2017: A Year In Music
2017: A Year in Music
This year had some real gems in terms of both albums released and concerts which I was lucky enough to attend. For the future, I hope to capture these experiences in my writing when they’re fresh and glimmering with the magic that music brings into my life. In the meantime, though there were a lot of great moments this year filled with music I felt like at least deserved to be highlighted to some degree (read: still in way more detail than anyone cares to read about). One of the major reasons I decided to revamp the website and share stories about my favourite albums and music shows in the first place is because on a very regular basis I hear from so many people close to me that they simply “don’t understand how I could enjoy seeing the same band again and again” or ” I waste so much money on concerts”. When I hear comments like these it hurts a bit. The hurt isn’t substantial but stems for what I believe to be a pretty simple human desire: to be understood. When I’m at a good concert I simultaneously feel lost in the moment and so connected to my immediate surroundings. Maybe that makes no sense, but I don’t really know how to explain it. For the few hours I’m at a show the past and future disappear and with it, the worries connected to them vanish (if only temporarily). Live music/concerts are sacred to me and truly something special. I hope that by sharing my experiences with music that when I have folks close to me in my life genuinely wanting to better understand my relationship with music that I can point them this and future posts I make about the significance of it to my life. So with that small bit, rambling done now let’s get into some of the more recent experiences listening to albums and attending shows from this year still fresh in my mind to share some highlights.
In mostly chronological order…
For a while, I had heard from a number of people that this band is great. With punk music not being a genre, I listen to very much I didn’t really give much weight to the suggestions from others to listen to them. When I heard about them doing a free performance a short bike ride away from my home for Super Crawl back in September though the chance to see a band I’d heard a lot of hype about seemed like an easy choice. I ended up at this show with my pal Tom Dusome and honestly it was a blast. The crowd was so into the show and I just sort of embraced the chaos of it. The band and most of the fans while being rowdy all made a great effort to look after each other as well which was nice to see. While I don’t foresee myself going to another one of their songs anytime soon I’m glad I went and had an outlet to get a bit crazy with others.
John K. Samson
On the next night of Super Crawl here in Hamilton, I had the chance to one of my dear friend Tom Dusome’s favourite artists John K. Samson (formerly of the band “The Weakerthans”). I knew a bit of his music and a bit of the Weakerthans since Tom had played it to me before and Wade also played some on the bike trip, but I didn’t know all that much. Despite almost not going to the show since I was having a hard time motivating myself to go out, I left the show fan of his music. Since that show, I’ve had his music in my regular rotation and it has really grown on me. I think my favourite part of the whole show though was seeing just how much Tom was enjoying it all. I also remembering connecting briefly with an acquaintance, Shawna at the show and having a really nice conversation as well. All in all, it was a pretty fun show.
Astronautalis w/The Smith Street Band
Getting the chance to see one of my favourite artists play in Toronto again after already seeing him twice back in May felt like winning the concert lottery. While he was opening this show rather than headlining it I was still crazy excited for it and as expected Andy (aka Astronautalis) did not disappoint. I remember chatting with him after the show as I bought a t-shirt and his genuine gratitude for my support. The guy has a smile that could stop a war. It was a cool experience to see him work so hard to win a crowd over that were less familiar with his music than when he’s headlining. Speaking of headlining the headliners of the show were a punk band called “The Smith Street Band”. Not knowing any of their music I debated calling it an early night and heading out after Andy’s set, but both he and some of the fans in the audience spoke so highly of them I decided to give to stay. Plus, after reflecting on how much fun I had just a couple of days ago at PUP, I figured it was at least worth staying for a bit. It didn’t take long for me to realize staying was definitely the right decision. Making friends with a punk couple from Buffalo, NY I embraced the rowdy crowd and had a blast. My left with some bruises and my new shoes a different colour than beforehand, but also with both some fun memories and a reminder to give folks a chance and that they might surprise you.
Oh Wonder – Ultra Life
Discovering Oh Wonder a couple years back at Wayhome Music Festival was, in my opinion, one of the best random music discoveries I’ve ever made. When I listen to them now and think back about it, to be honest, I’m a little surprised I didn’t know about them sooner. After hearing them on stage play before Stars at Wayhome I remember making a mental note to buy their album as soon as I got back. Since then I’ve listened to their debut self-titled album Oh Wonder countless times. Needless to say when I heard they had a new album coming out this year I was outrageously excited. Fortunately for myself and all their other fans, they did not disappoint. Ultralife is in my opinion about as close as you can get to a perfect album. I honestly love the entire album from start to finish. Almost everyone I play the album for connects with at least some of the songs. The concept and ideas behind the whole album are so relatable to me. Those that followed along the R2R might remember me sharing some of their music throughout. Perhaps most notably one of my favourite songs: High On Humans. Hard to find three words that better describe how I feel about people and making connections.
