NXNE Day II–Another Musical Bounty

Up early Friday after another night (and day) of great music and fun times with good friends at many different venues, from outdoors in a green Toronto park to crowded nightclubs. I'm meeting two journalist friends this morning, but I’ll get started on this recap now and work on it throughout the day.

Thursday afternoon, I walked to Trinity-Bellwoods Park to do one of my favorite things–listen to music outdoors. I heard sets by Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, a trio whose sound is tinged with Eastern-European tones; Maylee Todd, who with her 6-piece band wowed the happy crowd seated on the grass with her R&B sounds and the expressive dancers that accompanied her songs; and Kalle Mattson, a talented singer-songwriter who with his three bandmates played a song he co-wrote with Jeremy Fisher, another favorite Canadian musician of mine. Under threatening clouds, we were all really glad the rain stayed away long enough for these three sets.




In the early evening I walked down Bathurst in heavy rain to a party sponsored by the e-reader company, Kobo. I know them of course as a book industry presence, and was really glad to see them representing at NXNE. Held at a club called the Hoxton, I was excited when I bumped in to several friends from the CBC Radio 3 blog community, folks whom I would see at other venues later in the evening.


The rain let up as I walked to the Cameron House to hear Inlet Sound, who played last night as an acoustic trio, sans their usual drums&bass. Playing seated, they showed great voices which the big room could barely contain. Their own songs are terrific, but they really surprised and pleased with a cover of Wintersleep's rock classic, Weighty Ghost,' great to hear in this unplugged setting. After their set, I was excited to get a copy of their album, The Romantics.


Shred Kelly, a stoke folk outfit from ski haven, Fernie, British Columbia, played one of the most rousing sets of music I've ever had the good luck to hear. Foot-stompin' hardly does justice to the live show this 5-piece put on last night at the Supermarket club in Kensington Market. I love their style and am eager to hear them again tomorrow when they'll be playing an acoustic set at the annual CBC Radio 3 picnic, also held in Trinity-Bellwoods Park, coordinated by CBC host Grant Lawrence.


Next, I cabbed over to the Great Hall with two CBC Radio 3 friends for a mostly solo bluesy set by Michael Rault.


From the Great Hall I walked to the nearby Drake Hotel where in their Underground club Loon Choir was to play an 11PM set. There I met Katherine Cauley, who plays fiddle in this 7-piece outfit from Ottawa. Also in the house were Katherine's parents and her brother Brian, who until the other day had been on the CBC Beetle Road Trip that's brought Grant Lawrence all the way from Vancouver in a 6000KM road trip. Brian is a radio engineer, who's been producing radio segments that are then being shared on the CBC Radio 3 website and in social media. Brian and Grant were joined on the trip by videographer and filmmaker Brent Hodge, who was also there last night to hear Loon Choir. Other Radio 3 fans in the room were friends who I know mostly by their blog and twitter handles: @Shonica and @HedgeHogFriend. Loon Choir is a terrific live act with lots of dynamic energy, particularly from their lead singer, Derek. At one point, he unfurled a banner emblazoned with a message, Occupy Gezi Park, in support of the current uprising by progressives in Turkey. The music had lots of uplift and great power chords that made the tunes, many of which I hadn't heard before, instantly likable. I got their two CDs and look forward to hearing their studio sound.


At 11:45, I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take to the Mapgie, where rootsy band Union Duke would be playing at the top of the hour. I had been invited to this concert by a new friend I made this week, Toronto journalism student and TV company staffer, Harriet Luke. She has a few friends in this band, and I was delighted to have been alerted to them. Like Shred Kelly, they are another foot-stomping 5-piece featuring banjo, handmade percussion, and great vocals. The room was humid and warm, and soon people were shedding their jackets and hitting the dance floor.

I cooled down on the walk back to my hotel and soon hit what my late father Earl Turner used to call the featherball, i.e., the pillow, eager for Friday and another day of fun at NXNE.


Day I of NXNE: A Musical Banquet

I heard terrific music last night at some excellent Toronto venues. All the artists I heard were new to me. Here's a rundown:

Right on time at 8 PM at the club Central, I sat at a front table and listened to Marta Pacek, an Aussie-born, Toronto-dwelling singer songwriter who led a terrific 4-piece band. Her accent was evident in her between-song banter, but not in her strong singing voice. After their set, I enjoyed meeting Pacek and her friend, writer Neil Murchison, who gave me a download card so I can later hear more of Pacek's music. Here's a pic I took during the show.


