What to Do in Toronto Before Going Into Labour (Day)


by Roxanne Tellier

It’s June of 1968, and Marymount High School has only recently gone co-ed. Before that, the girls wore kilts and giggled in the west end of the building, overseen by nuns, while in the east end of the building, the boys wore ties and had chalk thrown at them by priests or lay teachers whenever they acted up.

It’s sweltering, and there’s no air conditioning. Most of us are trying to catch a whiff of summer through the huge windows that have been cracked around the room. A friend covertly palms me a lyric sheet .. it’s from the new Crosby Stills and Nash album. “Wooden ships, on the water, very free and easy!” And another “ Guinevere  had green eyes.. like yours, lady like yours.”  

My eyes are brown. My lip curls.

There’s this long haired guy in some of my classes who has a vibe midway between Jim Morrison and Charles Manson, and he’s got a ‘following’ because he’s the coolest guy in Montreal and he’s always got access to the best pot. His name is Gerry. One of the hangers on to his crue is a guy who eventually becomes a drummer for a rather famous Montreal band.

(The three of us get busted on the next April Fool’s Day for performing a half-assed attempt at a Black Mass, complete with virgin and stolen communion wafers. But that’s a story for another day.)

And Gerry hands me a poem he wrote, that is terrible even by 1968 standards, and then intones, from his perch in the back of the class … “Summer’s almost gone… “

Flash forward ….. it’s 2019, and it’s been 50 years since Woodstock and my school days. I look at the calendar and realize that summer IS indeed almost gone, and for people of my age, that means the dread of six to a hundred months of snow and ice.

But for most Torontonians, the start of the Canadian National Exhibition – aka The Ex – is the shock that tells them that another year is drawing to a close. Soon the kids will be back at school, and before you know it, we’ll be choosing costumes for Halloween, and making our Christmas lists. The funny thing about a year is how quickly the back end runs away from us.

My grandson is involved with something that has to do with watching other people play video games in one of the buildings at the Ex. I’m not sure I will go this year. I don’t like walking the miles necessary to get from one side of the site to the other, trying to find my friends who scored a nice paying gig at one of the little band shells. I don’t gamble, so the Casino is out. And I’m pretty much over the need to score a .99 cent bowl of spaghetti, if that even still is a ‘thing.’

But – you should go! If you have kids, and if going to the Ex is the way you mark the parameters of your life, you should go! Because the Ex is whatever it means to you, whatever ritual you need to do to put a comma in the summer of this year before trotting on to the Fall. Go. Shoot an air rifle at a booth manned by fast talking carnies! Play your birthday at the Birthday Game tent, or toss a ring over a glass and win a doll. Eat a corn dog or something that should never have been covered in chocolate before being fried. You’d never eat it if it wasn’t ‘just this once!’ Do it! Do it NOW.

I’ll soon be making my own little tour of places that won’t be as much fun in a month or two. I want to join some friends who regularly loll at Sugar Beach, which is down at the foot of Lower Jarvis Street adjacent to the Redpath Sugar Factory, for an afternoon of music and margaritas. I want to enjoy the park’s brightly coloured pink beach umbrellas and candy-striped rocks. It’s part of Toronto’s waterfront, and .. it’s free!

One of my fave things to do in summer is to jet down to the easternmost end of the Beach, past the Balmy Beach club, where a lot of the locals gather to exercise their dogs. I miss my dogs, and this is a nice way for me to get a little sun, and to try to steal a little affection from some of the dogs who race across the sand, and throw themselves madly into the water to fetch the sticks or balls their owners toss in for their entertainment.

I’m a water baby.. I need to be near water. But sometimes I need a little more excitement than that caused by the  passive eyeing of the hind ends of dogs and the Lake Ontario horizon. That’s how I found myself one afternoon drifting through the harbour on a one hour tour of the Islands.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a tourist in your own city, there’s a ton of ways to explore. I recently took to Groupon to find the cheapest tickets to a few attractions.

The boat tour I mentioned was only one of a half a dozen different ways to sail off, at any time of the day. The boat I chose was a bit low end, but at $12, was what I needed at the time. There’s also a ‘pirate’ ship you can book, a Great Lakes schooner, and lots of ‘party’ boats with music and booze. Maybe you and your main squeeze could take an evening cruise, and sail off into the sunset together!

Feeling a little more adventurous? Why not try a two hour tandem kayak down the Humber River! You can give that a try during the week for as little as $23 dollars.

Or how about indulging your inner child, with a game of mini putt golf! There’s a new  entertainment complex that just sprang up downtown that combines food, booze and nine holes out of a choice of three different courses of 27 unique themed holes. Fulfill your dream of golfing drunk!

For $43, you can sign up for 10 salsa & bachata classes at Steps Dance Studio in Rosedale. Spice it up with a little hot sauce! 