This year Oh Wonder spoiled Toronto with three back to back shows at the Danforth Music Hall (a venue which I’ve come to love over the years despite their strange rule that you have to put a bike helmet in coat check – super annoying). For three nights in a row, I was in total bliss. I met a superfan (Kai) at the first show and chatted with him for the next couple nights as well. He followed them through to a number of shows in the USA, Canada and Europe. Definitely living the dream. I also made a new friend Angela randomly online through the fanbase that ended up hanging out with me for the first show as well which was fun. Night two stands out a special one since despite not needing to at all Josephine and Anthony from the band let fans come in early to purchase merch and took the time to chat with everyone and take photos. Such a kind and simple act that surely everyone appreciated! The third night I sang and danced my heart with another fan (Maria) I met on the second night of the show. On one of the three nights – I can’t remember which I also got to catch up a short bit with my old pal Kieran (circa 2012 Best Buy days) which is always such a pleasure. I think my highlight from it all though was when Josephine each night took a moment to express her genuine gratitude to everyone for supporting their dream, making it a reality and encouraging everyone to keep chasing their own dreams. She shared the message with so much passion and sincerity each time it really hit home for me. Overall it was some super good times! Having seen them 5 times now I can with confidence that if given the chance I’ll do whatever I can to see them again live when their near home.
If you want to listen to something that is both very different from most of the music you hear each day on the radio and also beautiful go listen to my friend Joseph’s newly released album Aytche. Joseph and I first connected years ago when I started listening to one of my absolute favourite bands – Diana. I’ve seen Diana so many times now we just started talking about the shows and eventually connected in the virtual world. Joseph is an incredibly talented musician (Saxophone is his main instrument of choice) and beyond releasing this album, composing music, and playing with Diana, he also tours with Destroyer. The album was inspired by some heavy subject, but being almost entirely instrumental you might not realize it. I had the chance to see him perform it live at the end of September and it made for a beautiful experience. Totally different than any other concert I had been to in the past, but I really enjoyed myself. You can listen to and purchase it here:
I’ve seen Craig around half a dozen times this year which is a bit remarkable when I think about the fact that until when I saw him in February I had only ever heard of him, but couldn’t name a single he wrote. Craig consistently puts on a great show that at least in my experience leaves me feeling a little bit better about life and the state of the world. There’s something unifying and calming about his shows. He pushes people to be vulnerable in such a sensitive and caring way it’s admirable. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I really think everyone should attend at least one of his shows in their life. A couple of the things I love about his live shows is his ability to write songs about couples in the audience on the spot with just a few prompts and his “book of truths”. The “Book of Truths” is a chance for anyone to write something they might otherwise be too nervous, fearful or unsure about sharing otherwise. It might include a crush you have, a fear you’re holding onto, or perhaps a dream you’ve always had, but haven’t had the courage to chase yet. I saw Craig perform most recently at the end of September in Hamilton as a fundraiser for a great charity called Opening Hearts (something he’s been known to do plenty of in his touring). Craig was also the last artist I saw before my mom passed away this year. When things were really tough just a few days before she passed away I needed a break from the heaviness of it. I found that at his show in London, ON on April 15th. I can’t encourage you enough to support Craig’s music. He’s the real deal with a heart of gold.
Tegan and Sara
If you know me you know my love for these women and those working for them has no limits. Missing them play some shows while I was on the R2R was one of the sacrifices I knew I’d have to make when I undertook the challenge. With their masterpiece “Love You To Death” coming out the previous year and making it to a number of their shows when they toured the album I took some comfort in knowing that if I was missing some others at least it was for an amazing reason and I had the chance to see them play it already. This year I had the pleasure of seeing them a handful of times. Specifically, since returning from the trip I was able to see two special performances by them in November for their Con X Tour. The North America only tour gave longtime fans a chance to relive or in my case experience for the first time hearing their album the Con performed live in its entirety. It was of course set up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an album that drastically changed their careers. Stripped down and played acoustically I knew the two shows would be quite different from the vast majority of times I’ve seen them perform. For starters, both of these shows were seated so the usual need to arrive hours beforehand to secure a good place in the venue didn’t exist. Part of me welcomed this since it was nice not to have to be there so earlier, but a larger part of me missed being able to sing and dance my heart out right at the front of the venue. I prepared for the shows by listening to their new release The Con X Covers on repeat. The Con X Covers are a collection of different artists/band covering one of the fourteen incredible songs on this album to celebrate the tenth anniversary. Even cooler though is that the proceeds from this album went directly towards their awesome foundation fighting for economic justice, health and representation LGBTQ women and children. They’re doing some amazing work so be sure to check it out at https://www.teganandsarafoundation.org
