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Rheostatics superfan Robin Clarkson came upon the Canadian art-rock sextet in a strange way, against her will. Newly turned 19 in the fall of 2001, the music-lover from the United States drove to Toronto from Pittsburgh specifically to see Barenaked Ladies keyboardist Kevin Hearn open up for Rheostatics at the Horseshoe Tavern. She arrived early to secure a front-row spot for Hearn. After his set she prepared to leave, but, turning around, she saw the crowd had grown considerably behind her. The show was sold out, the room was packed – she was trapped.

“I knew nothing about the Rheostatics,” Clarkson says, speaking in Toronto recently. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m stuck up here for the rest of the night.'”

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Rheostatics super fan Robin Clarkson jumps off stage after taking a photo with the band prior to their record release event at Sonic Boom in Toronto, on Aug. 5, 2019.Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Call it serendipity, call it fate, call a city official because surely fire codes were being violated in a room built to hold only 400. But Clarkson stayed and was hooked for life by the second number, I Fab Thee from the band’s children’s album The Story of Harmelodia. “But you’re different: peculiarly, uniquely strange,” co-front man Martin Tielli would have sung. “Somewhere, not here, there, not even between.” The lines serve as allegory for a quirky band known for epic adventures in prog-rock, jokey-folky Canadiana and, these days, occasional reunions. It’s not for everyone – Clarkson is an ultralevel supporter of a fans-only band.

“It’s hard to explain,” says Clarkson, a Houston lawyer who studied music at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. “It feels like your heart is going to grow a little bit when you hear certain chords or when a harmony locks in. When I played Rheostatics albums for my friends at school, they would say, ‘I don’t get it.’ But they hit all my buttons."

Clarkson has seen Rheostatics more than 50 times. This September, she flew in for the band’s record-release party for Here Come the Wolves, its first album in 15 years. The promotional event at Sonic Boom Music drew a crowd of mostly dudes in their awkward-high-fiving years. And while Clarkson didn’t particularly stand out in the crowd of Rheo-music nerds, her story is one of a kind.

After her Horseshoe introduction, Clarkson routinely travelled from school to see the Rheostatics not only in Toronto, but Ontario venues in London, Waterloo and Hamilton. Once an aspiring singer, after she decided she didn’t want a career as a performer she landed an internship with Toronto’s Six Shooter Records, home of Rheostatics. On more than one occasion she sang with the group on stage. “To see their interplay from that vantage point is incredible,” Clarkson says. “They’re so in tune with each other.”

On a personal level, Clarkson married the band’s sound man. They had a child together, but have since divorced. In 2015, she attended three performances at the Art Gallery of Ontario of the band’s Music Inspired by the Group of Seven. It was the first time Rheostatics had performed together in eight years. It was also the first Rheo concert for Clarkson since her divorce.

“Because their music was a big part of my life at the time I got married, I was worried it would be tainted,” she says, speaking at the Six Shooter office. “But seeing them at the AGO, there was so much joy, so much beauty." For Clarkson, it was a recapturing of something she thought she had lost in the divorce. "I thought, ‘This is mine. This is still mine.’”

The band appreciates diehards. “I’d hear from those fans when the band wasn’t even together, and that spirit was fuel,” says co-frontman Dave Bidini, at the album launch. “They made us feel active, even when we weren’t.”

Years ago, according to Bidini, when a man’s car was on fire in a ditch, a police officer helped the guy rescue a copy of the 1992 Rheostatics album Whale Music from the flaming wreck. (Another allegory for the band, perhaps.)

Initially, Clarkson wasn’t able to embrace the Canadianness of a band that writes songs called Saskatchewan and indulges in inside-hockey esoterica. But now she uses the music to help her half-Canadian son learn about this country, playing him The Ballad of Wendel Clark. “This is where you come from," Clarkson tells her boy. And when he asks who Wendel Clark is? “I tell him he’s a man with a stick in his hand.”

The Group of Seven couldn’t have painted a better picture.

Clarkson has a ticket for the band’s Dec. 6 show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall. Her love for the music evolved over the years. “This new album is so much fun to listen to, without all my teenage angst underneath,” she says. “Because I’m not the same person, it all feels fresh. I’m glad they’re back.”

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