“At her studio, Jennifer aims to make Latin dance accessible to all people, even those who have no previous dance experience. Beginning with basic step patterns and technique, lessons progress through more advanced skills such as partner turns, syncopations, styling, and more complex turn pattern combinations. To add a little variation to the mix, Steps Dance Studio also runs monthly workshops and studio parties.”

Who knows? there may be a  Latin lover in your future!

When it comes to music, we Torontonians are really spoiled. Through the week there are jams at the Black Swan, Grossmans, The Tranzac, and so many other locations.

But Saturday afternoon is when you can hear some of the finest jazz, by some of the finest musicians, that I’ve ever heard  – at The Pilot, on Cumberland, just west of Bloor. From 2:30 to 5:30, you’ll be blown away by the chops of the likes of Chris Wallace, Dave Hutchinson, Steve Koven, Aaron Davis, Bernie Senensky, Nick Morgan, and Jeff King. The last time I was there, I was completely knocked out by drummer Mark  Micklethwaite. Watching him play is like auditing  a master class. Awesome sauce!

Outriggers Saturday matinee, 3:30-6pm

Or maybe you’re in the mood for a trendy Beach brunch while being serenaded by Toronto R&B and soul vocal icon, Johnnie Wright at Outriggers, on Queen at Beech, across from the venerable Garden Gate Restaurant, aka The Goof. Johnny has had a regular Saturday afternoon matinee gig there forever, accompanied by master keyboardist Michael Fonfara, and the ever-entertaining, versatile Robbie Rox on congas. Can you think of a better way to while away a summer’s day from 3:30 to 6pm?

In my east end hood, August is when the Danforth Village BIA takes over Stephenson Park (between Westlake and Main St, one street south of the Danforth) every Wednesday night, from 6 pm to 9 pm. There’s bands, food, a beer tent, and lots of run around room for the kids.

I missed the first two Wednesdays, but hope to catch at least one of the next two scheduled. On August 21,  Little Magic Sam aka Sam Taylor will hold court, and on August 28, The Stephen Stanley Band will rock the joint..

There’s only two more Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays left as well. On the last Sunday of the summer months, the streets are given over to the people. Enjoy music, local vendors and art on streets that are closed to traffic from noon to 7 pm. Always a great place to people watch!

So now you have several ways to have fun with the last two weeks of August, beyond the venerable CNE, and at prices ranging from zero dollars to ‘the sky’s the limit!’

YOLO, babes. Enjoy!

Free The Weed! Lift & Co Expo 2018


status of cannabis in CanadaAs Canada slinks towards that moveable feast, the day when cannabis becomes legal and regulated, a couple of conference groups have seen the future – and it is pot friendly.

” TORONTO – Canada’s top cannabis policy bureaucrat says every time he travels outside of Canada, he is reminded anew of just what a novel enterprise this country has embarked upon.

“Canada is moving into a place that no country — other than Uruguay, the only other country that has made recreational marijuana legal at the federal level — has ventured to go,” Eric Costen, director general for the federal government’s cannabis legalization and regulation branch, told a conference Thursday.

The world is watching Canada’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana, Costen said at the cannabis business conference in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The federal government aims to have pot legal by this summer. The exact date is up in the air because senators now debating the Cannabis Act are expected to propose amendments.” (Ottawa Citizen, May 24, 2018)

I’ve put it out there before – I sincerely believe that the legalization and fair use of cannabis in Canada could save our country’s economic bacon. Oil is scarce, and costs billions to coax out of the earth. Pot plants grow and pay off year round. It’s crazy not to see the direction we could and should be heading. I am for dumping dilbit and bitumen oil … and picking up on medicinal oil.

Those who believe that this is about Cheech and Chong-ing the planet with smokeables have completely missed the boat on how much good full legalization can be for Canada, her people, and her financial future.

This weekend featured the Lift Expo, Canada’s premier cannabis event, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where more than 60 speakers, and the industry’s most exciting movers and shakers, gathered with over 250 exhibitors from around the world.

“The Lift Expo has become a nexus for the cannabis industry,” says Lift’s CEO Matei Olaru, “We offer an educational and interactive experience unmatched in North America, for the burgeoning and established cannabis business, as well as canna-curious consumers.”

To my surprise and delight, the Lift people were gracious and generous in offering media a complete carte blanche entry to the conference and exposition, and including a media lounge, where we could relax with free wi-fi, and complimentary beverages. The inclusion of an interview area expedited thoughtful one-on-one voice or video taping for future broadcasts.

After picking up my pass, I headed for the escalator, en route to the show floor. The size of the exhibition was impressive, with booths stretching endlessly to the left and right of the North Building. When faced with that much ground to cover, it’s best to choose a simple walking pattern and keep your eyes, ears – and swag bag – open.