The first of the two shows I made my way to in November was in Detroit. I made my way there by first heading to London, ON first to see my family and then a Greyhound to Detroit. Strangely for the first time in my life when the Greyhound bus made it to the border, they explained the driver couldn’t cross the border and send us across in taxis. It made for an interesting experience, to say the least as I rode with a group of completely different strangers all going for their own unique reasons. Once making my way to the show I quickly found several of my Tegan + Sara friends including Charli, Britt, Laura, Jenn and Jaime. It was great to see all of them again and catch up a bit. They’re all great people and I pretty much only see them at T+S shows so it always feels like a bit of a mini-reunion. Once inside the venue I also ran into a few other folks I had met at previous T+S shows in Michigan. It’s always so nice seeing familiar faces and catching up even if briefly. T+S fans as I’m sure I’ve mentioned in some other ramblings before have a special bond. I had a quick run in with Kallie who I met years ago in Grand Rapids which was nice. Two of the other folks I chatted with inside included Angela and Andrea. Both were volunteering for the T+S foundation which was super cool. As the beginning of the show was approaching Charli whom I was planning to sit with told me she had found a better seat and was given her seat next to me to a rad women she met in Chicago named Kim the night before. Kim was here from Germany and I’m so glad we got to hang out at the show together since she was super fun. Finally getting to see the Con performed live in its entirety was such a treat and having her company only made it better. I hope our paths cross again one day whether it’s at a show or just hanging out. My friend Laura was awesome enough to give me a ride back to London that night and then I caught the bus from there to get back home just in time to catch 2 hours of sleep before heading to work for 8 hours. I was so exhausted, but the excitement of doing it all over again in Toronto that night kept me going.
The next night in Toronto was filled with some great conversations with the folks volunteering at the T+S Foundation booth and afforded me the chance to pick up some great merch. I also ran into plenty of lovely familiar faces (include Britt, Charli, Laura and Jenn again) which of course only served to make it so much better. As I was coming I ran into my friend Hannah who I met years ago at an Andrea Gibson poetry event and quickly bonded with over our shared love of her poetry and our mutual love of T+S. I also was lucky enough to run into my friend Michelle that I met a while back at a Tegan +Sara show in Michigan. It was nice to chat with her again and connect a bit. Plus, Michelle has her own vlog and she got a fun little clip of us all for it which was cool. Also early on in the night, I had a quick run in with my friend Zach from way back in 2009/2010 when I was completing my Master’s degree in Sociology at McMaster. Zach is one of the few folks from that time I’m still in touch with (albeit almost entirely in the virtual world) so it was nice to run into him after just following along with each other’s lives online.
Making my way into the venue towards my seat I heard a few voices in sync shout “Nathan!” and turned around to see the beautiful Diller family (my lovely friend Julianna, her amazing sister Erica and their wonderful mom Samantha) plus Julianna’s awesome partner Randi. This family came into my life when Juliana and I randomly met back in 2014 in the middle of the ocean for the Paramore cruise I went on to see Tegan and Sara. Quickly bonding (because Julianna’s the best and so easy to connect with) we discovered we lived THREE blocks from each other. The next day I met her awesome mom who was unfortunately sick for much of the cruise. Julianna and I ended up hanging out for much of the cruise and becoming good friends once we returned home to Hamilton. Seeing this family always brings me so much joy so if everything else up to this point hadn’t made the night awesome this tipped it over the edge.
Since Tegan and Sara shows somehow only get better and better every second it seems almost right across from the Diller Clan + Randi was my new friend Chelsea from Buffalo that I had met this summer outside of the Stars show at the Festival of Friends! After a quick chat and shared excitement about this show and seeing Stars later that month, I finally made my way to my seat.
Sitting alone today I had a better seat for this show being in the third row, but much more centre. It took so much self-control not to sing and dance at points. Sitting directly behind me was the super duper talented Vivek Shraya who released her album “Part Time Woman” which received great praise this year. You can check it out here: https://vivekshraya.bandcamp.com/album/part-time-woman. I think though the best part of my seat I think though was that by sheer coincidence just a handful of seats to my left across the row was my old T+S friend Charles. I was sooo excited to see him again after losing touch with him years ago. Charles and I first met back in December 2012 in Montreal at a show and quickly bonded. The following year in 2013 we road-tripped together to a bunch of shows and had such a great time together. When that summer he had some unexpected family stuff come we lost touch and I hadn’t seen or heard from him since. Reconnecting briefly before the show started and a bit more afterwards he shared that he had moved to Hamilton from Kingston and was living super close to me now! While we haven’t had a chance to connect again since I’m hopeful in the New Year we can grab a bite together.