Next up was a lively outfit with a rather dolorous name, The Maladies of Adam Stokes. They played a 9 PM set at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, the only club I know of that manages to squeeze an adjective like that in to its name! The venue has earned it, though, as they recently marked their 50th anniversary of presenting great live music. I'm sure I'll be back at the 'Shoe' several times this week. Here's a shot of their lead singer and keyboard player.


Next, I took a Toronto street car then walked to reach a club called The Boat, near Kensington Market, where young punk band The Mouthbreathers were playing a 9:45 set. This 4-piece–two women guitarists & a two-man rhythm section on bass and drums–had all the energy associated with 80s punk–playing brief songs fast, loud, and hard. It was the lead singer's 23rd birthday, pictured below on the right. I stood on a riser near the merch table to get this shot, raising myself a bit above the boisterous crowd who stuck with the band all the way.


From The Boat I walked with friend Amit Saha–known as @XCanuck on the CBC Radio 3 blog–to a club on Queen Street West called Czehoski. We wanted to check out The Almight Rhombus, from Sudbury, Ontario, who were playing at 11 PM. They turned out to be one of the highlights of my evening. This 5-piece, which includes 3 brothers, played hooky songs with great energy on the club's very narrow stage. The joy they took in playing their own material was infectious. I met one of the brothers after the show and introduced myself as the writer of this blog. He gave me a copy of their self-titled five song CD.


I left Amit at the Czehoski bar where he was watching the first overtime of Game 1 in the Stanley Cup finals, for what turned out to be a triple overtime game. I walked down Queen Street to one of my most favorite venues, the Cameron House. I barely bothered to check who was even playing, because they always have good bands. The Cameron's front room usually features country and acoustic-oriented acts, while the back room has fuller bands. In the back room, I discovered the excellent Julian Taylor Band, fronted by the extravagantly dreadlocked and handsomely suited Taylor, who played funk and soul-inflected pop with a reggae touch. His keyboard player, shown below on the left, was terrific, too. They ended their set with a crowd-pleasing cover of I Shot the Sheriff.


I moved on to the front room where a 5-piece country outfit called Dear Sister were showing post-midnight revelers a great time. Fronted by two talented women (not sisters, I learned), and featuring an excellent lead guitarist who didn't fit on the tiny stage, they played original material and got many in the crowd dancing and making graceful moves to their sweet harmonies.


With that, I walked back to my hotel room happy and satisfied with all the great music I heard on just my first day at NXNE. Below is a shot of my NXNE badge that's getting me in to so many great shows. Can't wait for what's to come today and tonight.


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


So Sorry to Lose Jay Smith, Rock n’ Roll Musician

I’m still shocked and saddened with Wednesday’s news that Jay Smith–guitarist in the great rock band led by Matt Mays–died suddenly, only hours after the group played a live show in Edmonton, Alberta. His death was disclosed in this Facebook message from Matt Mays:


Our guitar player and dear friend Jay Smith passed away this morning in Edmonton. As you can all imagine, we are completely devastated. However, in our heart of hearts we know that we need to Play on. Jay’s family as well as the band know he would have wanted it that way. All the proceeds from the remaining shows will be put into a trust for his two beautiful children. Jay’s wit, charm, and unparalleled love of music will never be forgotten.

He was our brother and he will live in our hearts and song forever.

Matt, Serge, Damien, Adam and Matt

A cause of his death has not been announced. Exclaim magazine reports “no foul play is suspected.” Smith was 34 or 35 years old (b. 1978).

When I visited Toronto last June for the North by Northeast festival (NXNE) I heard Matt Mays and band play live at Lee’s Palace, a tremendous show. Jay Smith was a key part of the group that night, and I remember the steaming guitar solos he played. I’m sure the band will be a long time mourning his loss, personally, creatively, musically, and humanly. Photos from that show are published below. Smith had had a lengthy career as a rocker and presence on the music scene of Canada’s east coast, haling from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, with a band called Rock Ranger, that Mays featured in a song of his own, “Rock Ranger Record.” In fact, the group played it last June at Lee’s Palace, and Smith seemed to take special delight in playing on a song that was, after all, about an alter ego of his own. Mays is also from Canada’s east coast, a native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a locale he wrote about in a 2002 song, “City of Lakes.” Unaccountably, the song ends with these lines:

“I lost a friend here in this past year/I miss his guitar playing in my ear/Be a friend, take away all my fears/Nice and easy, nice and easy, nice and easy.”

