Wintersleep Filling Up My Last Night of NXNE

View from my hotel room windowReaders of this blog may recall I was in Toronto last month for the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival. It was the third year in a row I’d attended, and the second year I’ve gone officially as press, for which I thank festival organizers who granted me accreditation so I could provide my perspective as an NYC-based blogger, reporting on an extravaganza where upwards of 1000 bands play at more than 55 different venues over 4 nights stretching all over the city. NXNE just had its fourteenth year, and they really know their game. Without a doubt, this was the most fun, productive, and musically rewarding NXNE yet for me. By my personal count I heard 35+ live acts over the four days and nights. This shows how futile it is to comprehensively cover the festival; still, thousands of music fans, musicians, and music writers have a great time trying.

I tweeted hundreds of times and published three full posts while in Toronto from June 12-17, and have put up three more posts since returning to NYC, now including this write-up.* I’m glad to be able to continue my coverage with this report on the last day’s bunch of bands I heard and lots of pictures.

On Saturday morning I met friends Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef for breakfast at the popular Lakeside Diner, near Ossington and Dundas. Michael and Margot are longtime sales representatives for many fine independent publishers. We had a nice time catching up and then Michael offered to me drop me back near my hotel. After a quick pit stop there I headed out again to have a beverage at a cafe called the Tampered Press with Toronto friend Patti Henderson, whom I had met in 2012 at Book Camp, an ad hoc publishing conference.  Another publishing vet, Patti is also a marvelous photographer who assembles the excellent blog, Vagabond Photography. When Patti and I split up I walked over to nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park where the unofficial CBC Radio 3 picnic hosted by Grant Lawrence was slated to begin around noon, an event I covered earlier with this post: Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic.

After enjoying all the conviviality at the picnic, where nearly 100 Canadian indie music fans met up, I headed back downtown via streetcar and on foot so I could hear Sarah Harmer play a live outdoor show at David Pecaut Square as part of the Luminato Festival, a Toronto celebration of the arts taking in music, literature, and film that overlaps with NXNE. Harmer played such familiar songs of hers as “Captive” and “One Match” and I left the outdoor performance space very happy.  Taking advantage of the Alexandra Hotel’s central location, as I had been able to do all week, I went back to my room for a cup of tea and a refreshing nap before my final night of music at NXNE (the view I had from my comfortable room, through the window that slid open, is shown at the top of this post).

The first club I visited that evening was Czehoski on Queen Street West, to hear a Chicago solo artist who plays under the provocative name of Briar Rabbit. A tall African-American singer/songwriter, he writes and plays music that examines race and historical perceptions of color. At one point, he told the audience that he’d made a study of American minstrelsy and the tradition of actors singing in black face make-up, next playing a song, “I Feel Invisible,” and then one called “Coon.” Briar Rabbit will be in NYC soon, with a show August 10 at the Living Room and August 13 at Rockwood Music Hall and I plan to hear him again at one of those venues.

My next show was quite a ways across town at Danforth Hall on the east side of Toronto, to hear Dinosaur Bones and the headliner, Wintersleep. Using streetcar and subway, I reached the converted movie theater just as Dinosaur Bones hit the stage. A 5-piece, their set built up a heavy melange of crashing guitars, keys, and drums that always stayed on the bright side of tuneful, with my fave song of theirs being a memorable one called “Ice Hotels,” which you can listen to along with other songs by them at their CBC Radio 3 artist page.  Montreal’s Hour magazine describes their music as “packed with feeling. . .whose delicate darkness almost belies its pop sensibility.”

Next up, Wintersleep, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who played a terrific show. The sound in the hall was outstanding, full and rich, not too loud, with every instrument of their five pieces clear and distinctly audible. Lead singer Paul Murphy was in good form, as the set list ranged across their ample catalog of great songs. The band has been around ten years, releasing five albums since 2003. From the latest, “Hello Hum,” they played “In Came the Flood,” and “Resuscitate.” From earlier albums they played many of my favorites, including “Black Camera,” “New Inheritors,” “Weighty Ghost,” and “Preservation.” Their artist page at CBC Radio 3 has all these songs and more, if you want to hear them for yourself. I was standing at center front near the stage for Wintersleep, and happily hung through it with some great folks I enjoyed meeting. There was Toronto musician Courtney Lynn, who had come to this show with her brother and sister, all of them fun company. Also nearby was  Clayton Drake, keyboard player from The Almighty Rhombus, the Sudbury, Ontario, band I had enjoyed so much on Wednesday night, whose show I had written up on Thursday. In fact, on Sunday, Clayton and I exchanged a droll series of tweets that concluded with quite an amusing line from him:


In the middle of Wintersleep’s second encore, I reluctantly left the hall so I could get back to Toronto’s West Side, where the punk band Fucked Up were playing a set at the Horseshoe Tavern. True to form, they played a wild and crazy show with moshing and hijinks from lead singer Damian Abraham.  When they finished it was after 2:00 AM and I happily headed back to my room for a few hours of sleep before waking Sunday to meet Marcy and Abe Fish, cousins of mine who live in Toronto, a day I covered with this post.