Transit22 – When In Roam EP
Though not officially a full album this EP from Calgary’s own Daniel Bennett has been a regular part of my rotation this year and it seems crazy not to mention this EP given how much I’ve listened to it this year. I lost track of how many times I listened to his album “Pity/Party Project” on my R2R so I knew I was going to love it. I first met Daniel a few years back when he toured with Astronatualis and played in Buffalo, NY. I remember really enjoying his set and picking up all of his merch… and paying for some of it in Canadian dollars! It wasn’t until I saw him again this year back in May playing with Astronautalis that we really got to chat and get to know each other a bit. Not only is my without a doubt of my favourite hip-hop artists he’s also such a solid guy. Don’t believe me? Just listen to the first song on his new EP. It features his 9-year-old son! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn awesome. What’s better though is that in my opinion, it’s an incredibly great track. This year when he put up a link to pre-order his new EP I was keen to get my hands on it as quick as I could. Coincidentally luck (read: a mistake on the part of Daniel) and I ended up with the entire EP. Learning about his mistake from a Facebook post I made about how much I love the EP, Daniel being the laid back guy he is opted to use it as an opportunity to promote our conversation about it his fans. It was a fun way to make light of a simple little mistake. In early November I had the chance to see Transit22 open up for another great hip-hop artist P.O.S. and catch up a bit. As expected he put on a great show and I left appreciating the EP even more. Plus, at the show, I ran into my concert buddy (Jim) that I’ve seen at each of the Astronautalis shows in the past and got to chat with him a bit. Anyways, the EP is super good and if you like hip-hop which real and authentic I can’t recommend it enough. Show Transit22 some love and stream it on Spotify or buy it on Bandcamp.
Memphis – Leave With Me
For those that don’t know Memphis is the side project of one half of Stars vocalist team – Torquil Campbell and his friend Chris Dumont. And for those that aren’t aware which I suspect is most of you my relationship Torq first started when I rode an old beat up mountain bike 75km from Hamilton to Toronto in a heatwave of 40 degrees Celsius way back in the summer of 2011. Broke at the time I could only afford to get the concert ticket and transit one way. After the show, I had the chance to connect with Torq, thank him from a great show and he asked about my bike helmet which inevitably led to me explaining the tale of how I made my way to the show. Blown away by my dedication to supporting his music things quickly progressed to him guest listing me for the Hillside Music Festival in Guelph that weekend and another long bike ride there. The whole weekend is cemented in my memory is completely unforgettable. I went from appreciating his music to appreciating him as a human being on a far deeper level. It didn’t take me long to realize that we both are our core share a fundamental belief in the goodness of people. Since the first day I met him and shared my love for his art until most recently seeing him again in November in Toronto he’s been nothing, but appreciative, genuine, kind, sincere and hilarious.
It should come as no surprise then to others that when I saw Memphis started an Indiegogo campaign to create a fourth album I was so excited. I saved up my money and carefully budgeted things so I could give as much as possible to help make this record. In the end, I was able to give $1000. By most people’s standards spending that much money on music or art is some kind of mix of insanity, stupidity and simply incomprehensible. When I decided to “back” or support their album on Indiegogo all the way back in the summer of 2016 I remember even some of my closest music friends thinking I was crazy for giving so much. Expected to be completed in December 2016 the album was just finally released digitally to the backers a couple of months ago. For my $1000 I gave to support the production, mixing, mastering the following was promised: listed as patron on the album, an invite to a listening party hosted by Chris and Torq when the record is finished lifetime free passes to all Memphis, shows, 20 free copies of the finished album in all formats, and lots of free Memphis swag. All of it sounded pretty cool, but deep down I know/knew I’d probably never see half of it. Given the complex nature of the music industry, Torq’s other commitments with his masterpiece of a one-man play “True Crime” (which is returning to Crows Theatre in January for a limited run – go see it!), Stars and his own family making time to play shows with Memphis and do everything to get this album off the ground would be quite a challenge. Of course some reading this are likely even more profoundly confused how I could justify spending $1000 on the album when I went into it owning I very well may not see most of what was promised come to fruition. Those folks, however, miss the whole point that supporting this album to the limits of my financial capabilities was for me never about all the cool perks (even though I’d still be excited and pleasantly surprised if they come to fruition), but rather my simple of trying to thank him for his profound kindness. If you want some more proof of his kindness go back and read my epilogue blog post about the R2R to see exactly the kind of stuff I’m talking about. Anyways, I really hope by some unlikely chance they tour this album since I absolutely love it!
No music from it available online so enjoy this old gem:
Stars – There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light
Anyone that knows me even a little bit surely knows that I’m drunk on Stars ‘kool-aid’. I love this band more than I can possibly articulate with words. With Stars 9th record “There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light” released on October 13th gearing up to the date I may have well just forgotten any other band existed since I was so excited to hear it and was listening to them non-stop. No surprise to any of my Facebook friends – I LOVE this album. I did one of those strange things where it generates which words you’ve used the most on Facebook and do you which were among the most used? Retweeted and youarestars. I laughed a bit to myself remembering the comment my friend Derek left on one of my retweets or posts about how I should be hired by the band to do their marketing/social media. Since the bike trip, they played two little promotional performances in Toronto which because of inescapable work commitments I very sadly missed. Pretty heartbreaking. Fortunately, in November I was able to make up for missing the shows with a whirlwind of Stars awesomeness! Playing a mini-tour for the release of this album I committed to finding my way to as many of the shows as possible.