Those lyrics, in turn, prompted me to reflect on the episode in 1972 when Danny Whitten, then the lead guitarist in Crazy Horse with Neil Young, died of a heroin overdose. I’m not presuming any similar reason for Jay Smith’s death–in fact have heard from someone close to the band since I posted this item that it definitely was not drug-related–only imagining what it’s like for a band to lose a brother in arms, as this extremely tight band now sadly has. To understand the dimensions of their loss, please see the photos below where in one the whole band literally took a bow with arms linked, and then waved goodnight to the jubilant crowd. These reflections prompted me to tweet the message shared above, as a prelude to this post.

Jay Smith album artSmith released a fine solo album in 2011 that I’ve been listening to often in the days since his death. You can listen to it at his, where I bought a download of it for $7. It’s really a terrific recording, deserving of airplay for such standout songs as “My Luck,” “Partner in Crime,” and “Perfect View.” Please note also that at his website Matt Mays has set up a donation page for those who want to contribute to a trust for Jay Smith’s wife and two children, at this link. My sincerest condolences to his family, friends, and bandmates. RIP, Jay Smith. Please click on this link to see all photos.

There’s Music in the Trees!

During NXNE at the unofficial CBC Radio 3 picnic in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwoods Parks organized by host and author Grant Lawrence, the musicians Adrian Glynn and Zach Gray literally climbed a tree to perform the three songs that made up their excellent set of music. They had funny banter from aloft, including about their band moniker, which I’ve confirmed with Adrian Glynn is Emperor of the North AKA Murder on The Canadian AKA the Caboose Boys. I managed to record one of their tunes as a video on my IPad. I’m glad I got it, even if it cost me a stiff neck to train my device on the two of them for 4 + minutes. Fun stuff. For more info on Adrian and Zach you should go to and Click through to see all photos and captions.

Day 6 in Toronto–Heading Home to NYC

Late evening update: The Publishing People for President Obama fundraiser, held at a handsome downtown loft–which I rushed to after landing at LaGuardia late in the afternoon–was great fun. According to organizer Barbara Lowenstein, it was a big financial success, with nearly $150,000 raised from it. Presidential advisor David Plouffe addressed the group and answered more than a half-dozen questions, making clear that the OBama campaign will draw sharp contrasts wherever they can do so. He was followed to the stage by Rosanne Cash and a fabulous guitarist John Leventhal. They played three songs and made a lot of us in the crowd even more glad we had come to support the president.

Afternoon update: I’m at Pearson Airport in Toronto, soon to board a flight for home to LaGuardia.

My productive and fun visit to Toronto ends today, and I am packing up my room this Monday morning. After I’ve checked out of my hotel and left my luggage with the concierge, I’m heading off to breakfast with my friend and book business colleague Marc Glassman, former owner of Pages Bookstore, and nowadays organizer of Toronto’s This is Not a Reading Series, and film critic. We last saw each other when I came to Toronto for NXNE last June, so we’ll catch up about the past year, including this blog and my new client, Speakerfile. Marc’s coordination of panels for his innovative reading series makes him potentially an ideal person to utilize the Speakerfile platform.

On Sunday, I attended an outdoor performance by the wonderful 6-piece band Ohbijou. They play a special kind of chamber-pop featuring guitar and soaring vocals by Casey Mecija and violin by her sister Jenny. The rest of the instrumentation makes for an unusual and appealing soundscape: electrified cello, keyboards, bass, and drums. In the evening I took the Toronto subway for the first time out to the northern reaches of the city to join a Father’s Day BBQ hosted by the Fish family, my Toronto relations. The family includes Abe and Marcy Fish, a cousin to my late father Earl. This was the second year in a row I was able to join them for this occasion, also after finishing up at NXNE. I enjoy enormously being with Abe and Marcy, and with their son Joel, at whose home we gathered. Surprise arrivals were Arthur and Bonny Fish, at whose vacation home on Prince Edward Island my family and I enjoyed a wonderful evening with their three sons a few years ago.

This whole trip has been my first attempt to more or less live-blog an event and it was a mixed bag, with some growing pains. I regret that the problems I faced in writing and posting about my activities limited my posting–due to the fact that 1) Verizon made fatal mistakes with my account and the SIM card on this IPad before I crossed the border into Canada, denying me access to cellular networks, and leaving me dependent on sporadic Wifi at many venues; and 2) Publishing photos in WordPress–the environment for this site–on the IPad is a very incomplete interface. In short, I had hoped and intended to post as rich a brand of content as I do from NY, with links and photographs and video, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.

I apologize to readers that these failures limited what I’ve been able to post from Toronto; still, I’m hopeful I will have learned valuable lessons over the past week that I can apply to my blogging the next time I travel.