The Lift’s hundreds of exhibitors include all major licensed producers, growing supply industries, accessory lines, artisans, specialty medical cannabis products, advocacy and awareness groups, and more. Sponsors include Green Relief and the Jamaican Medical Cannabis Collective.

On the main stage, there’s everything from live cannabis cooking demos to a start up pitch competition. There will also be discussions on female representation in the cannabis industry, how to help your pets heal with CBD oils, craft cannabis products and the new wave of ‘bespoke’ brands. The event also boasts an onsite vapor lounge for medical patients to explore the latest and greatest vaporizers.

There is even a Cannabis at Work Career Fair, which features lightning talks on cannabis career topics, such as the training and experience most attractive to prospective employees, and how to build a ‘cannacentric’ resume.

big bambuThere’ve been slim pickings at a lot of the musical fests and conferences I’ve attended over the past few years, but the Lift Conference is filled with people brimming with excitement, knowledge, and faith in the future, and that makes their companies generous. Within a few minutes of arrival I was already struggling with a big bag of freebies, of everything from pot plant fertilizer to multiple cell phone accessories, to bottled water and water bottles, magazines, rolling papers, pens, candles, hats, t-shirts, and samples of non-infused goodies.

The most plentiful supply of all, however, is the information on the formidable breadth and depth of the cannabis trade, when exploited properly. Get your head out of the smoke of the Big Bambu and into big business, because the possibilities of the herb span everything from medical research, to an entire industry devoted to controlling insects naturally, improving green house and solar powered growing. The worlds of accounting, finance, and banking converge as legalization hashes through what happens when the current illegality of banking funds made from selling a controlled substance ends.

There are training programs and certificates available from accredited colleges, including KPU (Kwantlen Polytechnic University) where you can find out about cannabis career training.

Some companies .. and provinces! … are more into the idea of legalization than others. New Brunswick, for instance, is aiming to be a major Canadian player in the pot world.

The province’s 2016 Economic Growth Plan named cannabis as a priority sector, and business development experts at Opportunities New Brunswick predict a growth of 3,000 cannabis-related jobs by 2022.

Edison Cannabis Co is so eager to introduce the rest of us to their product and province that they’ve a wonderful contest going on, that will net you a personal guided tour of the Edison growing facility in New Brunswick, including round trip airfare, three nights accommodation, $500 in spending money, and double guest passes to the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. I’m in! (get thee to EdisonCannabis.Co to enter.)

abi roach hotbox liftI discovered booth after booth, filled with upbeat, positive business people (including our own Kensington Market entrepreneur, Abi Roach of Hotbox) who can see and appreciate that there is a lot of money to be made in giving the people what they want.

After all, as our own Captain Cannabis, Verne Andru, said to me, we were promised legal marijuana forty years ago, by Trudeau Senior, and here we are, 40 years later, watching Trudeau Juniorcapt cannabis 40th

dragging his feet on bringing this product to market. (Verne’s a brilliant artist, whose career animation assignments include Hanna Barbera‘s Saturday morning line-up, and work on Nelvana’s ‘Rock & Rule animated feature. Verne continues producing comics; illustrating stories for Phantacea, ink and colour on Captain Canuck, cover art for Charleton Comics Group and inking for Marvel Comics Group in addition to his own titles.

With so many economic and psychological benefits to be had by investing into cannabis research, it’s difficult to understand why the governmental reins are being pulled in so hard – aren’t most Canadians anxious to get into legal pot?

Well, as it turns out, not as many Canadians as you would think are on the Cannabis Band Wagon. Prohibition in Canada hasn’t worked; 30 per cent of Canadians aged 20 to 24, and 21 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 said they used cannabis at least once in the previous year. At least seven per cent of Canadians already use weed on a daily basis. And while that is a big market, it’s not close to counting those who are willing to try something natural to manage their pain, and even, potentially to help with getting off opioids and other more dangerous pharmaceuticals.

So while some worry that it will be a free for all once marijuana is legalized, the facts based on the 2016 data study conducted by Deloitte, and featured in the ‘Recreational Marijuana: Insights and Opportunities’ report is that attitudes may not be so easy to change.

For those of us who grew up in the heady sixties, our ‘will I/won’t I” try pot or hash moment was a long time ago. For those who didn’t have an opportunity to try it out then, there’s a natural and understandable fear that there might be a danger in even a medicinal puff.

“You would expect that when the stigma is removed of a criminal offence you may have more people who that would otherwise not be willing to take that risk might be prepared to,” said Chris Lavier, a criminal defence lawyer in Saskatoon.

Meanwhile, an IPSOS poll shows that about 34 per cent of Canadians will at least try smoking marijuana once it’s legal, as opposed to the just 12 per cent of users who currently smoke pot recreationally now.

legalization support in canadaBut the big draw will be the 29 per cent of those surveyed who have said they will be buying edible marijuana products, up from seven per cent now.