The first show of the tour for them was in Montreal. It wasn’t until the day before this show that I realized I had the day off work and could actually make it happen. Unfortunately, since they were playing a super small venue the show had sold out and with it being so tiny (capacity of maybe 200) there was no guest list for the band to put me on. I searched online for a ticket, but couldn’t find anything. By chance, I sent a message to my friend Nadia in Montreal that despite connecting virtually over our love of Stars and music we had never actually met in person yet to wish her a good time at the show and expressed how bummed out I was for not being able to make it. Fate had other plans though. Nadia excitedly replied to my message saying she had an extra ticket! Within quite a short turnaround I arranged a ride share to Montreal, made plans to meet for dinner with Nadia at my favourite vegan restaurant in Montreal and get to the show entirely too early. It was honestly a bit magical how it all worked out so well. After a delicious meal, we went to the small bar venue to check things out since I was paranoid about not being at the front despite Nadia telling me no one would line up until much closer to the doors open. Fortunately for us, the bar was quite relaxed and let us in for a drink early so we were able to watch the band sound check! After the sound check, I was able to chat with the band a bit which was super nice and make my way to the front before it got crowded. And by front I mean basically on the 1-foot’ stage’. It was crazy how close we were. Before the show got started I had a great conversation with a gentleman in his 50s whose name is escaping me now about our love for music. I hope my path crosses his again one day at a show since he was a really nice guy and I appreciated the conversation a lot.
In terms of the actual music, you should all know that in my eyes Stars can do no wrong. It was amazing to be there for the first show of the tour and hear them play some of the new songs for the first time even if Amy forgot the lyrics to California a few times, haha. The photographer from the night snapped this photo of Amy and I during “Wasted Daylight” which the band sent me the next night. Quite a little memory from the show. I also managed to get myself a set list. It would be amiss though to talk about this show and not mention Liz and Amanda. These two rad women were right up near the front singing and dancing along to the show the whole time and it was great. We spent some time connecting after the show and it was such a pleasure getting to know them. I’m optimistic that if I find myself in Montreal again sometime that we can meet up and if we’re really lucky to catch a show together!
In total, I spent about 9 hours in Montreal and about 16 hours in transit. I went to work on about 2 hours of sleep and got by riding the high from such a good show. I can’t thank Nadia enough for the ticket since it really was such a special show. I was so high on life and filled with excitement know I was seeing them 5 more times in the next 10 days. Crazy, by most people’s standards, but about the best possible way I can think of spending my time and money.
It was just a couple of days later still riding the high from the Montreal show that I made my way to NYC (specifically Brooklyn) for three nights of Stars. Here I’d be reconnecting with my friends Meg and Campbell that I had met in Toronto at Stars shows in the previous years. Meg lives in NYC and Campbell made the trek down from Indianapolis for the shows. Once I found my way to the hostel I was staying at for two nights (I opted not to get a place for my third night since my flight was at 8am and I figured I’d just hang out with friends and make my way to the airport early) I got settled and then went to scope out the venue. Wandering in I found Torq hanging out looking at records and had a nice chat with him there. From there I went to meet Campbell for some food only to have Meg walk into the place we chose to eat at! Everything lined up perfectly! From there the three of us made our way to the venue and hung out there. While waiting Amy and Evan came out and were super shocked to see me. It was great to see the reaction on both Amy’s face and the few other fans there when she gave me a big hug. It was while we were waiting for this the doors to open that I met Meg’s friend Kathryn who also joined us for the three shows. Once doors opened we all chatted as a DJ opened up the night (the best of three DJs we’d have for the next few shows). Unsurprisingly, the first show of the three Brooklyn shows was great and left me even more excited about the next couple of days.
In addition to the music, of course, being in NYC afforded me the opportunity to just enjoy the city a bit and track down and eat some seriously delicious vegan food. Highlights in terms of food included Vinnie’s Pizza which I had twice while there. The place was staffed by some super nice folks and had a great aesthetic which includes Teenage Mutant Turtles and Legend of Zelda references throughout. On both my second and third day, I had the extreme pleasure of enjoying food from Champs Diner and donuts from Dunwell Donuts. Both of these recommendations are exclusively vegan and came to me from my Tegan and Sara friend Cam from Australia. Like me, Cam is vegan and travels all over to see concerts. I think he’s probably seen T+S around 140 times now! Champs Diner is a throwback to an old diner with sort of a DIY aesthetic to it. As soon as I got there I loved the place. It reminded me a lot of the now-closed Sadie’s Diner in Toronto. Sadie’s was one of my favourite places to eat so I was quite excited to try the food here. It did not disappoint! The food was incredible (hence returning the next day) and the staff were super nice as well. I got a milkshake at both meals (cookie dough the first time and mint chocolate the second time) and both were absolutely heavenly. My first meal was some delicious French toast and the next time I had a massive breakfast burrito which I couldn’t finish in one sitting. The donuts are Dunwell were some of the best donuts I’ve ever had in my life. They were perhaps second only to Beechwood Donuts in St. Catherines. Amazingly, on my first visit, I ended up chatting with the staff member there a bit and learned that he use to date someone in St. Catherines! What are the chances? He agreed they were the only donuts that he felt confident were saying were better than the ones at Dunwell. Anyways, if you’re in NYC then you should probably check out Dunwell.
