NXNE in Backyards, on Rooftops, and at the Historic Cameron House by Kevin Black

If you’ve been in central Toronto over the past week, you’ve probably seen more than the usual amount of burnt-out, red-eyed souls somnambulating through the streets. I was one of them. The city has just finished this year’s NXNE festival, and like many other musicians in the city, towards the end I found myself holding an empty beer can (the fifth of the hour) at a backyard show (the third my band had played in as many days) thinking, “Why am I going to have another beer, when I should really get some rest instead?”

The answer is not alcoholism so much as community. The music community in Toronto is healthy, growing, and finally becoming internationally respected. The sense of inclusion it fosters is also contagious. During an interview at the Hyatt hotel yesterday, my band, Hands & Teeth, and I were asked by an interviewer what makes Toronto so unique as a musical nebula. Perhaps it has something to do with Northrup Frye’s “garrison mentality”, but many Torontonians go out of their way to support the musical culture in the 416. There’s an insular camaraderie. We’ve got something to prove to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world is starting to notice. Nowhere can this be observed more than during NXNE.

Yesterday, my band Hands & Teeth played a backyard show for a group of strangers as part of a video series called Sofar Sounds (Songs From A Room). The were no calls or noise complaints from neighbours. They came to watch. The producers of an independent film being shot nearby decided to write the backyard performance into their script to involve themselves with the music.

On Thursday afternoon, a rooftop show near Kensington Market thrown by Audio Blood Media was nearly cancelled due to venue complications. Over a hundred potentially disappointed attendees and performers would have missed an event that had been eagerly anticipated for weeks. Word of the possible cancellation spread, and within an hour, a new rooftop was offered by a sympathetic College Street resident. People living in nearby buildings sat on their own roofs to catch the bands as they party went ahead without a hitch.

On one of the first nights of the festival, I sipped my first pint at the Cameron House before my set. The room was buzzing, having just experienced an acoustic performance by The Balconies. Onstage, Christmas lights were draped over a civil-war era pump organ. It was nearly 1am, but the crowd was sizeable. People were sticking around, despite the fact that many of them would be waking up for work in seven hours; despite the fact the festival had only just begun. For me, it was the inception of a festival-long hangover, but the energy of the place was overwhelming. No one was going anywhere. As the next performer began and the crowd quieted and watched with rapt attention it was easy to see what was crossing everyone’s mind: “Why would I be anywhere but here?”

Kevin Black is a Toronto-based musician and songwriter. Since he began singing and making music when he got a Fisher Price tape recorder for his 4th birthday, he has been constantly involved in various bands located around Southwestern Ontario. He currently writes and performs with five-piece Toronto band Hands & Teeth.

Thanks to Kevin Black for contributing this piece, and also to all the great bands and music lovers who made NXNE at the Cameron House such an exciting time.  

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