up up close and closer to the front. As I counted down the number of rows, the stage loomed larger and larger. I could not believe where I was seated! This time, I was in row 16. Two rows closer. Twenty years older. Rosey & JoThirty minutes to show time.

I got to know my neighbours, apologizing in advance for the fact I wouldn’t be sitting for the next three hours (sorry!). As I greeted my friend Jo from Calgary, my cohort for the evening, the anticipation was tremendous. It was hard to believe that Paul McCartney would be standing right in front of us (speaking words of wisdom?!) in mere moments.

Next thing we knew, there he was!! The one and only SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY! As he kicked the night off with Eight Days A Week, we jumped to our feet. True to my word, I never sat down for the rest of the night. How I wished we could spend the next eight days being entertained by him.

While I had no idea where Cathy was, I was certain she was loving it as much as I was. This time, though, I could text her. “OMG!” was all I could manage. I didn’t have to say anything else. I knew she’d know exactly what I meant.

image (10)Yes, times are different now, but the music is the same. Timeless songs, words we all know. Songs we can sing along to. And cry with. And laugh about. Each song containing its own memory for every one of the 32,000+ people in the crowd.

While I ‘discovered’ The Beatles in my 20’s, I remember listening to Paul McCartney and Wings when I was a kid. My family would spend summer days at Miami Beach, Manitoba. It was where I learned to swim, met my first city friend, and heard Wings’ songs for the first time.

image (12)On one side of the beach was a little boardwalk and canteen shack. Beside it was a speaker situated high up on a pole, from which tinny-sounding music would blast all day long while we played and swam. It seems like only yesterday we were there.

I can still feel the hot grainy sand on my dirty little feet, as I searched between slats in the wooden boardwalk to see what treasures might be found. I remember the smell of French fries and vinegar, the taste of sticky fun-dip and warm Kraft caramels, and the sounds of Silly Love Songs and Band On The Run resonating through the hot summer air.

To this day, those memories are some of the strongest that remain from my childhood, and I’m certain it’s because of the music. While I don’t have the greatest memory on the best of days, all I have to do is hear those songs and I’m instantly transported back in time to those carefree sunny days at the beach.

Today, that exact same music is just as awesome as it was 20 years ago, when I was a young adult starting out in the world. And another 20 years before that, when I was a little girl at Miami Beach. I hope it will still be around 20 years from now, and that I’ll still be here, too.

Watching Paul McCartney play again was pretty profound. It’s like we’ve all gotten older, but he has not. The last time we were in his presence, I was a young woman. Now I’m middle-aged. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll be even older. In fact, 20 years from now, I’ll be just over 64, and I hope I’ll still be needed. Just like Paul sings.

Afterwards, on the bus ride home, I sat with four young ladies. They told me they drove all day, coming in from Thunder Bay just to see Paul. They were 25 years old – the exact age I was when Paul last played here. Profound indeed.

As they sat there with noses to their phones, texting and tweeting, barely talking to each other, I wondered where they were in their young lives. What paths were they on? Were they enrolled in college? Were they starting a career? Where would they be 20 years from now?

image (9)I also wondered what they thought of the evening, and being in the presence of music’s most prolific living legend. Did they like his songs as much as I did? Did they know the words and sing along? Did it mean the same to them as it did to me?

I’m sure it meant as much to them as it did to me 20 years ago, when I was their age. The main difference is that they’ll probably never get a second chance to see Paul when they become middle-aged women. Like I did.

I wondered if they realized just how precious this concert really was. Just how special being 25 is. Just how quickly the next 20 years will pass.

Yet still seem like yesterday.

(Special thanks to Pamela Roz for letting me use her awesome pictures!)

  1. Thank you Barb for sharing such a wonderful story! I appreciate you reading mine, and leaving yours. The Winnipeg Police Pipe Band was definitely a highlight of the evening, and left me humming Mull of Kintyre for days afterwards! In fact, the melody is still in my head today… What an amazing experience it must have been for you.

  2. Barb Burkowski

    I was a member of the Heather Belle Pipe Band on May 21, 1993 and made the initial connection to realize our moment on stage with Paul McCartney. I was 20 years old. The opportunity was beyond overwhelming with only one week’s notice prior to the concert night. The few minutes before we played on stage are still undefinable. I remember reminding myself to take a breath and engage my senses all while attempting to retain composure, professionalism and ultimately the music. All aspects of my experience have strongly affected who I am today.

    Now I am a member of the Winnipeg Police Pipe Band who recently played with Sir Paul McCartney. I am almost 40 years old. I did not play on stage this time but helped prepare the group of 26. My breath was again swept from me through the energy and excitement of those who prepared and played. There were alot more lights and better sound and an amazing new stadium to blow Winnipeg’s mind when the band, for most surprisingly, appeared in the second encore.

    A piece I’ve always held on to from 1993 and expect is relevant to last month’s show, is what our pipers and drummers mean to Winnipeggers. I had no idea at the time, the effect our performance, our inclusion to the show, would mean to Winnipeg. Dozens since have told me of the emotion they felt when we played onto the stage. In 1993, we were the show’s “worst kept secret” with plenty of media coverage the week before the show. This year the pipe band was highly confidential. In both cases, the shock and work in preparing didn’t leave much thought for anything else. I do recall looking out into the crowd and seeing the faces and feeling complete wonderment as to where all those people came from and that moment it was all real.

    I’m touched by your story and felt I’d like to share one the greatest experiences of my life.

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