Rush nerds: an inside look

From the rabid fans of RushCon that come from all corners of the earth, to the people that saw them play Ivor Wynne to the Burlington guy who's seen them 52 times - here's a look at some of Rush's biggest fans before Saturday night's show at Copps.

The Canadian prog rock powerhouse is set to play Copps Coliseum on Saturday night

Sam Albidone is a Rush mega-fan, and drums with Wavelength, a Rush tribute band supergroup. He's sitting at his Neil Peart custom DW drumset - which is worth about as much as two new cars. (Supplied)

Rush fans are a special breed.

Very few are what you'd call "casual listeners." They love Geddy Lee's deft bass lines (I'm looking at you, I Love You Man) and his helium-drenched vocals. They know when Neil Peart switches from 7/8 time to 4/4 time in Tom Sawyer. They know what kind of strings Alex Lifeson uses (they're Dean Markleys, by the way).

They're superfans. And many people think they're nerds. They get lumped into the same category as comic book geeks and sci-fi lovers.

But that's just because most people don't understand the intricacies of a band whose music transcends generic rock and pop, fans say. Most people just don't "get it."

You can see Rush fans in their natural habitat at the band's big show at Copps Coliseum on Saturday. For now, have a look at what makes some of the biggest Canadian Rush fans in Hamilton tick.

The Rush supergroup tribute band drummer

Sam Albidone's first Rush show was back in 1975. Since then, he's seen the band a staggering 52 times. Saturday night's show will be his fifth on the Clockwork Angels tour alone.

"The first time I heard the band I just fell in love with them," Albidone told CBC Hamilton. "When I first took up the drums, that's all I played."

And that's worked out, because the Burlington native drums for Wavelength, billed as the "ultimate" Rush tribute act. The band is actually a tribute band supergroup, formed out of two other Rush tribute bands.

He's playing a faithful replica of Neil Peart's DW drum set, valued at — wait for it — $42,000.

The intricacies of Rush's music is what drew Albidone to the band, he says. "If I'm watching a professional musician, you'd better be doing something I can't do." And many people love the band for the exact same reason, he says. "I think you'll see just by the air drummers at concerts — it's big for musicians."

The guy who remembers Ivor Wynne

It was August 24, 1979, and Sean Vedell was 17. He was heading to the old Ivor Wynne stadium with his buddies to see Rush — the only full concert that happened there after the fabled Pink Floyd show that killed concerts at the stadium back in 1975.

"It was a huge deal, not only for Rush fans but for Hamilton in general," Vedell said. "It was surreal to see a huge stage on the field that normally hosted the Ti-Cats. I remember thinking that I hoped the neighbors around the stadium were Rush fans because it was going to be loud. The PA was at least as wide on both sides of the stage as the stage was itself."

Then the band went on, and the place went nuts. They were in great form and the crowd got a special treat: three new songs from the upcoming Permanent Waves album. "They only did three shows that summer so I was one of the first ever to hear Spirit of the Radio played live," Vedell said.

"With my ears ringing and my buddies in tow we floated home, high as kites on the music. It would be a long time until Rush played Hamilton again but that hot summer night was enough to make the wait bearable."

But Vedell doesn't accept the "Rush nerd" label. Not even a little bit.

"I think Rush fans are seen as being nerds because the general public only seems to remember that Rush was that sci-fi band from high school," he said. "They didn't stick around to see the band mature into world-class musicians and song writers." 

"I dare you to find any nerds in the audience at Copps on Saturday."

Challenge accepted.


RushCon is the largest North American gathering of Rush fans. Once a year, fans from all over the world get together for several days of games, a charity auction of band memorabilia, a tribute band concert and "important guest speakers from inside the band's inner circle." This year, they'll be meeting at Toronto's Massey Hall before heading out en-masse to Copps Saturday night.

The whole thing is a testament to Rush's huge underground cult fanbase, says Jillian Maryonovich, the RushCon creative director.

Jillian Maryonovich is the creative director for RushCon, an annual gathering of Rush's biggest fans. (Supplied)

"The music isn't easily digestible. You need to be a more cerebral person to appreciate it," Maryonovich told CBC Hamilton from her home in Chicago. "It speaks to people who are already kind of on the fringe, socially — who already have tendencies to be fanatical about them."

And yes, that means a lot of people who are really into science fiction. "No one has showed up in plush costumes yet — but any day now," she said.

The convention had about 300 people show up last year, coming from as far as Japan, Australia and France. Maryonovich speaks about it extremely fondly — kind of like a Cheers for Rush nerds. "It's like coming home to a place where everybody knows who you are."

Strangely enough, she started out as a bit of a fraud, as far as Rush fans go. Her first show was in 1991, on the Roll the Bones tour. "I went as a total poser, trying to impress a boy I liked," she said. "But then I had to go out and buy all the tapes, and spent the summer on the floor with headphones on."

Since then, she's met all the guys and become friends with their crew. She's seen the band more times than she can count.

"And I just fall in love over and over again."

The classic fans and their kids

But then there's the lucky few who got to see the band long before they ever hit it big. Pat Tompkins saw Rush at the Summer Gardens in Port Dover back in the early 70s. "We'd bring up a box of beer and suntan during the day, then got to see Rush at night," Tompkins said.

It was a small venue with no seating, and packed full at around 300 people.

"We knew they had talent, but never imagined they could get big like this," he said. "Who knew they'd get this big?"

Some four decades later, he ended up seeing Rush at the Air Canada Centre with his daughter as a gift from her. "And if you told me that back in the 70s, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.

Seemingly, Rush shows have become family affairs.

"It's mostly dads and their sons, but I've taken all three of my kids — two girls and a boy — to see Rush," Vedell said. "Saturday night will be the fifth time I've seen Rush with my boy. It's very cool to share the experience with my kids."

Saturday should be a full one at Copps — packed with Rush nerds, classic fans and generations of their kids.

The one thing that binds them all together is the unbridled enthusiasm for a band that has been crisscrossing the globe and selling millions of records for decades.

"I swear they've gotten better with age," Tompkins said. "And honestly, I feel so proud today being Canadian because of what they've accomplished."