On the final day before heading to the show I went to Manhattan to soak up the beauty of Central Park. Having been there a few times in the past I had a pretty good idea about how massive and gorgeous it is, but revisiting it was a good reminder of how incredible space is no matter the time of the year. It’s so easy to lose track of hours wandering through the park and I discovered some ‘new’ areas this time which were gorgeous. It was also very cool to see an ultra-marathon (60km) taking place in the park while I there.
Night two started with another wait inside the record store for the venue doors to open. Here I met a great guy that I, unfortunately, can’t recall the name of at the moment. We talked about our love of music and he reminded me of my co-worker Brian’s friend Tim who while having never met I’ve heard plenty of stories about over the years. Kept on his phone was a document of all the shows he’s been to over the last several years and the opening acts as well. It was a pretty impressive list for sure. I wish we had exchanged contact information since I’m sure I could have had some great conversations with him about music. Before Stars went on we waited through a painfully boring DJ set, but it was worth it since the show was even better than the night before. This night stands out as an amazing one largely because of the energy of Laura Sylvers. Laura was behind me to my left and LOVING every second of the show. I remember catching eyes with her and singing along a ton throughout the night. It was pure magic. At one point I asked her if she was coming back for the next night and was disappointed to hear that she wasn’t planning on it. I strongly encouraged her to return for night three because I absolutely LOVED having her company there for the show. When the night ended she was gone before I make the effort to connect to stay in touch which was a bit disappointing, but I so incredibly high from the whole experience I was simply grateful to have been blessed with the chance to experience it all.
The third night of the shows was out of this world. Campbell and I met up beforehand to grab some pizza and then met Meg at the venue. There at the venue, while waiting to go in we met some incredible people. After talking for just a few minutes I felt an amazing connection to them. The group of four (of which I really only spoke with three) were in town for the show. Two were big Stars fans Anna and Gaby) and the other two (Corey and Ellee – I think I can’t remember her name…sorry) had never seen them before but were excited to do so. Corey and I bonded instantly since he’s a huge nerd like me! We bonded instantly over our love of Dungeons and Dragons and board games and talked about it a bunch before the show went on. He’s been DMing for over a decade and has a passion for it that glows from him. After the show, he gave me such a big hug he lifted me into the air. It was awesome! Honestly, if I lived near him I feel confident we’d hang out for sure.
Anna, Gaby and I also bonded quite quickly as they are both teachers and I work with youth. Within moments of talking, we found ourselves relating to one another and the struggles and successes of working with youth. I really enjoyed talking to them both about youth work and it was a good reminder of the universal nature of some of the issues and problems we face when supporting youth. Anna and I spent more time talking together once we went into the venue and waited through the DJ set as we ended up next to each other. We talked about all sorts of things, but it was her excitement for her new home of Lancaster and our shared hope to create a better world that stuck out most to me.
Once the show started I found myself singing and dancing along with both my new and old friends and some other people nearby. One of the folks next to me was this cool woman named Brittany Sweyer. I got to chat with her and her boyfriend after the show and connect which was super nice. They took the bus in from a couple of hours away for the show. Another cool moment right near the end of the show was when Anna took off her button which read “Be Brave. Love Each Other” and gave it to Torq. This was a pretty cool moment since Anna and I had talked earlier about the campaign and it sounded amazing. I’d later see Torq wear the button at one of the Toronto shows and it was a pretty awesome sight. Picking a single highlight from any night is near impossible and while night three isn’t an exception, easily of the best moments of the entire weekend happened about 1/5 of the way through the show. It was a short bit into the show when I took a moment to look back and soak up the audience there experiencing the magic with me when I noticed behind me and to my left again was: Laura from the night before! Already in tears of joy from the music they began to flow down my face even faster when I saw her and shared a massive hug. I’m pretty sure I set the world record for the widest smile in that moment. We spent the rest of the night have a blast together and this time actually exchanged contact information so we could stay in touch. In the brief time, we were able to chat I learned she was here for the shows from Boston, but originally from California. Night three also needs a special shout out to Peter Northrop. This guy was incredible. A couple people away from me for the show we had soooo many awesome moments making eye contact, singing, crying and even reaching over folks to grab hands. After the show, we shared a big hug and he said I was the highlight of the show and then corrected himself to say the highlight of the year for him. It was an incredibly sweet thing to say and the feeling was in a lot of ways mutual. His energy, excitement and emotion really mad the show THAT much better.
