Timing is everything – the yoyoiste – (top photo)

I love it when I get a chance to make several points at once, in a way which gives them extra richness in combination. It’s even more fun when I can use materials which themselves reflect the theme.

Recently, while looking through a folder of mid-quality photos of a great and irreproducible day, from before I got my DSLR, I realized I had stumbled across just such materials.

The subject? Buskerfest 2015 on blocked-off Yonge St – a sweet echo of the lovely pedestrian “Yonge St mall” of the 1970s.

Balloon violinist

How do you make a good recording? Is it all about expensive gear?

Absolutely NOT! The crucial thing is actually placement – having a medium quality microphone in ‘the sweet spot’ will give you far better results than an excellent microphone in a place where reflections cancel, frequencies are dulled, and/or reverberations destroy the crispness of the performance – and waiting for the perfect gear and missing it altogether is even more frustrating still!

Same basic principle goes for photography – putting an inexpensive instamatic in the right spot to witness, is far more satisfying than using a fancy camera rig too far away, badly lit, or from the wrong angle entirely.

And it doesn’t stop there – timing and placement are crucial all over the place!

Unity on a unicycle
(great acrobats AND great clowns – one of the most impressive marriages I’ve ever seen!)

Toronto has an incredible number of public events nowadays – art festivals, both enclosed and open air (especially lovely) in parks and city squares. Music festivals, with tons of quality free performances for the public – some on blocked-off streets, some parks and some in city owned ‘venues’. Our theatrical “Fringe” is incredibly diverse and energetic (packed houses, every time I’ve gone – entirely and excitingly justified!)

And of course, as the world’s most multicultural city, we have a wide variety of offerings from communities within the city, sharing their special bounty with all.

But what happens where, is a tricky question – and can make a huge difference to who shows up and how the thing feels for all involved. Who decides that – and how much of the decision is politics and horse-trading is another aspect which can have strange impact.

Where did she come from? – Model skills, with performance and interaction

Several years ago the TTC began a really far-sighted and interesting program – they used some of the unsold ad-space on their subway trains and busses for poetry. One poem only per ad – simple and elegant, just as a poem ought to be presented. The choices were poetically brilliant – thought provoking, varied in style – ranging from historical to contemporary, hilarious to consoling. The curation itself reflected a fine intelligence devoted to making new poetry fans, and pleasing those already attuned.

Then something happened – and while I have no specific knowledge of the inner workings, I’ve watched enough corporate shenanigans to calculate the shape of it, just from the final-product evidence. After the first couple of very wonderful series, the poems stopped being so great. Like when Aaron Sorkin stopped writing “the West Wing” and suddenly every character on the show became a moron, simultaneously. What happened to the intelligence we were all enjoying?

Politics, of course – of one sort or another. Someone who was doing an excellent job with real positive social impact, was replaced by someone with superior claim within the institution, who had no genuine talent for the job at all.

The TTC poetry project faded out soon after it lost its curatorial intelligence and heart. Sadly not the first good thing buried by aggressive mediocrity, nor will it be the last.

Here we are now, entertain us

The original version of Afrofest in Queens park is still sentimentally missed by many who attended – and indeed the leafy old tree shaded north side of the park was ideal for relaxed summer listening – and also drew in many casual visitors from the surrounding downtown area. Central – supremely easy to get to.

BUT – even though pushing Afrofest to Woodbine park 7.5 Km away in the east end (twenty minutes by car, or forty by transit) felt at first like an insult, the growth of the festival in its new venue has been astounding. Even decades ago, it was already well-attended by many Africans living in Ontario and New York state, but we now have tons of visitors flying in, or driving for days – very few festivals where you can see so many first rate African acts performing together – and run into so many old friends!

Roughly 120,000 visitors over the weekend of the festival nowadays – WAY too many for the old Queen’s Park site!  By multiples.

Fire-guy fascinated

But – this is not a universally useful transfer. We’ve attended some festivals at Woodbine which were simply not organized on a scale (density of good programming, in particular) to justify that stadium on the grass style venue, and fell flat – sad for performers and attendees both.  Even the vendors on the food trucks feel the pain – lot of other places they could have set up, that weekend.

And then there is the question of what do you gain and lose, when you block off an historic and important thoroughfare and invite the people who live downtown to walk along and enjoy it, by providing the sort of entertainment evolved for the street, most precisely!

Let me be clear – I LOVE Buskerfest – every one of the brilliant and dedicated eccentrics who perform in it, charm and fascinate me – even those who also creep me out! And I love Epilepsy Toronto, their charitable organizer, even more.

But I also adore Yonge St – and every kid who gets to see it as we once did – as a pedestrian thoroughfare filled with unexpected fun and wonder – will never ever forget it – and thus will grow a whole new generation of Yonge lovers.

I do hope that Buskerfest (Aug 30- Sep 02) will be well attended, even in that remote Woodbine Park venue. But I’m hoping even harder that next year they remember – this one is special – and it fits with our wonderful wonky and always eccentric urban spine like no other festival we celebrate.

Halloween is too commercial – geniuses, celebratory freaks, performance artists and wonderfully determined individuals are due a day! And deserve this most perfect stage – as indeed it deserves them.

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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