For readers who’d like to know, over the next couple weeks I’ll be publishing two more posts related to my NXNE 2013: 1) A large grab bag of photos that I haven’t so far shared in any of the six previously published posts. 2) A tourist guide to Toronto, with additional info on the well-situated Alexandra Hotel; ranking of the music venues; sightseeing tips, and photos of buildings and city scenes. For now, here are pictures from all the Saturday shows I attended. (Please click here to see all photos.)

* For the record, I invite you to read the earlier posts I published from my Toronto trip. They were 1) Day I of NXNE: A Musical Banquet; 2) NXNE Day II–Another Musical Bounty; 3) Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic; 4) NXNE Day III–Six More Great Bands w/a “Best Live Show” as the Topper; and 5) Families that Make Art Together, a post not directly related to NXNE, but involving members of the Toronto chamber pop group, Ohbijou.

NXNE Day III–Six More Great Bands w/a “Best Live Show” as the Topper

Counting up the acts I heard and the venues I visited last week NXNE in Toronto I see that over the four days of live music, I heard thirty acts at sixteen different venues, including outdoor events in Trinity-Bellwoods Park; in-store shows; and nightclubs. Even so, there were at least a dozen or two more acts I really wanted to hear, but whose shows I just couldn’t get to. I’ll be making an effort to listen to their recorded music over the coming weeks and months, and before I’m done covering this year’s NXNE I’ll mention the bands I couldn’t get to hear. Much as I’d like to say I found time this year for a film or a comedy club, I limited my recreation to live music. Even at that, I missed lots of acts I would like to have heard. I  hope one of these years to catch a documentary or some comedians. While still in Toronto I posted about Day I (Wednesday) and Day II (Thursday) and about the CBC Radio 3 picnic, on the Saturday afternoon. Now that I’m back in NYC, caught up on other work, and with all my pictures downloaded and cropped, I’ll write here about the the live shows I heard on the Friday of NXNE.

The Urban Outfitters store on Queen Street West has a second level that is actually not a bad performance space. Late Friday afternoon I went to hear the duo Dusted, with exciting electric guitarist Brian Borcherdt, formerly of the band Holy Fuck. During NXNE 2011 I heard Borcherdt play solo, so it was nice to hear him working with a drummer, who also had a keyboard nearby. Dusted plays a raw, basic sound that was easy to like, and quite melodic. In Spin magazine, the single from their album “Total Dust,” got this praise:  “'(Into The) Atmosphere,’ is ‘a dewy lo-fi pop ramble, with sweetly multi-tracked vocals, cavernous layers of melancholy guitar strums, and galloping, off-kilter percussion.’”28 Brian Borcherdt

A party for the end of the CBC Beetle Road Trip was the next item on the Friday afternoon/early evening schedule, the culmination of the 7000KM drive taken in a Fender guitar-branded VW. CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence helmed the drive, with CBC staffers Brian Cauley and Brent Hodge producing audio and video content for CBC Music. The caravan (they actually had two cars) stopped in different cities along the way and taped live sessions with more than a half-dozen Canadian indie groups. The arrival party was a blast, with The Darcys playing. They gave Grant a Blue Jays cap. I’m going to write about it separate from this post. Meantime, here’s a picture of Grant’s arrival:28b Beetle

From CBC HQs I walked north and east to the Cameron House on Queen St. West where was holding a showcase, with country singer Kayla Luky and her band up first. I had not heard her before, and was pleasantly taken with her clear voice, original songs, and her excellent lead guitarist, who looked like he just got down off a hot tractor, in overalls and sleeveless flannel shirt. 31 Kayla Luky

