While there are worrisome changes to the Toronto landscape, and also many new developments of promise – there are also, I’m very glad to say, many sweet things about Toronto that remain very recognizable, from when I was a kid.
Ossfest itself is new (this was the second annual) but the tradition of blocking off a major street for a weekend and having a nice big party for the locals goes back a long while. My older friends will fondly remember ‘the Yonge street mall’ – when one of Toronto’s main (though highly constricted) traffic arteries was shut for much of the summer to make room for a street festival – and everyone loved it!
Last weekend, this was one of three different neighbourhoods doing it – there was also an (always especially lavish and colourful) South Asian festival out on Gerrard, and Bloor St way-west (past Landsdowne) was doing the same thing. Lovely fun for all – and plenty of zero-cost entertainment too.
Some arts and crafts tents, plenty of food vendors (always intriguingly diverse) displays of local history or product – and in the case of Ossfest, they were even setting up a pro ring for wrestling later-on! Zowie! (Presumably that’s a ‘bring your own folding-chair judged on impact, rather than comfort’, sort of event).
We’d already walked quite a ways by then, so we sat for awhile to rest and listen to the band playing just up the street – and of course they did a couple of classic summer rock numbers – but then they started into something that sounded thoroughly familiar, and yet very weird. When I realized they were playing “I’m waiting for my man” by the velvet underground, I started singing-along (what can I say, Lou Reed writes awfully memorable lyrics), despite the fact that I was still irritated by the sparsity of their arrangement.
Then we got up to walk again, and realized that the band we were listening to wasn’t a four-piece as I’d assumed, nor even a three-piece – or no wait, I guess you could say technically they were a three-piece band, but played by two guys.
The bass player did a really nice job on brush-snare at the same time, and the guitarist worked kick-drum and high-hat with surprising intelligence, even when soloing! I take it back – for two guys with honest (no pedal-gimmick) instruments, their arrangement was positively lush! And they really did make me laugh, playing such a naughty song – (nor was I the only fogey singing-along and giggling).
Rounding Dundas, I was so happy to see that the Lakeview is in fine form – doing twenty-four hour service too – which guarantees cabbie-approved (rib-sticking, winter-fuelling) food! Original wooden booths inside, classic layout and feel – perfect spot for local nighthawks! (Next time, we’re stopping for ‘shakes)
Next we cut through the formerly scuzzy Trinity-Bellwoods park (I lived next to it in the early 80s and it was mostly used by junkies and drunks, daytime, and was a well-established hooker stroll every night). Now, it’s filled with Queen-cool hipster families every day – and especially well-used and loved on weekends. Rows of active baseball diamonds, a dog off-leash area (great how so may of our parks have ravine-sections that never were filled-in, to provide a natural ‘bowl’ for this). There is even an especially cool open-air art festival there every year! And on this particular day, we we were lucky enough to stumble into this small and completely unadvertised concert.
I gotta tell you, these kids were absolutely beautiful – they played and sang their own original tunes, which had the warm harmonies and twangy sincerity of late sixties rock. And (finally linking back to my theme) they really reminded me of summer park concerts of my childhood. Sweet and simple. Straight-up music.
When I was a kid, sometimes I’d bike right across town to hear a world class jazz combo in a distant park (Toronto still has many greats, but back then, we were almost crowded with Jazz heavyweights) and there are still plenty of high-end pros playing all over town. There is also much to be said for a big grand ticketed show at Massey hall, or one of the downtown squares (Herbie Hancock tickets were $82.50 at Nathan Philips square – but the sound is just as good if you listen from the far side of the tent, for free!) ;o)
Still, I’m especially delighted that these littler musical things are still happening, and all over the place – including many spots that didn’t used to be nearly so welcoming. Open modest and friendly – that’s real Toronto spirit! (Not always our reputation, but how it feels to be here).
So, is this the first big break of a band we’ll all know about some day? Just a funny memory to tell their kids, when they start playing instruments? No matter – regeneration itself is really the point, isn’t it? And music, of course.
Why exactly do we ever do anything else, anyhow? I keep forgetting.