CMW is one of those events that’s guaranteed to reoccur at least once a year, like herpes, but unlike it’s venereal disease counterpart, CMW features parties and a schmooze and booze fest with bands rather than painful and annoying sores. What they do have in common though, is that they’re both exhausting, expensive to deal with and, usually, when it’s all over and done with, you’ve had enough of it and you are just fine with the idea of not having to deal with it again for another year. This year was no different. The sore feet, lost voice, ringing ears and the devastating effects of a cumulative multi-day hangover were all present in the days following CMW, but in some sick twisted way, they served as a reminder that you’re still in love with your small morsel of involvement in the music industry.
I usually try to give you all a linear breakdown of everything that happens to me over the weekend, but generally I have at least a moderately busy schedule to keep, which makes remembering everything and putting it all together much easier. This year was more relaxed by far, and I felt truly able to wander where I wanted, see what and who I wanted, and also avoid a lot of what I didn’t want. So I’ll start with the festivities at the Royal York.
If you’ve read my review before, you may have heard my rant about the almost absurd amount of American content when it came to the programming of the festival. This year was no different and though I won’t shoot my mouth off again this time, I will leave you with a few of Canadian Music Week’s headliners: Nikki Sixx, Sammy Hagar, Troy Carter, Bob Lefsetz and Janelle Monae. Not to say it was all bad, but not a lot to feast on for a lowlife indie musician/media dude like myself. Sadly, aside from some of those big names, the rest of the panels didn’t do a lot for me either. I found that my first couple of times doing the big festival rounds, I was intrigued by much more of the selection offered in terms of topics and speakers. I have since decided that once you’ve seen one panel about how to be super successful with social media, you’ve seen them all. You may now be thinking I had a horrible time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, by having colleagues that wanted to cover things I had no interest in, I was free to float around and really enjoy myself. That being said, let me touch on some of my favorites from my time spent at Royal York.
My favorite speaker was Bob Lefsetz and I know I ranted about him being American before, but he really is a riot to listen to. If you don’t subscribe to the “Lefsetz Letter” already, just do it. If you’re not familiar with him or his work, just imagine an American Don Cherry type, swap the hockey business for the music business, and you’d be pretty close. Obviously, less well dressed, but also often controversial and sometimes absurd. What he delivers is a blunt, honest opinion from a guy who truly knows his shit. You may not agree with everything he says, especially if you happen to be employed by a major record company, but I’d be surprised if you didn’t see the truth in most of it.
My favorite Royal York showcase by far was Hummel Entertainment’s party at the Library Bar on Friday night. The atmosphere was amazing. The small, elegant venue was comfortable and intimate and the performers, including Chris Assaad and Tenille, couldn’t have been more perfect. Compared to the sardine can venues you deal with every night, or the endless walking and standing involved with doing rounds of the hotel, the time I spent in a comfortable chair with some good friends, old and new, at this showcase was awesome. It was a little slice of chill in the middle of a hectic weekend that probably goes down as the most enjoyable time I spent at the Royal York.
I’m going to put the Indies in the “good” category though, in all honestly, the experience itself wasn’t half as fun as last year. Getting a drink was agonizing, unless you were comfortable paying $9 a beer. You’d have to be pretty blessed, if working anywhere in Canadian music or music media in general these days, and be able to afford a buzz off $9 beers in the middle of a four-day rock festival. I also think the overall dryness of the event made me notice things I normally wouldn’t have, like the long stretches of time between performances where nothing at all was happening, and how the pasta salad in the media room was actually safe to eat and somewhat tasty. The thing that saved the night was Janelle Monae. What a performance. Let me preface this by saying I like Hollerado, and they played really well, but compared to the hugeness of her performance, they almost looked like a small band in a big room. She was a treat, with an amazing full band complete with horn section, and a crowd surfing finale. I can see stadium tours in her future for sure.
And finally, the nod for best party at the Royal York goes to Maple Music for their always-fun hotel madness party. They had a full open bar complete with a boozed up slushie machine, and much needed vodka-loaded energy drinks. They also served shrimp, which I’ll never understand because from what I saw everyone was afraid to eat them. This made me sad because I personally love shrimp, but I also was afraid.
This article started off sounding somewhat negative, and in some ways CMW was “less good” than in years past, but it is all about the music and this year I can safely say that I caught more impressive bands than ever before at one of these events. So I’ll end my little slice of literary mediocrity with a rundown of a couple of my favorites from the weekend. The metal showcase I attended at Bovine on Thursday night was excellent. Endast from Montreal is heavy as fuck and, as expected, pummeled us with a solid wall of brutality. The unexpected pleasant surprise of the night was a band that played about an hour later called The Isosceles Project. Anyone who knows me realizes I’m a sucker for weird, crazy and technical types of bands. Typically, your standard pop/rock/indie stuff, although sometimes really good, isn’t enough to fully tickle me in the pants, but these guys were truly a breath of fresh air. Imagine heavy metal schizophrenia, or a musical seizure, and you may come close. Imagine something like ISIS meets Mastodon and Mars Volta, like a wide open sounding jam band performing 10-minute long songs of epic ever-building technical heaviness. Also being a drummer, I’m a sucker for killer drummers, and this guy was a machine.
I also attended a really cool Irish showcase at Underground Garage with my ultra-pimp buddy Darryl, a rowdy shit-show night at The Hideout, and thanks to daylight savings time, an amazing night complete with pints and chicken wings at Sneaky Dee’s till a cheery 6am! I have to mention my purpose for being at Sneak’s and that was to see The Junction, who delivered a great set, as usual, in front of a full room upstairs. The Junction is a damn good and hardworking band. I’ve known them and seen them now for more than 10 years, starting way back in high school, and you’d be hard pressed to meet a nicer bunch of guys. The difficulty of keeping a band together long-term with original members as they have is often overlooked, and although they have had some success, I’m still surprised they haven’t fully blown up yet. All things considered, the quality of the bands this year was way better than the last few years and I’m completely disregarding the big headlining acts. The number of times I walked into a venue with no knowledge of the acts performing and was pleasantly surprised with great bands I had never heard of before makes me really excited for next year’s event.
So like herpes, CMW is most certainly avoidable, but unlike herpes, you probably won’t want to do so. Whether it’s to catch a favorite band, discover a new one, throw some panties at Nikki Sixx or just educate yourself on the complexities of the modern-day music business, CMW certainly caters to any taste. So whether you show up with a full itinerary or a full bottle of vodka like me, it’s nearly impossible not to have a really good time.
So cheers to all my friends, all the wonderful new people I met during my stay, and to the great people at CMW for allowing us, for this one weekend in March, to forget how poor we all are and check out some amazing Canadian music.