Sunday, June 8, 2008


There are a lot of disadvantages to living in Toronto; the smog, the traffic, the disturbing dichotomy between wealth and poverty, the smugness of its citizenry, the abject awfulness of its hockey team ...

But there are advantages as well. Among those are the many festivals that crop up in the summer like the weeds in my neighbour's lawn. This past weekend was the beginning of Luminato, a week long arts festival now in its second year. Its a pretty eclectic festival, with music, theatre, visual arts and more in various venues all of the city. Some cost you, some are free. Many of the venues are outdoors. The fact that this weekend happened to feature our first real hot weather of the year, and Collette and I have been been working like dogs lately (not our dog, mind you, I should be so lucky to have the life of Miss Hayley) we smeared on the sunscreen, slipped on our sandals and got the hell out there.

The festival kicked off Friday night at Yonge Dundas square; this is Toronto's attempt to emulate Times Square in New York City. Not the old, funky, grungy, character filled Times Square but the new, corporate greed at its scariest Time Square. Why you would want to emulate that, I'm not sure but this is Toronto: How many Torontonians does it take to change a light bulb? Two, one to change the lightbulb and one to make sure that's how they do it in New York.

Friday night was to be a jazz/swing night. It featured the Count Basie Orchestra with guest vocalist, Montreal's Nikki Yanofsky. We had first seen Nikki this past winter as part of the Women's Blues Review. She has a terrific voice, a very natural jazz style and a totally engaging personality. At the Review, Nikki declared herself a "blues woman in training". Nikki celebrated her birthday this year by headlining Carnegie Hall. Nikki is fourteen.

The video below starts off with a couple of short clips of Nikki with the Count Basie band. Yup, its shaky as hell; I could blame this on not being able to find my new camcorder's electronic stabilization feature but it probably had something to do with the fact the concert venue is next door to the Hard Rock Cafe's patio ... it was hot .. I was thirsty .. there was ice cold beer. That's all I'm saying.

The next day we moved between two venues. Nathan Phillips Square, City Hall, was featuring a funk festival. The James Brown Band, now being fronted by a former member of the Temptations was to play there. We went down there in the afternoon to find that the band wasn't appearing until much later that night. We knew we would not be hanging out for long at that venue; see, there was no beer ...

But we did arrive in time for a "funk" dance competition. The dancing was more hip hop and beat than funk but it was enjoyable nonetheless. A few highlights in the video. Besides the skill of the dancers I admired the youthful endurance; dude, it was almost 40 C out there ...

After the dancers we decided to wander back to Yonge Dundas Square. There was a Scottish festival happening there. And we knew where the beer and margaritas were at.

The featured performer at this venue was the incomparable Ashley MacIsaac, the bad boy of Cape Breton fiddle players. Its been a few years since we've seen Ashley but he's always a treat. He came on to the stage in jeans and someone yelled "Where's your kilt!" His response was "I left it on Church Street" OK, its a Toronto joke. But like I always say, Google is your friend.

Ashley is pretty well known for his "celtic fusion" music and I've seen him perform with rock bands, a soul band and a couple of DJs with beat boxes and synths. Saturday night it was basically him with a pianist so he went back to the celtic roots and it was a great experience.

Right where Collette and I were standing (after we once again staggered off the patio at the Hard Rock) was a large, extended Nova Scotia family. As Ashley played they broke out into some traditional Celtic square dancing. Look at the joy on their faces. They were a good distance away from home, in the middle of this big, smoggy, smuggy city but as the the fiddle music skirled through the night like electricity they found their roots, they found each other and they just danced.

Now that's what I call art.

Luminato from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

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