I’m a big fan of Winnipeg band Imaginary Cities, and though I’ve seen them several times before, I made a point of catching their set this night at the Mod Club. This was a much larger venue than I’d ever heard them play before, and their power pop sound, with Marti Sarbit’s intensely likable voice, was well up to the task of filling the big space and capturing the interest and attention of a couple hundred listeners, many of whom it seemed hadn’t known this great band or their songs at all. Their second album, “The Fall of Romance,” has been about a month, and by now, I like all the songs from it as well as their great debut, “Temporary Resident.”32a Imaginary Cities

After leaving the Mod Club I remembered I hadn’t had dinner, so I stopped at a vendor’s stand on College Street, where a street festival was in full swing. I bought a pulled pork sandwich and munching away, walked down Ossington Street to the Dakota Tavern to hear Paul Langlois, a veteran member of one of Canada’s long-lived and most popular bands, The Tragically Hip. The Dakota is a great venue with a relaxed vibe where acoustic players and pickers are often showcased–on weekend mornings they even serve a bluegrass bunch. But the band Langlois assembled for this show–a high-revving 4-piece–was no stripped-down outfit, including as it did the Hip’s shredding lead guitarist Rob Baker. This was meant to be a showcase for Langois’ own material, and though I’d never heard these dark excursions in minor keys, my ear took right to them.34 Paul Langois

Another act soon took the stage at the Dakota, a band called Tin Star Orphans. I had time to listen to only two of their country rock songs, but I liked what I heard.  34a Tin Star Orphans

I now had about twenty minutes to get to my next show with The Matinee, a great live band from Vancouver, British Columbia, who were scheduled to play a 1:00 AM show at the Supermarket, near my hotel in the Kensington Market neighborhood, where Shred Kelly had killed it the night before. I didn’t want to be late so took a cab down Dundas Street and walked the rest of the way up Augusta Street to the club. When I arrived I saw lots of friends from the CBC Radio 3 fan community. The Matinee had played on 2012’s Track on Tracks rock n’ roll extravaganza which traveled with ten bands and lots of fans from Vancouver to Toronto, a railroad excursion that made The Matinee fan favorites of many folks. I had heard and enjoyed them last year, but the set they played this night was leaps beyond anything I’d heard from them before. The songs on their one album, “We Swore We’d See the Sunrise,” are bright and country-tinged with sweet harmonies (listen to “Sweetwater” for latter-day Everly Brothers harmonies). They also blessed to have as their lead guitarist Matt Rose, a true guitar god sort of player. He’s tall and athletic in his movements, with long arms and legs, long black hair, and just a stunning riff-ripper. He clearly relished and fed richly off of the audience’s boisterous enjoyment of his cutting lines. During their encore he jumped down from the stage in to the audience, playing right among us. At the end, he heaved his acoustic back on the stage as a kind of declamation of satisfaction, not worrying about the instrument. Here are a couple pictures from The Matinee’s great show, one of the very best shows of my NXNE. In the first pic, that’s Matt Rose on the right, playing a Fender Telecaster and moving so quickly I couldn’t capture him in focus, flanked by lead singer Matt Layzell. The second picture shows Matt Rose and bandmate Geoff Petrie amid the crowd during that wild encore.

36 Matinee37 Matinee
Before going to bed that night I tweeted this:

After I got back to NYC from Toronto, CBC Radio 3 Fan of the Year Christine McAvoy, a professional photographer, shared many of her NXNE pictures, including this one (on the right). In it I am surrounded by R3 friends, listening to The Matinee at a quieter moment of their show, holding my IPad, and tweeting about it in real time. Since I started writing this blog it’s the first “action shot” of me, so to speak, at work. I thank Christine for quickly giving permission for me use it here.
PT at The MatineeTo return the favor, the next photo (on the left) shows Christine (holding her camera high, in straw hat) at The Matinee show during the encore. 38 Matinee

My friends were moving on to a 2:00 AM show with We Are the City, but I declined to join them, feeling satisfied to end the night with The Matinee’s show. I headed back to my room so I could get some sleep before a Saturday morning breakfast with book business friends Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef.

Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic

Almost too busy to post or write about yesterday’s NXNE. This being Saturday it’s probably the fullest day of programming all week. But I’ll share something here, pics of the CDs I’ve gotten since arriving here on Wednesday. Some have been given to me, some I was glad to pay for. It’ll be great when I get back to NYC and unpackage them. Sunday should be quieter, so probably more coverage coming here.

Below is an EP and a full album by Crissi Cochrane, a friend from the CBC Radio 3 blog community, and an emerging artist in her own right. I had never met her before today at the annual CBC Radio 3 picnic, nor heard her sing. She has a beguiling voice and presence, as shown in the pic below her recorded music.