Too bad, so sad, and incredibly foolish, then, that the LCBO, who will be our main pot purveyors in Ontario, have decided against edible offerings for at least the first year of sales. Foolish, especially since there will be a market of about 9.6 million recreational pot users after legalization, and for many of them, edibles will be how they experiment to find what works for their own conditions and needs.

Where Ontario falls down in the support of what should be a viable competitive industry, is that they are trying to walk a knife’s edge. On the one hand, they will tell you that the purpose of legalization is to improve public health by minimizing cannabis use harm. No stone, no matter how irrational, has been left unturned by those who, quite frankly, fear what they do not really comprehend.

reefer madnessOn the other hand, they know very well that there are trillions to be made from all the aspects of selling hemp and cannabis.

There are concerns about security and policing in a post-Reefer Madness world. Strangely, though, the police departments, tribal reserve security forces, and our own RCMP have been strangely lax to begin these discussions on how to deal with Canadians under the influence. I have to wonder if this reluctance has to do with a belief that the legalization will be pushed back, and back, until it becomes just another Charlie Brown football in the next federal elections.

The government is betting on a legal cannabis market that will restrict use amongst young people, and will work to squeeze out the black market. But that’s unlikely to happen under the restrictions the vendors will labour under, which they say will prevent companies from educating consumers.

The government has also proposed plain packaging with prominent warnings about addiction and other health problems associated with cannabis.

“People will be going into stores and will have no idea what they are looking at,” said Cameron Bishop from cannabis company Privateer Holdings.

So, not to put too fine a point on it – Canada already knows that, like a Trump Casino, they’re gonna be watching the house lose for at least a couple of years. Poor planning means they will be looking at several years of multi-million dollar loss before they ever see a profit.

OCS Ontario Cannabis Store“The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, an LCBO subsidiary created to manage sales and distribution of recreational pot in the province, is expecting an $8-million loss in 2017-2018, followed by a $40-million loss in 2018-19, largely due to initial startup costs to establish the retail network.” 

However, by 2019-20, the province is forecasting OCRC net income of $35 million, followed by $100 million in net income by 2020-21.”

So the tide will turn. Eventually legal cannabis will be as enshrined in Canadian society as those other monopolies, Labatts and Molson, and will feature many of the same players, and many soon to be millionaire pot dealers, most of whom are former and present members of the Liberal party, getting caught drooling over the profits they’ll be reaping in the very near future.

There are many groups that will help consumers who want to know more about the benefits of medical marijuana, or the recreational varieties that will be available. I’d also recommend an online magazine called BotaniQ, that has both industry and secular information on who exactly is on the cutting edge of pot technology and use. (http://botaniqmag.com/)

One of the products I was searching out at the Expo was edible CBD treats, and I was not disappointed. I am a huge proponent of CBD oil, since this is a product that walks the line on the benefits of hemp/pot; you won’t get high, but you’ll definitely get some physical relief. Used in everything from edible jelly babies to arthritis creams and body lotions, there is anecdotal evidence that the cannabidiol oil naturally helps with sleeplessness, depression, chronic pain, and PTSD.

” Thank you so much for telling me about this product. I can’t believe the change in me. Last night, I wasn’t that tired but decided I should go to bed at 11:30 anyway. I took a dropper of the tincture under my tongue and went to bed. I fell asleep almost instantly and slept for several hours before a bathroom break. Went back to sleep immediately too.

It has also helped with my depression. My depression was just getting worse and worse. I was beginning to think “not nice thoughts” even though I lied to my doctor. She has changed my meds several times and nothing has seemed to help. Today, I don’t feel depressed at all. Haven’t for several days, actually. I think this may be the answer. I am going to recommend it to my great nephew who suffers terribly from depression and his meds don’t’ seem to work either. One knows instinctively that medical doctors won’t recommend it as it is not part of the “big pharma lexicon”. What a shame.”

As I said last year after the first O’Cannabiz Expo, it used to be that, when I thought about legalization, my mind went back to the days of head shops, lava lamps, rolling papers, pipes and hookahs. Strolling down the aisle of the Lift Expo disabused me, once again, of those hippie limitations.