A couple noteworthy things about all three shows of the shows there were a few other faces that quickly became familiar, but I didn’t talk too much. One woman brought flowers each night for the band to spread all over the stage and venue which made for a cool visual effect. The other girl was like me keen to be at the front and sing along but was usually on the other side of the stage. She was from Canada though and I remember sharing a silly conversation about our shared dislike for Fahrenheit. Most notably worthy though I think is that each night Stars took the time to thank us – the fans for making this all possible. It’s simple but means so much when an artist recognizes the partnership in creating the music and whole experience.
When night three ended, we chatted and shared hugs with the band and new friends for a bit, and then Campbell, Meg, Kathryn and I decided to go hang out at a bar for a while after the show. It was sad to say goodbye to some new friends that I felt like I really connected with since I knew keeping in touch with folks when there is distance is never easier and I likely wouldn’t see them again anytime soon. After Campbell surprised us by paying for everything at the bar (he is seriously one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve met) we said our goodbyes to Meg and Kathryn. Eventually, I ended up in Campbell’s hotel room with him where we shared a great conversation together and got to know each other a bit more. From here we took an Uber to Penn Station where I’d be getting a train to the airport and him a long train ride by home.
Around 4:30 am I said my goodbyes to Campbell and boarded my train to the airport. I’d spend most of the ride talking to a really nice guy who worked in nursing who unfortunately I can’t recall the name of now. He was off to California to visit some family. Being so tired at the time I don’t remember much about our conversation besides admiring his humility and kindness. Once at the airport, we went our separate ways and I ended up chatting for short bit with another gentleman for a short bit who was on his to Michigan to support his son in his hockey game. The last person I chatted with before boarding my flight was a lovely woman named Clara from Connecticut heading to Toronto on the flight before me (I was really early) and then transferring to Ottawa to visit her boyfriend that was studying there. They had met back in high school and were committed to making the long-distance relationship work which I really admired. With about an hour to talk, I learned she was interested in pursuing veterinarian school one day and like myself that he father shares a passion for cycling. Because of her father’s interest, she was keen to hear about my bike trip and adventure this weekend. After she boarded her flight and before I boarded mine I spent a short time soaking in how blessed I felt to sharing all of these small micro-moments of beauty with strangers from all over. The flight home was peaceful and uneventful. I returned home to cold and windy weather.
After the NYC shows, I had a couple of days of work before embracing the fun again in Toronto. In Toronto, I had a few friends heading to the show I had the company of looking forward to joining me. Joining me for both shows was, of course, my friend and fellow Stars kool-aid drinker, Yasmin. Yas has been a Stars fan longer than anyone I know and if anyone loves this band as much as me it’s her. While we both enjoy their performances in our own way (read: I go crazy and she much more normally sings along calmly) she always makes for nice company at the shows. Unsurprisingly I got there way before anyone else which afforded me the chance of chatting with some of the band as I waited in line and they went out to get some dinner before the show. Like, in NYC the show opened up with a DJ except in this case it was Lights Fire so I actually enjoyed myself. On the first night of the show, I was also joined by my new friend Chelsea. It was her first time experiencing a Stars show right up at the front and we talk about afterwards how it’s such a different experience. I remember getting so hot and thirsty during this show that when Torq noticed and he actually reached for his water bottle to give me some, haha. Clearly, I was feeling it. Like myself, Chelsea went crazy most of the show so it made for a super fun night! Especially memorable about the show was that Patty was somehow playing the drums with a finger he broke earlier that day riding his bike. I remember thinking I needed to get the details behind this story. That night she was also kind enough to save me the cold bike/bus ride home and drove me back home to Hamilton.
Much like the first night on the second night in Toronto, I was once again there well before anyone else. I remember seeing Amy and Evan as I was waiting in line and Amy telling me she had a small surprise tonight which got me excited. Turned out a change in the set which included “Dead Hearts” – a song I was hoping they’d play at least once on this tour! I was quite pleased to hear it. Yas joined me again up front and my buddy Kieran came up to the front to say hi prior to the show starting and making his way up to the balcony. After the show, we had a great chat with a bunch of the band (mostly Chris McCarron and Patty) including a funny moment when Patty asked to take a photo of Yas and I since we were both in bright jackets. Of course, we agreed to do so. I also got the chance to ask him about the bike accident which he explained was a simple wipe out on some of the fresh snow we had received. Nothing too wild, but a good reminder for myself to be cautious when riding. Leaving the show I was feeling both so high from the ecstasy of it all and a bit sad to know I wouldn’t be seeing them again for at least a while.
