Hillbilly Highway – A cold road indeed

by Sheldon Birnie

Boy, it sure is winter now, here in Peggritty. Undeniably so. For anyone who’s checked the listings in our great city lately, while there are certainly shows to be seen, the frequency and breadth of selection has certainly withered considerably since the dog days of summer or the last minute rush of autumn.

This comes as no surprise. Only the truly driven, or absolutely mad, would venture out on the Highway in such deplorable and dangerous conditions — unless of course they’re driving south. This is no rare phenomenon. Indeed, it is one as old as Hank Snow.

It takes a brave soul to venture out onto a cold road, and Dave Bidini knows it well. Former Rheostatic and current National Post columnist wrote a book of much the same name — literally, On A Cold Road — after a particularly grueling tour the Rheostatics did supporting the Hip back in the late 90s. Part tour diary and part oral history of CanRock grinders, the book is currently among finalists in the CBC’s vaunted “Canada Reads” contest.

The book is essential reading for anyone crazy enough to commit to a life at the mercy of the gods Rock and Roll. And if it comes up triumphant in the CBC’s death-match, it will be certified as essential reading for all Canadians, a title it certainly deserves. By presenting, warts and all, the reality of trying to make a living off original, Canadian music to Canadians who otherwise have no idea the struggles musicians go through, On A Cold Road is a testament to the grit and glory of contemporary Canadian music as much as Whispering Pines is to the roots of Canadian music in the realm of Americana.

I read On A Cold Road years ago now, at the recommendation of my good pal Lisa Moore, who y’all met last week. I had never heard of Bidini, though I knew, in passing, of the Rheostatics. I loved the book, and quickly got deeper into Bidini’s oeuvre. His books on hockey, The Best Game You Can Name and Tropic of Hockey are also remarkable, especially for those who love the game but might not be fans of the way the sport has lately been presented by conservative pundits in parliament and in the media. I would recommend all three to anyone, whether fans of CanRock or hockey, based solely on the quality of storytelling. Don’t wait for the CBC to tell you to do so — grab that shit up before it’s on a kilometer-long waiting list at the library.

Winter is a brutal time to be a fan — or much worse, performer — of live music in much of Canada. But it is a time to show your mettle as one. In this city, there are quality demonstrations of live music on the reg. Layer up, fill a flask, and hit the cold road to your local watering hole and revel in the lack of line up. Why, I know a little honkytonk or two that are guaranteed to be a good time this weekend… Maybe I’ll see you there?

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