As noted in my Day II post below, on Thursday night I heard Toronto band Inlet Sound at The Cameron House. I really enjoyed hearing them, and was glad CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence also invited them to the picnic today. Like Crissi, they are also pictured below their album “The Romantics.” Alongside it is the album I picked up by Union Duke, also on Thursday night.




Next are Loon Choir’s two albums. They became new favorites of mine when I heard them on Thursday night. Here’s my post that includes a write-up on that show.


Also, here’s an album by The Darcys. They were the musical guests at CBC HQs last night where Grant Lawrence ended the 7000KM cross-country CBC Beetle Road Trip. Last is The Matinee‘s “We Swore We’d See the Sunrise.” They played last night at the Supermarket, after which I tweeted:

@philipsturner: The Matinee just played one of the best live sets ever. They owned the crowd&the stage. @NXNE @thematineemusic


To Toronto for North by Northeast (NXNE), June 12-17 + Exploring New Media Connections

For the third consecutive year I’ll be attending Toronto’s North by Northeast festival (NXNE), which I’ll be covering as accredited press for this blog The Great Gray Bridge, which I began the day after Halloween in 2011. The festival, which stretches across the big city on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, takes place at 100s of venues, combining live music shows with artists from Canada and other countries; comedy shows; films; and panels and presentations on interactive and digital topics. I arrive tomorrow, June 12, and will be in town until next Monday night, June 17. I look forward to making new friends and meeting up with many of my old pals from the CBC Radio 3 blog and fan community, coordinated by the inspired work of our ringmaster, Grant Lawrence, radio host, author, and catalytic ambassador for Canadian indie rock n’ roll. Grant is also expected to arrive in Toronto tomorrow, as he completes the CBC Beetle Road Trip, a 5000KM music discovery journey that he began in Vancouver almost three weeks ago.

In addition to covering NXNE, I’ll be working in the area of my publishing consultancy. I’ll be seeing people at–a Toronto company whose brand is visible at the upper right corner of this website–one of my chief consulting clients. I also have meetings and meals set up with Canadian publishing, book industry, and media friends and am still seeking out confabs with new contacts. Because Canadian politics is being keenly followed by readers in the States these days–over issues that really matter to my avid audience, such as transnational oil politics and trade issues; the hard sell by the Harper gov’t of the Keystone pipeline and PBO’s looming decision on what to do about Alberta’s tar sands; the always eventful mayoralty of Toronto’s Rob Ford; and many, many US and Canadian shared musical and literary touchpoints.  My goal in Toronto will be to explore with media contacts how the coverage I do here of Canadian culture, books, publishing, and politics–all composed from the personal viewpoint of a longtime bookseller of Canadian titles, publisher of Canadian authors, visitor to Canada, and observer of its ways.  Stephen Harper’s inevitable electoral bid for another majority will come no later than 2015, a time that I believe I will find more outlets for my writing.

If any Canadian friends, old or new, read this post, and want to get together or talk while I’m in town, please be in touch. You may use this link at my contact page, or find me at Twitter, @philipsturner

Finally, if you’re curious what the home page of the NXNE website looks like, here it is. My favorite bit is in the upper right corner: 1000 Bands * 30 Films  * 150 Comedians  * 65 NXNEi Sessions *  60 Artists


Announcing #R3NYNJ, the NYC/New Jersey CBCRadio3 Fan Group

NYNJR3With my friend Steve Conte–owner of FunnyBooks, the comics store in Lake Hiawatha, NJ–we are today announcing the launch of R3NYNJ, a fan group in the NYC metropolitan area to celebrate Canadian indie rock n’ roll, borrowing our name from CBCRadio3, the fabulous Internet radio station based in Vancouver that is such a rich portal for the work of 100s of great Canadian musicians, many of whom have international followings, or will have fans worldwide. Under the banner of this new logo (inspired design by Steve), and the Twitter hashtag, #R3NYNJ, we will
* promote upcoming live shows, post showtimes & info;
* spread word of US releases of new albums by Canadian artists;
* share coverage from The Great Gray Bridge blog of shows we’ve attended;
* invite new fans–denizens of Gotham and Canadian transplants–to join us in the group and at live shows;
* be a rallying point for Canadian artists touring in the NY area;
* cover the venues where the bands often play;
* inform Canadians in the NY area who want to stay connected with all the great music now being made by the seriously great bands, singer-songwriters, and performers of our dear neighbour to the north.
More details on #R3NYNJ will follow in coming days. We’re starting to use the hashtag and logo today. For contact with us, please follow me personally on Twitter and contact me there. My handle’s @philipsturner. This would be a big help, as I will naturally be using Twitter to make the hashtag hum and grow. [Please note, this is an “unofficial” group, not formally affiliated with the CBC.]