The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild
(plus Hey Rosetta! and Rich Aucoin)
Released on the same day as the new Stars album (October 13th) it was hard to find the time to listen to this album enough to do it the justice it deserves. Getting to see the RAA recently play twice in Toronto (Dec 6&7) was a great way to get to hear some of their newer material a bit more. Having seen them a number of times now in much smaller venues I was excited to see them play the Danforth. Since the shows, I’ve given the album quite a few more spins and I’m really loving it. Three people (Nils, Robyn and Paul) working together can create some true magic. On both nights Nils (the vocalist) shared some great stories about both Alberta and the late Gord Downie. I was a touching reminder of how he influenced and impacted so many Canadian artists. Plus on the first night, I got a super nice surprise when my friend Emily sent me a message saying she saw me in the crowd and came by afterwards to give me a big hug! The second night I spent hanging out with my pal Marc. We met earlier this year at an Astronautalis show back in May and have been in touch since. It didn’t take long to learn we both appreciate a lot of the same music and that Marc takes music seriously. He helps lead the Toronto based music blog The Indie Blender (https://theindieblender.com) which I highlight some of their favourite music new and old. With it being cold and work early the next morning I wasn’t able to stick around too late for each show to thank the band, but I did luckily enough run into Paul on the second night as I was leaving and thank him for a couple of great shows.
Later in the month, Marc ended up with an extra ticket to see Rich Aucoin and one of the final shows of Hey Rosetta! at the Phoenix in Toronto and I was lucky enough to join him. A long time Rich Aucoin fan it was great fun to see him open up the show. It was admittedly mild compared to his own headlining shows, but still a ton of fun with confetti and his trademark parachute. A photographer at the show scored this great photo which seems to continue a trend of me getting in some good action shots with Rich. Despite not knowing Hey Rosetta! too well it was really cool to be at one of their final shows before they call it quits. You could tell it was an emotional experience for them and they played a cool video halfway through the show which captured some of their early days on the road. I’ll remember this show, but what I’ll really remember about them is when they opened up for Stars a few years ago and surprised them with a choreographed dance for one of my favourite songs “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It”. The whole crowd went crazy. I hope wherever the whole band ends up that they’re happy and can find purpose in their new projects and work.
Every so often you hear a band and feel an instant connection. For me this year that happened with Dizzy. Like, so many of the other bands I listen to my desire to see them perform live and to support their success is fuelled by not only their incredible talent but also by their kindness and genuine appreciation of their fans. Since my first interaction with Dizzy at the Festival of Friends they’ve been nothing, but appreciative and kind. Interacting with online since the Festival and again in person, the other three times I’ve seen them since has as expected been nothing but a pleasure. It’s worth mentioning that at the second show I saw them play which also included Hollerado I had the pleasure of connecting with Kaitlyn Sammut. I mention Kaitlyn because she completely made my night. If you could see the excitement and pure joy Kaitlyn experienced during the Hollerado set you’d be convinced you’d seen the birth child of beauty and ecstasy. While perhaps aided by the use of alcohol Kaitlyn was totally “in it” and it reminded me of how some people have described how I look/act when I’m at a show where the connection to the music overtakes me. It’s a shame she moved out of Toronto not long after the show since I would have really loved to get to know her better.
On my third time seeing Dizzy which was in early December at the Drake Hotel, I especially enjoyed getting to chat with the band a bit more and also discovering Shaed. They’ve got some super fun music worth checking out. Anyways, back to the main point here. Dizzy is amazing. Made up of three brothers and their friend it’s really cool to see a group of people so close make something so beautiful together. I can’t stress enough how much I think folks should be listening to this band. I was lucky enough to finish my year off by seeing them again most recently on December 30th! Like the other three times I’ve seen them now I spent some time before the show chatting with them. To no surprise, they continue to be incredibly kind and put on an amazing show. Please do yourself a favour and check out their video for Swim and listen to their song Stars and Moons. Honestly, if Dizzy had released an album in 2017 I feel completely confident in saying it would be a contender for my favourite album of the year which is saying a LOT given how you should know I love Stars. Unfortunately for folks loving their sound at the moment they only have two songs released so far. Fortunately, though the two released are incredible. The two songs they have released to date both made it in Indie88’s top 88 songs of the year. It goes without saying that their debut album coming out next year is EASILY the most anticipated album of the year for me.
Anyways, I’ve rambled on for far longer than I intended so I’ll wrap this up here. I hope after reading this (if anyone actually read it) that they have at least a bit of a better idea of what music means to me, the power it has to bring joy to someone’s life, and in my case help mend some of the wounds of life.
Love, Peace and Bike Grease,
PS: I’m still cycling in -20C weather and intend to do so all year so long as the roads stay clear. I’d be lying if I said it was easy motivating myself to commute on my bike in this weather, but it always feels satisfying to know I made to my destination in a way good for my health, wallet and environment. I encourage you to challenge yourself and try something challenge for yourself this winter.