BIG goes to Canadian Music Week

Toronto recently played host to Canadian Music Week - naturally, we sent our social guy to take it all in. This is his take on the Toronto experience.

Where Fires Are – Photo by Hans Grossmann

Where Fires Are – Photo by Hans Grossmann

“So, are you in a band?”

A question I heard a lot during my time in Toronto.


… I just really, really like music. And the music scene; the community. Going to shows. Man I wish I was in a band. Can I hang out with you guys?

It’s January 2016 and I’m walking out of Last Best having just had a few pints with some old friends. There’s a poster on the door for some indie looking music festival going on later that month between Last Best and Broken City. Two venues, four stages and a boat load of craft beer. Sold.

BIG Winter Classic goes down in Calgary in the heart of winter. With stages inside and out and craft beer a plenty, their aim is to promote Alberta and Canadian music and arts, the Calgary community and everything that makes our great city so… Great. As a Calgary lover and local, music nerd and somewhat more than casual beer drinker – BIG was perfect.

Six months later I’m replying to a tweet and sending an email to BIG, volunteering for a position as social media support. Truth be told I knew very little of social media or the methods behind the madness, but it didn’t matter - I was just looking for a way to get involved. BIG was built to celebrate some of the things I love most. A foot in the door of a party I’ve been long hoping for an invite to? Maybe. I had to be a part of it.

Fast forward 10 months and I’m boarding a plane to do my best representing BIG at Canadian Music Week in Toronto. Not where I thought I’d be when I somehow managed to get my hands on the passwords to all their media accounts, but a most welcome surprise. Takeoff.

I’d never been to Toronto before, though I’d been looking for some time for an excuse to visit. A postcard pen pal lives out there and I was itching for a reunion. I recently took a position driving the Blue Jays bandwagon and another friend (and mutual music lover) recently got an apartment above a sangria bar on the west end of downtown. Throw Canadian Music Week and a trip for two of Toronto’s sports teams to the post season on top and hell, I’d never forgive myself if I turned this down.

Day 1: I’m tired, hungover and kind of depressed.

The Flames’ 4-1 lead halfway through the second had the Dome foams flowing pretty freely for a Monday night. Then Corey Perry shattered my heart into a million pieces like a minute and a half into overtime. Then my 4:30am alarm went off. Boo. Oh well, I was finally heading to T-Dot. Though I may owe an apology to the young girl next to me on the plane, as the combination of my being asleep before takeoff and the sure smell of Budweiser on a Tuesday morning likely didn’t make for a great first impression, the trip was smooth.

Until I was locked out of my apartment. No stress, after a pint and a couple of failed break in attempts the landlord found a key and I was home for the week. The place was rad. A little two bedroom with retro movie posters, a bar in the basement and a couch for me to rest my head, I couldn’t have been happier. Now it was time to explore Toronto.

I decided to try be proactive and scope my route to the Sheraton (where the Music Week conferences were being held), before going to the Jays game later that night. I figured I’d also get my check in done and grab my pass ahead of time so that I could sleep as late as possible the next day. Great plan, until my single day pass was actually just a sticker to stick to my chest. For those of you who don’t know, I’m really good at losing that kind of stuff. I didn’t want my pass getting folded in my pocket like a week-old receipt, so naturally I asked to keep it in a friend’s purse. I was feeling pretty confident and ensured her I’d remember to get it after the game. Although I may have been two steps and a missed phone call from sending it a half hour north of Toronto, I totally got it away with it.

The night wrapped with a show at Adelaide Hall. A simple little basement venue where I took in Texas King and The Honest Heart Collective. I’d recommend you give them both a listen. Tall boys were flowing, the crowd was dancing and I was definitely starting to feel like I was here for a week of solid music. The more venues and bands I could see, the happier I would be – but first, the CMW conference.

Day 2: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.

Sure, I’d consider myself outgoing but how does one represent a festival at an event like this? This was new territory for me - and outside of a quick run in with an old high school friend (now living in NYC and working with Howard Stern) and a couple of crossed paths with the girls from All Hands on Jane (AHOJ), I knew no one else at the conference. Good thing I love meeting people! Donning a (super trendy) button up tee, my trusty Vans and my BIG Winter Classic hat, I was ready to rock.

Everyone at the CMW conference seemed to be wearing a smile. Anyone I spoke to was friendly and seemed interested in what you had to say. I may not have handed out as many cards as I had originally hoped to, but I met a ton of people and I for surely did not feel out of place. Quite the opposite, really. I felt right at home.

I walked out of the CMW conference feeling inspired.

Whether it was through the way the speakers carried themselves, through any media they may have shared (feel free to watch Casey Neistat’s “Do What You Can’t” if you feel like maybe you’d like to flip the bird to societal rules), or through the lessons they had to teach, I was a man with a plan. Am I now some kind of media marketing expert? Ha. No. But I have a far more refined picture for moving forward; I’ve got an idea and I’ve heard those can be pretty powerful.

With the media conference behind me it was back to festival mode, and on Wednesday night I found myself at an awards show. Not what I was expecting when I thought I had bought tickets to see the Wooden Sky but hey, live and learn. The show was hosted by Toronto’s Indie 88 and held at the Phoenix Concert Hall, which had the AC so high we wore jackets inside. Chilly? Sure. But they had Red Stripe on special, and so once again it was tall boys on the menu.

