Remember back in 2003 when everyone thought that SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was going to wipe out the entire planet? The disease reached Toronto that year and 5,000 people were quarantined, bringing Canada’s tourism industry to a complete standstill and draining untold millions out of the economy.
Things cooled off by the summer, but since people were still reluctant to travel north of the border, a giant concert at Toronto’s Downsview Park was put together to show things were back to normal. It was officially called Molson Canadian Rock for Toronto, but everyone just called it SARSAid or SARSStock. Roughly 500,000 fans came to the park to see the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Justin Timberlake, the Guess Who and more.
Rush weren’t on tour at the time and virtually never perform between cycles, but this was a tough invitation to decline; they ultimately became the last band to get on board. Their eight song set focused on hits like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight,” though, as a tribute to the Stones, they did about a minute of “Paint It Black” before wrapping up the show with “The Spirit of Radio.” Check out video of the unique medley right here.
They actually intended to perform “Working Man” as an encore after that. “At the end of ‘The Spirit of Radio,’ we ran offstage, waiting to see if we should play an encore or not,” Neil Peart wrote in his book Traveling Music. “Everyone was supposed to know about that plan, but somebody obviously didn’t. Taped music started playing over the P.A., as if our set was over, and stagehands began walking onstage to strike the gear. We were still standing at the side of the stage, tensed for action but not knowing what to do, when Alex turned to go, saying, ‘Forget it. It would be embarrassing to go back on now.’ He was right. It was over.”