A Whole Lotta Love

Cityfolk starts today, Ottawa’s annual folk music extravaganza. For me it’s a trip down memory lane, as Robert Plant will close the festival Sunday night.

You may not think of the former Led Zeppelin frontman as a folk artist, but the “folk” in Cityfolk has some elasticity. After all, the last time I saw Plant was a few years ago when he was headlining Ottawa’s Jazz Festival. Given Zeppelin’s roots, I think “folk” is a closer designation than jazz.

Plant’s appearance has me thinking how much times have changed since the first time I saw him, with Led Zeppelin at the old Montreal Forum on February 6, 1975.

I hadn’t planned on going to that show, but some friends got me a ticket.  I couldn’t say “no.” They had taken their sleeping bags and camped out overnight on the sidewalk in from of the Forum to make sure they could get tickets. They weren’t alone.

Such actions seem like they are from the Dark Ages. These days you buy your concert tickets electronically. Shows sell out in a matter of minutes, unless the servers crash. No longer is it “first come, first served” at the box office. Of course it seems easier under the electronic system for large blocks of tickets to wind up with scalpers who charge an arm and a leg for them.

There were scalpers in 1974 too – but they had to line up like everyone else to buy their tickets, or pay someone to do it for them. No bots allowed.

I will admit to being torn by this modern technology. I don’t miss the cold sidewalks of a Canadian winter and having to camp overnight to get tickets. But there was something more democratic about that method. The best seats went to those willing to sacrifice to get them. Now they seem to go to the person who can click fastest.

I wasn’t a huge Led Zeppelin fan back in 1975. I wouldn’t have camped out to get good seats, or any seats for that matter. I’m probably a bigger fan now – their music has grown on me.

But I remember the show. Plant had a cold, which restricted his vocals somewhat. Guitarist Jimmy Page had a broken finger,  The performance was magic.

More than three hours after the opening notes, the house lights came on, but the crowd wasn’t willing to accept that the show was over. Nobody moved, and the cheering continued. The band came back and played some more. I recall media reports claiming their flight had had to be delayed in order to satisfy the fans.

As I age, my memory for details fades. I can’t say for sure what songs they played, “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love” of course. (After I wrote that I found the set list on Led Zeppelin’s website.)

Part of that is because there were a lot of new tunes from the soon-to-be-released Physical Graffiti album. Of those, the one that sticks most in my mind was “Kashmir,” which would go on to become a rock radio staple. (I should do a post about those staples. I think I know why “Kashmir” became a hit – and it has nothing to do with its usica value.)

Forty-five years later I am eager to hear Robert Plant once again. I know the old material will have been re-imagined; this is not Led Zeppelin after all. That doesn’t matter – I know Plant, a consummate showman,  will once again deliver a great show.

It won’t be three hours long though – Ottawa has noise restrictions and he’s starting late. And they won’t be holding his plane at the airport. Ottawa audiences are polite and docile. When the lights come on, they’ll go home.

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