The show started with sets from The Nursery and Repartee before the Wooden Sky got on stage and played a set comprised almost completely of new songs. Dan Mangan played a single acoustic track, and 54-40 played a show that felt like a victory lap. Hollerado had the crowd moving as they shut ‘er all down, closing with a fantastic cover of Money For Nothing - uncensored and in all its glory. It was different, but cool. Indie 88 gave out guitars to all the winners and July Talk had one of those “sorry we couldn’t make it” videos that got played on a giant screen to accept their award. It was like a really cold and grungy version of the Grammy’s.

The Indies wrapped at 11:30. Lots of time left for music in a city with a last call at 4am. I had no choice but to bring the boys to Cherry Cola’s (Rock and Roll Cabaret & Lounge) where All Hands on Jane were playing a set at midnight. Confession: I love those gals. Cherry Cola’s was a right intimate little spot – dimly lit with red lights, suede looking wall paper and PBR for $5. It was also apparently the spot to be if you were from Calgary, with Miesha (Miesha and the Spanks), BIG photographer Mike G and Ten Minute Detour among others all in the crowd. A few of us took a brief moment to mourn the Flames’ quick exit from the playoffs. Tess (AHOJ) then managed to blow a hole in the house kick drum. Radtown had arrived. I stuck around for the half naked UK band Where Fires Are but had to decline an invite to a secret Danko Jones show at the Bovine Sex Club. I had to sleep at least one of the nights on this trip and a recharge coming into the weekend (which let’s be honest, basically starts on Thursday) seemed like the time to do it.

Cherry Cola’s Kick Drum - Photo by Hans Grossmann

Cherry Cola’s Kick Drum - Photo by Hans Grossmann

Thursday started with a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I dug it; it’s definitely worth a trip for any hockey fan in Toronto. Though I will say, I was awfully disappointed to see that they chose Dennis Wideman, of all people, as the face of Calgary’s exhibit in the section detailing all the current teams. Why Toronto, why do you hate the Flames? It was in in ’04! Anyways.

Thursday night brought cocktails in a comic book themed bar before heading to Lee’s Palace for Matt Mays and Wildlife. Lee’s Palace was probably my favourite venue of the week; mid-sized with good sound and a decent pit area. I don’t need to tell you how good Matt Mays and Wildlife were. I also managed to meet the marketing manager from a medical marijuana company, an arts and culture blogger who’d recently moved to St. John’s from Edmonton, and an organizer of the St. John’s Area 506 music festival. Networking! Who knew that a shitty joke on the way to a urinal would be what finally got me exchanging business cards.

The night ended with a “solo” trip back to Cherry Cola’s, aka Calgary’s hangout, where the Janes were taking in the Velveteins and Bad Animal. I’d been in Toronto for almost 3 full days and had spent essentially a collective 6 hours with the friend I was staying with, but I was totally comfortable. Jumping between assorted friend groups and random venues, Toronto was starting to feel no different than home.

The Cupcake Contest – Photo by Hans Grossmann

The Cupcake Contest – Photo by Hans Grossmann

Friday we got day drunk. Tammy from AHOJ and I toured the Steam Whistle brewery before going back to Casa Jane where Tammy and Tess decided to celebrate Tammy’s birthday with a no-hands cupcake eating contest. The rest of us drank champagne and watched. We moved to the Bovine Sex Club to catch Dublin band Bitch Falcon. Bitch Falcon in the Sex Club. Friday night.

The only band on my “to-see” list that I unfortunately missed was Common Deer. They too played Friday night, but alas, I fell victim to the only lineup I experienced all week. Some back and forth between venues and a quick stop for burgers ended with The Brains at The Horseshoe. I’m not sure why the door gal let me in for half cover, but I was happy for it. The Horseshoe Tavern was probably the venue I wanted to visit the most during my time in Toronto – I think more than anything, just to say I’d set foot on the Hip’s Bobcaygeon checkerboard floors. Worth it. Got the photo. Got it on Instagram. I am Social media.

My final day of Canadian Music Week happened to include a lot free beer, two house parties and that private room Korean karaoke. I was lucky enough to have the Janes extend an invite to a mid-afternoon party known locally as the CMW Backyardigans. In summary, a Toronto gal named Shannon hosts an intimate little gathering in her backyard (roughly) from noon to 8, complete with beer on ice, food and a collection of CMW bands playing mini sets to a crowd of friends. I arrived just in time for Miesha and the Spanks, who were followed shortly thereafter by Tokyo band Zoobombs. Zoobombs were both hilarious and fantastic; the lead singer’s excitement to be playing that backyard nothing short of endearing. There was nowhere else I wanted to be on that sunny Saturday afternoon, and I think that was the general opinion of the house. Sean (drumming for Miesha and the Spanks) took a moment between songs to make a point of how we’d all be forced home to our respective cities to let everyone know just how cool that Toronto afternoon was, and I’d say he was spot on.

Saturday night started by crashing a house party full of Thunder Bay immigrants. Ok I was invited, but you know. My final show of Canadian Music Week was Birds of Bellwoods back at the Horseshoe Tavern, though not before a blast of Korean karaoke, where we stayed just long enough for 2 beers, a shot of Jameson’s and my best rendition of the Barenaked Ladies’ One Week.

What a week my one week in Toronto was.

Countless friendly faces, both old and new. Rain and shine. Backyard bashes, basement bars and checkerboard floors. Steam Whistle in the Roundhouse and more tall boys than I could count. My first Canadian Music Week and marketing conference really of any sort. The city was full of musicians from all over the world, all in Toronto to celebrate Canada’s ever growing music scene. I loved it.

First impressions aren’t everything, but damn T-Dot, my heart just got another soft spot. Canadian Music Week – I like you and I want to be more than friends; I’ll see you again soon.

Until the next time,