I’m encouraged by the existence of the Lift Expo, (and the Oh Cannabiz conference next month) and continue to have faith that this is, overall, the best and most sensible course Canada should be pursuing over the next few decades. More pot, please!

o canada cannabis

 

 

Everything is Everywhere


Since I have a fear of flying, and a flight to B.C. tomorrow morning, I’ve been in a constant state of panic for the last week or so. When I finally fall into a restless sleep, I have non-stop nightmares of arriving at the wrong terminal, without a ticket or some vital bit of identification, and wearing all the wrong clothes, if I’m wearing clothes at all. Even when there’s no reason to panic – and I can always find a reason to panic – I’m in a simmering pre-panic mode. My house looks like an exploded suitcase. Everything is everywhere. mickey suitcase

I’m reeling like an enraged Tasmanian Devil, with piles of lists that disappear under yet more piles of lists, of things that I need to buy or do, or do bee doo bee doo, before I hit Pearson International in the a.m., legs trembling, and a nervous smile flitting spasmodically over my lips.

So I’m going to keep it short, and just tell you about a few musical events happening today that will make this hot and sunny September Sunday a day to remember.

The timing of this trip meant that I wasn’t able to volunteer at the Kensington Market Jazz Festival this year (September 15-16-17) as I had last year. With over 200 Canadian musicians playing over 150 shows at very cool venues up and down the Market streets, it’s a weekend that’s chock full of great music.

Tory on phone jazzfest Sept 2017Trip and jitters aside, I still found the time on Friday afternoon to drop in on Greg Godovitz at El Mocambo‘s pop up shop, Prohibition (66 Kensington Avenue,) where I bought a couple of rocking t-shirts for my western family. Then it was off to the media launch at Tom’s Place, (190 Baldwin) where local luminaries, including a texting Mayor John Tory, the dashing Richard Flohill, and chanteuses Molly Johnson and Genevieve Marentette, along with Celine Peterson (daughter of Oscar) and a host of others, gathered to celebrate the beginning of the fest.

The ever effervescent Joanne Smale greeted me as I entered. She’s handling the media around handsome young santur player, Sina Bathaie, and his latest production.

From the artist: “This album, Rays of Hope, is dedicated to all those who have pursued; who have suffered while the world waits for us to remember this perennial first wisdom that love ignores all boundaries. What we hope for in the end is that remembrance with which we can hurdle every fence, tear down every wall and arrive at that place where hope greets us in warm welcome. Each text in the cover is a verse of a poem which celebrates our timeless elusive pursuit for peace, hope, and the most important of all these, love. “

santurTo my hippie ears, his new CD has a sort of new age-y updated feel of Mike Oldfield‘s Tubular Bells, played on this fascinating Persian instrument.

The album release concert will be on Friday, October 13, at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, Lyric Theatre. Or you can catch him this afternoon, from 3:00-4:00 pm at Handlebar, 159 Augusta. ($12. at the door,)

If you can find your way down to the Market today, there’s still a lot of great music to be heard, starting at noon with the Sidewalk Crusaders Street March, and including a slew of free concerts at the Yamaha Grand Piano Room in Tom’s Place, by some of Toronto’s most respected players, including Brian Dickinson, Carl Bray, Don Thompson, Joe Sealy, Mark Eisenman and Robi Botos.

Danny-MarksToronto’s favourite son and perennial Energizer bunny, Danny Marks, will be playing at the Hotbox Cafe (204 Augusta) from 1:00-2:00 pm, ($12. at the door) and then at Prohibition from 4:00-6:00 pm (Pay what you can.)

Bertie & The Gents, with the wonderful Manfred Koch on trombone, will be holding court from 6:00-7:00 pm at El Gordo’s Backyard (214 Augusta) ($17. at the door.)

Hit Amadeus’ Restaurant, (184 Augusta Ave) at 6:00 pm to get your jazz on for free, courtesy of Rick Donaldson & The Jazz Cats with Jim Heineman. amadeus resto

And at the kitschy, eclectic Lola, (40 Kensington Ave.) there’s Donne Roberts from 4:00-5:00 pm (($12. at the door,) Anh Phung & Alan Mackie playing from 6:00-7:00 pm ($12. at the door,) the Selcuk Suna Trio featuring DIA from 8:00-9:00 pm ($12. at the door,), ending with Eric St-Laurent ($12. at the door,) from 10:00-11:00 pm.

For more info, maps and schedules, head on over to the fest’s web site.

http://www.kensingtonjazz.com/mobile-phone-schedule-a-z

As for me, hopefully I’ll get to hear some fine jazz this afternoon , and still be at the right airport terminal tomorrow morning, with the right paperwork in hand, and without having forgotten something deathly important. Like clothing. I’ve got this! Head’s up, British Columbia! I’m on my way!

Sorta kinda.

 

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore …


Ach and oy vey! This house move is cramping my style, big time. Haven’t been able to get out to a lot of events, because time’s a ticking, and there’s only so many hours in a day. I’d like to say I’ve become more selective in my outing choices. But the truth is, moving and packing is a bitch. There just isn’t any time to gallivant around.

But let me tell you about two recent events I did manage to squeeze in. Both were wonders in their own ways.