Please Join Me in Donating Money to Promote Men’s Health

November 15 Movember moustache update:

I’ve joined the CBCRadio3 Movember team to promote men’s health through regular screening for prostate cancer and research into causes and cures of this most common of all cancers affecting men. Please join me at this donation page and consider making a contribution. Thanks! As a way of drawing attention to this issues, members of the Radio 3 team will all be growing moustaches this month. Just getting started on mine, but I’ll post photographic and informational updates as the month moves along. Meantime, here’s a video from the Movember organization, explaining their global mission.

Best Feel-Good Story in Ages

Lovely story here: Kris Doubledee is a bus driver in Winnipeg, Canada. This past Tuesday, just a day after he’d seen a desolate man in bare feet along his route, saw the man again. This time he stopped his vehicle, got out from behind the wheel and approached the stranger. According to an interview Doubledee did with CBC TV, the two had an exchange that went like this:

“‘I said to him, ‘Do you have any shoes?’

The man answered, ‘No, I don’t.’

‘If I give you a pair of shoes [will] you keep ’em?

He said, ‘Yeah.’

‘I took off my shoes and gave ’em to him.'”

Doubledee got back on the bus and continued driving down Portage Avenue, now in his stocking feet. Later that day, Denise Campbell, a passenger of Doubledee’s who’d observed the exchange between the two men, began telling her office colleagues about this unusual act of kindness. Later, she posted an account of what she’d seen on a community news site, under the headline, Winnipeg Transit Driver’s Act of Kindness Stuns Passengers. She wrote,

“I realized that the man the driver was chatting with was barefoot.  The bus was dead silent.  I think we were all stunned and speechless.  As we proceeded to our next stop, one of the passengers got up and said to the driver, that was the most amazing thing she had ever seen; and then she asked him, why did he do that?
The bus driver answered[,] because he couldn’t stand the thought of that poor man walking without shoes.   Wow!  No judgement; it was just, ‘Here buddy you need these more than I do.’ There wasn’t a dry eye on the bus. All the passengers were moved by this bold and selfless gesture. Now, a homeless man will have shoes for his feet because of a bus driver’s random act of kindness. Not bad for a Tuesday morning in downtown Winnipeg.”

Campbell’s blog went viral and soon news crews were looking to interview Doubledee. Eventually he was located and just below is one of the interviews he gave. (He was also contacted by CBS News in New York and he appeared on their morning show today with Mayor Sam Katz of Winnipeg–when I find that link I’ll share it, as well.)

Doubledee’s fateful stop came at the corner of Portage and Main. It so happens that one of the Canadian indie music groups that I heard this summer during the North by Northeast Festival (NXNE) is called Portage & Main, so here is a link that includes their song, “What Have I Done,” a moving ballad about trying to do better in one’s life. I offer it here as a feel-good bonus for all my kind readers. You’ll find it at the top-right corner of their band page at CBC Radio 3.

A Great Music Video–Library Voices, Unplugged

Library Voices is an absolutely great band from Regina, Saskatchewan. They’ve been through New York City twice on tour since I discovered them a bit more than a year ago. The video below is an acoustic version of their song “Traveler’s Digest,” from the website of Green Couch Sessions. Library Voices plays with a boisterous enthusiasm, whether unplugged as here, or with full compliment of amps and synths in tow. I hope you enjoy the video. Their albums are great, including the most recent, “Summer of Lust.”

Green Couch Sessions says  it’s “a place where music lovers come to listen. Found abandoned in an alley it has transformed into a hub of local and awesome music. Reviews, Interviews and anything else we want to talk about!”

Green Couch was also responsible for the Tracks on Track musical extravaganza this past June, when 10 bands, including The Matinee, and Shred Kelly, CBC Radio 3 host and author Grant Lawrence, plus a couple dozen fans of Canadian indie music traveled by rail from Vancouver to Toronto. I was unable to join that journey from west to east, but I met many friends from the trip in Toronto for the annual North by Northeast festival (NXNE). There’s lots of cool video from Tracks on Tracks online.
Special thanks to CBC Radio 3 pal Rebecca Gladney for posting “Traveler’s Digest” on Facebook tonight. //end//