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And the crowd went wild
Day 4 of the festival provided lots of thrills for audience members, but also some not insubstantial spills...
The day got off to a bit of a discombobulated start. The KPMT Inside Track, scheduled to start at 12:30, was pushed back to 1:00 due to a city event on the square. The time change meant an errand I had to run took me away from the square exactly when Jim Galloway was sitting down with Roberta Gambarini. I had been looking forward to hearing the chat, but by all reports it was a great session.
It was at the end of the session that the day's challenges with air travel were coming to light. Because of poor weather state-side, flights had already been cancelled, rescheduled and delayed for Roberta Gambarini, Roy Hargrove and Natalie Cole's crew. On the busiest travel day of the festival - we had something like 70 pickups/dropoffs to do yesterday - schedules were changing by the second. Around 2 pm we discovered there was no way Roberta's pianist was going to get to Toronto...
Shortly after 2 pm I had a lovely coffee meeting Louisa van Lith, the Administrator for the Algoma Fall Festival in Sault Ste. Marie. We discussed some of the challenges our respective festivals face (primarily with audience reach and development) and shared perspectives on a variety of festival-related topics. It's always fun to talk shop with another festival director. And, despite the differences in sizes in the two cities and festivals, the challenges are almost identical. For example - in Toronto, a concert we present is competing for audience with an enormous range of activity. In the Sault, a concert may only be competing for audience with one or two other activities, but their pool of potential audience members is much smaller...so those other two activities provide just as big a challenge. Lots of food for thought!
I can't remember when during the afternoon exactly we were able to line up Dave Restivo to play piano with Roberta Gambarini...but we were able to line up Dave Restivo to play piano with Roberta Gambarini. It seemed as though the travel troubles had been at last resolved...
Starting at 5 pm, I attended a series of shows which were enthusiastically received by their audiences:
L'Orkestre des pas perdus kicked off the evening's activity on the Outdoor Stage with a high-energy set of contemporary brass band music. They sounded excellent, and I especially enjoyed the variety in the repertoire - some great writing, and a broad range of sounds coming off the stage.
By 7 pm at the Enwave Theatre, the seats were full and a palpable buzz was in the room - the crowd was ready for Robert Glasper's Experiment with special guest Bilal. When the Experiment took the stage, the audience erupted. The group immediately launched into their heavily groove-based set, whose substantial solos often elicited hoots and hollers from the crowd. My head bopping varied in intensity over the hour I took in, but in the few moments I wasn't totally into the happenings on stage I had a blast watching the reactions in the audience - especially when a familiar tune started up and the chair-dancing began...
I arrived at the Music Gallery just as the Francois Houle/Benoit Delbecq set was wrapping up. Getting to all of the shows last night was a logistical challenge, so unfortunately I missed what, from all reports, was an outstanding set of duo music. Happily, there was another set to come - this one featuring Francois' quintet with Benoit Delbecq. Here too there was a real buzz in the room. The concert drew a strong turnout and response to each tune was enthusiastic. The second set's compositions were by Francois, and each featured some degree of improvisation. I enjoyed all of the writing and playing - each musician has made a well-deserved name for himself - and especially enjoyed the arc of each tune: I barely even noticed when the ensemble moved from composed music to improvised music, taken up instead by the musical tale being weaved.
My next stop was the Toronto Star Stage for Roy Hargrove's RH Factor. Here again the crowd seemed to be excited about everything coming off the stage. It had been several years since this group had last been in Toronto, and the dedicated RH Factor fans in the audience responded with glee to the familiar tunes. Their rendition of "We Got the Funk" was the highlight for me, and an indication of just what the group was capable when in full flight.
It was only upon my arrival at the mainstage that I learned about the Natalie Cole cancellation. Over the course of the day, Natalie and her band had been booked, cancelled, rebooked...at one point Natalie was booked on 3 different flights in the hopes that ONE of them would get off the ground. Unfortunately when the final flight was cancelled around 7 pm, it became clear that there was no way for her to get to Toronto. (I had left for the Enwave Theatre at 6:30, so before this all happened, and was in concerts all night - so the news was a complete surprise.) Mario Romano was a good sport and played his scheduled set of music with his quintet, but the cancellation was the culmination of a frustrating day of travel logistics.
From the mainstage I headed over to the Horseshoe Tavern to catch the end of the Los Amigos Invisibles set. The show was sold out, and the packed audience was clearly made up of many dedicated fans - frequently the crowd was singing along to the spanish lyrics, jumping and dancing in time to the music. This was a party, plain and simple, and this was fun, well-played, heavily disco-tinged party music. And - it was a good reminder that I have a lot to learn yet about broader music communities. Who were these fans? What else might they like? (But mostly I was too busy bopping to the music to think serious thoughts...)
My final stop of the night was the Wrongbar for the recently added midnight show with the Robert Glasper Experiment. In this more casual setting, the band seemed to thrive. The audience (standing, but for the scattering of chairs and tables to the sides of the room) responded to the music with a ton of energy, and when Bilal took to the stage the crowd's volume jumped. They played some of the tunes I had heard earlier in the night, but managed to find a different spin on each, with grooves slightly tweaked and solos reaching new heights. As I've mentioned in other posts, I think it's always a compliment when the audience includes other musicians, and at the Wrongbar it was great to see local and out-of-town musicians (here for the festival) in attendance. When Roy Hargrove and his crew showed up we were hoping for some on-stage collaboration, but after an intense mainstage show they seemed content to be audience members, grooving along to the music.
So the lessons of day 4: trust your audience; don't trust air travel.
Here's what's up for today:
- At 11 am, Andy Ballantyne presides over the Jazz for the Teach big band session at The Rex
- At 12:30 pm, Jim Galloway chats with Bill Frisell on the Outdoor Stage as part of the KPMT Inside Track
- At 2 pm, four high school big bands from across the Greater Toronto Area take the stage at The Rex for the Big Band Slam
- At 5 pm, the Eliana Cuevas Ensemble takes to the Outdoor Stage
- Also at 5 pm, trombonist Ian McDougall joins the Canadian Jazz Quartet at Quotes
- At 7 pm, Bill Frisell interprets the music of John Lennon at the Enwave Theatre (tickets were running out for this show - best to call Harbourfront to check availability)
- At 8 pm, Treasa Levasseur opens up for George Benson on the Toronto Star Stage
- Also at 8 pm, Peter Appleyard and the Sophisticated Ladies perform and Koerner Hall
- At 9 pm, doors open for the Soul Rebels show at the Opera House (show at 10 pm)
See you on the square!