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

molly johnson jazz.jpgA few weeks ago, I was having lunch with friends in the Market, when Molly Johnson came bopping along. Molly may be a Canadian icon – a singer, songwriter, broadcaster and philanthropist  – but that day she was a woman on a mission, distributing posters and postcards to the local shops, in aid of her latest project – the first annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival. It was the first I’d heard of it. When I asked how I could help, she asked if my friend Barbette and I would volunteer to handle door duties at some of the gigs.

Could I?  Well – time is tight – so, one gig was all I could commit to. And what a gig! The first act of the night at The Boat was an up and coming sax player. Alison Young. She and her quartet performed a strong, solid set. Loved it! She’s got a record coming out soon. .. and you should buy it.

A quick pause for the cause .. ran into Eric Alper hanging at the venue next door … and then we were on to the second set.

I’ve always considered The Shuffle Demons one of Toronto’s seminal acts, combining jazz and street wisdom in a playful, theatrical fashion.  And hot damn! Really good players.

So  I was thrilled to do door for the guys. Richard Underhill is, amongst other things, a past mayoral candidate. He’s a smart dude, a good dude, always on the ball. And a hell of a band leader.

As we took in the dough at the door … and it was very well attended, so we were kept very busy … I heard Richard say to his wife, “Just try to video our entry.”

I warned Barbette … we were in for some FUN!

And sure enough, The Shuffle Demons made an impeccable entrance, coming up The  Boat’s stairs in full regalia, tootling their tootlers, dancing with jin jinglers tied on to  their heels  They blew their hoo hoovers, they blanged their tar tinglers …  you get the drift.

It was just the start. Two hours later, I was exhausted! I had sung along, screamed along, danced along!

rox-barbette-richard-underhill-shuffle-demons-sept-17-2016-smaller-pic

I had a very good time.

Bohemian Embassy Redux

(all Bohemian Embassy artist pics are courtesy of Sue Peters, with thanks!.)

Friday past – An evening of memories, poetry, and wonderful song!

Way before I hit the Big Smoke, an actor/writer/poet named Don Cullen had staked out a turf he called the Bohemian Embassy.  You may also remember him from his 20 years as a regular on Wayne and Shuster.

His Bohemian Embassy was a place where musicians, artists, poets, and those with a theatrical bent, could come to test their fledgling wings. The Embassy moved around a bit, first appearing on St Nicholas Street, from 1960 through 1966, and then reappearing at Harbourfront, from 1974 to 1976.

Couldn’t happen today. We’re too busy converting our history into condos.

But back then, oh, it could. And it did happen.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-don-cullenDon Cullen was the Pied Piper of Possibilities, of that first break,  when the world was wide open to the new. New music, new sounds … whatever could be dreamed up, this was a place where it could be showcased.

The memories flowed from the speakers .. of the days when a young Margaret Atwood could read her first scribblings to a rapt audience; where Milton Acorn and Al Purdy found a place to showcase their poems;  where Lorne Michaels practiced his directing; where players as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot and Klaas von Graft could hone their craft, while Bob Dylan, famously, was denied a spot on the roster.

Several luminaries were unable to join the gathering, held at the Toronto Library Yorkville branch, including John Robert Columbo, Sylvia Tyson, and Ms Atwood herself (though she did send a beautiful floral bouquet, with a sweet note, signed “Peggy.”)

But those who came, and entertained us, included our hostess Linda Goldman (who also helped fund the reunion,) Mr. Cullen himself, Chick Roberts (The Sinners/The Dirty Shames,) Klaas von Graft and Beverlie Robertson (The Chanteclaires,) Judith Orban, Joanne Crabtree, Owen McBride, Sharon Hampson (Sharon, Lois and Bram,) Keith McKie (Kensington Market,) Riverboat performer Dede Higgins, poet and author Robert Priest, musician and satirist Nancy White, and Terry Jones and David Woodhead of Perth County Conspiracy, accompanied by Nancy Solway, and Bob Cohen.

And each one showed that the faith, and the talent that Don Cullen had seen in them, so many years before, had not been misplaced.

There was that old Yorkville hippie spirit in the room, as performer after performer trotted out their memories, talents, and affection for Cullen and the venue he created. Nancy White’s rendition of her song, “Popular Don Cullen,” had the audience joining in wholeheartedly, as did so many of the other performers’ classic Canadiana and folk offerings.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-keith-mckie

Keith McKie’s songs were  ethereal and timeless.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-perth-county

Perth County Conspiracy’s mini set was simply beautiful – the harmonies were sublime.

 

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-robert-priest

 

And poet Robert Priest did not disappoint, as he read the first poem he’d written and debuted at the Embassy, and concluded with a new poem on social injustice that had the audience howling with laughter. Priest’s writing is sublime, and his reach wide. As a songwriter, he co-wrote (with Nancy Simmonds) the international hit, “Song Instead of a Kiss” for Alannah Myles.