Next time I post I’ll be back at my desk in NY, eager to upload and share my NXNE photos and write about the many great bands I heard over the past week, the interactive/digital/social media connections I made, as well as the new friends I met, and the great time I had hanging with my CBC Radio 3 friends. Toronto is a great city, vibrant, lively, diverse and cosmopolitan, a true engine of urban discovery.

When I land in NY later this afternoon, I’ll be heading right from LaGuardia to a Publishing for President Obama fundraiser. I look forward to seeing many NY book friends there.

Friday in Toronto–Speakerfile and Day 3 of NXNE

I began today by taking the Toronto subway crosstown from my hotel over to Yonge and College Streets where my new client Speakerfile has their office in a handsome old brick building that used to be an Odd Fellows Hall (who were those odd guys, anyway?). I met several people I’d been working on the phone since I began working with Speakerfile last month; it was good to put faces to names.

CEO Peter Evans had asked me to speak to his colleagues a bit about how Speakerfile can answer a need in the wider author/publisher space, so I explained that in an age of diminished shelf space in brick & mortar bookstores, and less print space for traditional book reviews, the discovery of new books by the reading and consuming public is among the greatest challenges that authors and publishers face in marketing their work. I’d bet that a comprehensive Web search for the use of the word “discoverability” would probably shown it’s multiplied many times over the past year or two–it is one of the watchwords of our business.

After our informal meeting, I made a few calls to Speakerfile prospects I’ve identified, including one Toronto literary agency, and headed off to my afternoon and NXNE activities.

An hour from now, members of the informal CBC Radio 3 blogger and enthusiast community will meet at the CBC building, and be given a tour of the CBC broadcast facility by radio producer Pedro Mendes. After the tour, we’re going to do a group photo in the CBC building atrium, and soon after head off to a group dinner. The musical highlights tonight will include label and management company Hidden Pony’s showcase at the Dakota Tavern featuring their bands and artists Rah Rah, Jeremy Fisher, the Danks, Elephant Stone, and Rah Rah’s Erin Passmore. Other music tonight which will challenge my ability to be in two places at once include the Rheostatics’ Dave Bidini current outfit, the Bidini Band, and blues-soul performer Andre Williams playing with the great band The Sadies. And outdoor, at Yonge-Dundas Square Plants and Animals will be playing, along with the Matthew Good Band.

It’s been a good day already, and it’s only going to get better at the CBC and the Dakota Tavern.

Thursday in Toronto–Speakerfile and Day 2 NXNE

Afternoon update from Toronto: Just had lunch–salad, soup, cornbread–at a soul food place on Queen Street West called Harlem. Good wifi. Kinda funny, coming from NYC to eat here, but it just shows we do live in a global village, and that NY’s reach as a cultural touchstone remains strong.

It’s a warm sunny day in Toronto. Despite getting back to my room late and managing less than five hours sleep, I woke up excited and ready to roll.

My first activity was breakfast with Speakerfile CEO Peter Evans. He met in my hotel lobby and we walked to a little place nearby. It’s Peter’s vision that’s fueling this new web platform that connects event planners and conference organizers with authors, experts and thought leaders. With discoverability being the primary challenge for authors and publishers today, Speakerfile promises to be a discovery engine that puts authors in front of avid audiences. It’s significant that even amid the struggling economy of the past few years, conferences continue to grow in frequency and in the numbers of those who attend them. To me this shows that even with a greater percentage of the population working on their own, people remain hungrier than ever to connect in person with peers and colleagues, and make new contacts. It’s a parallel and key concomitant to the growth of social media.

Following on the successful work Peter and I did at BEA last week–introducing Speakerfile to many publishers, literary agents, authors, and indie publicists–this morning the two of us focused on a number of new initiatives we’ll be working on together. I’m more excited than ever to be sharing word of this extremely useful discovery tool with my many publishing friends and contacts, and will be stopping at his office Friday morning to meet his colleagues, and speak with them about how I see Speakerfile helping authors and publishers in their efforts to build their careers and sell more books. If you want to find out more about the platform, pleae click on the Speakerfile box at the upper-right corner of this site, and click through to their website.

NXNE, of course, is largely a rock ‘n roll crowd so festival activities won’t commence until later today. I’m excited about seeing more bands tonight, including possibly Boxer the Horse at El Mocambo on Spadina near my hotel; Baby Eagle, which features Daniel Romano, who is also playing solo later, and Julie Doiron, all at the Great Hall on Queen Street West; Belle Star at the Dakota Tavern; and Zulu Winter, at the Rivoli. Now, if I could just work on being in two places at once, I’d be all set!