I went to this event expecting a nostalgia fest, centered on a time before my own. Instead, I was enthralled, touched, invigorated, and thoroughly entertained by each of those who came to give of their time and their hearts to the “Popular Don Cullen.”

And now … back to packing up my world … if you need me, you’ll have to dig me out from under the hoard …

 

Rosemary Solway, Bob Cohen,Yorkville , Nancy White, Keith McKie, Perth County Conspiracy, Robert Priest , Nancy Simmonds, Alannah Myles.

Music City My Ass


Every time I see an article lauding Mayor John Tory’s ‘inspired’ idea of turning Toronto into a ‘Music City,’ I get queasy. You see, I came to Toronto in 1976, when it really WAS one, and have watched succeeding local governments and well-heeled blue noses, waving the banners of political correctness and money over art, stomp the culture to death.

Being a great deal older now than I was then (it happens,) I understand, at least in part, why the city had to change from what – to me – was a cornucopia of musical delights, as dirty and scary as it was,, into what it is today … a staid dowager in corsets trying desperately to seem hip.

IYorkville disco 70sn ’76, the Yorkville of the sixties was already undergoing gentrification, with trendy shops springing up where head shops once ruled, and the few hippie hold outs clinging to their properties out of loyalty or desperation. Disco fevered platformed shoes trod the sacred ground in front of the Riverboat as  I’d wander through on the way to The Morrissey at Yonge and Davenport.

The scene had already moved on to other areas, with Yonge Street the main rock drive, and club after club rocking exceptional talent, with rarely a cover charge, six nights a week, cheek by jowl with strip clubs, massage parlours, peep shows, and sex shops. Sleazy, garish, lewd and loud, the Strip was very much like New York’s Time Square of the period, ugly and yet so seductive. And everybody smoked like chimneys – inyonge st pedestrians the clubs, the patios and the streets.

Gay men and women flocked to the Church and Wellesley area, where they could feel safer than on the butchier Strip. Although this year’s Pride Week and Parade celebrating sexual and gender identity will have sponsors as diverse as TD Canada Trust, Bud Light, Via Rail, and Google+, back then, openly gay people were widely marginalized, shunned, and attacked in the mainstream media and politics. bathhouse raids rageIn 1975, “tiny perfect” mayor David Crombie sent his best wishes to Pride’s organizers, but refused to officially recognize Pride, while City Council declined permission for a Yonge Street march .

And in 1981, Metro Toronto police made the second largest mass arrest in Canadian history when 306 people where busted in the infamous bathhouse raids. It was safer hanging out at `the steps` in front of the Second Cup on Church and Wellesley.

However heteros were in luck in 1975, when the city legalized full nudity for strippers. It became zanzibar1.jpgpretty common for the bigger bars to have strippers by day, and live bands at night.

Black American R&B and soul stars, sick to death of segregation and persecution in their own country, flocked to play the BlueNote, the Edison, and the Colonial Tavern, where they were enthusiastically received. the colonial

Prior to new hate-speech laws of 2007, the biggest reggae acts out of Jamaica would visit Toronto at least twice a year. Anti-gay language in many of their songs, while common in their country, was not welcome here.

The city was dirty, and exciting, and counter culture was hiding in neighbourhoods that were being redefined to suit their residents’ tastes.   Queen West was where you went to find head shops and record stores, and check out the Sally Ann for vintage clothing stores. Later, it was Toronto’s punk centre, as the kids from OCA made their own music. And later still you’d find Chris Sheppard spinning at Club Domino before heading up the long thin stairs to the Voodoo Club.

You could have shot a cannon along King West any time after business hours, and never hit a soul,in the late 70s. In the 80s and 90s, street kids and skin heads hung out at the Evergreen Centre, which, though nominally a drop in, support centre for kids, was actually where you went to score drugs. You could get a whole tray of draft beer at the Gasworks for about $5.00 if you bought it before the bands started, and cheap quarts fuelled a lot of rockers through the hot nights.

the-knobby-1.jpgOut in Scarborough, clubs like the Knob Hill boasted top local talent while the waiters, legends themselves, sold watery draft for a quarter a glass. In Richmond Hill, anyone who was anyone hung at the Black Hawk Motor Inn.

 

 

There really were so many amazing clubs in diverse areas, reflecting the different interests and sounds Toronto wanted to hear. And yes, there was a “Toronto Sound,” and you knew it when you heard it.

So what killed that diverse, energetic culture? Couple of things – and most involved the corporatization of the city. In a quest to bring in funds for the city, ridiculous and arcane licensing regulations picked the pockets of bar owners. It was only last year that the city issued a memo stating that music venues would no longer be ticketed for posters – usually posted by the bands desperate to market a rare gig – advertising their shows.

Yorkville fell to gentrification, and soon, anywhere that the kids flocked began to look like prime real estate. Watching Queen West change from funky to glitz was painful enough for those who’d loved its grunge, but harder still on the residents and business owners who’d made it what it was. Rents soared until a club was walking such a thin profit margin that an off winter could bury them. These days, a shop or bar owner in Kensington Market is looking at paying from $3500 to $9000 a month for basic rent, with virtually no owner maintenance applied. Riverdale , Parkdale, Dufferin Grove, the Junction – all fallen to gentrification that brings more big bucks to those who already have the big bucks, and leaves previous residents out of luck for a reasonable price on a place to live or play.

No one is FOR drunk driving, but the founders of MADD went a little mad themselves as they ground down and down to get to the current laws. Drivers under 21 cannot have ANY alcohol in their blood when driving. Over 21, you have to have a blood alcohol level that is lower than .05%, essentially what you’ll get from a non-alcoholic beverage. You don’t even have to be in a moving car to get an impaired driving violation. If you are sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, moving or not, and have too much alcohol in your system you can get a fine, lose your license and face other penalties.

 And for all the fuss over drinking and driving, I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a club that gave free non-alcoholic beverages to a “Designated Driver”.

no smoking anywhere If you smoke in Toronto, good luck. It’s getting harder and harder to find a place, inside or out, where you can light up. When the new law of not smoking on patios took effect, I knew they’d gone too far. Can’t drink, can’t smoke … what do you do? Why go to a bar at all? May as well stay home – assuming your apartment or condo allows smoking – and drink without the hassle.

The whole corporate model of making money at the expense of art just doesn’t work long term, There’s less investment in the arts – last year, ScotiaBank pulled funding for Nuit Blanche, Caribana, BuskerFest and the CHIN International Picnic. Responding to the dog whistles of stockholders that must have their profits leads to the death of corporate sponsorship of the arts. And good luck with sponsorship of counterculture art. The Big Bop gets torn down to become an upscale furniture store. Liberty Entertainment closes alt-rock venue the Velvet Underground at 510 Queen West to focus on growing its portfolio of wine bars.toronto_opera2.jpg

While donating multiple millions of dollars’ worth of land and funds to conventional arts palaces like the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto City Council quibbles over what constitutes sound restrictions applied to bars. Thou shalt have no music louder than 45 db after 11 pm. A library clocks in at 50-70, a restaurant with no live band at about 90-100. This is progress?

Municipal licensing issues debate over whether a venue is a restaurant with a bar attached, or an entertainment venue. Despite a 2012 report by lobby group Music Canada that outlined ridiculous restrictions to entertainment venues that give ample room for official interpretation (and fines,) the City still loves its condo owners a lot more than it does its club owners. You can read the full report here (http://musiccanada.com/resources/research/toronto-music-city/)

The ‘idea’ of making Toronto a “Music City” is great. In practice, there needs to be a great deal more cooperation on the part of the City in how it deals with current and future venues. What’s been forgotten in a lust for overall incoming revenue from ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and enhanced tourism is that you don’t just add water and stir up a musical culture … it’s made by musicians who fall far outside of the strictures imposed by those who can afford to attend the venues government has deigned to sponsor. It’s made in alleyways and smoky bars, it includes over indulgence in both legal and illegal substances, and it’s a cry AGAINST what Mayor Tory and his Council represent.

Music-City-panel.jpgIf Toronto is serious about doing more than endlessly discussing what they`d do for the city if they could, but apparently can`t, they`ll have to do better than the recent WaveLength panel on The Toronto Music Moment. The latest meeting, held on January 31st saw Jonny Dovercourt and moderator Emily Scherzinger along with Amy Terrill (Music Canada, 4479 Toronto), Daniel Silver (U of T Sociology, Chicago Music City researcher), Rolf Klausener (The Acorn, Arboretum Festival) and Ayo Leilani (Witch Prophet, Above Top Secret, 88 Days of Fortune) hash through basically the same points they did on previous gatherings, and presumably will rehash again at next year`s meeting.

Oh, sure, there are pockets of musical fun to be had in Toronto, and certainly, when the music fests start rolling out in a few months, there will be whole weeks where it seems like the city comes alive in technicolor.

But the following week, the smiles will drop from the faces of the law, the controls will snap back into place with a vengeance, and you’ll once more be unable to get ready public transit from point A to point B. The RIDE programs will stop a lot of entertainment seekers from having more than one beverage, and smokers will try desperately to find somewhere they can still indulge their (legal) vice.

You don’t get to have a clean, politically correct, easily controlled society and still call yourself a ‘Music City.’

(originally published Feb 2016 – bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/roxanne-tellier-music-city-my-ass/)