Nadia Elkharadly: Canadian Music Week – The good, the bad and the ugly

Nadia LogoIt’s April and another Canadian music Week has come and gone.  Cold weather, late nights, new and old friends and of course copious amounts of alcohol – it’s all behind us now.  What’s not behind us is the apparent mixed reviews and outright controversy that this year’s CMW has been bringing out in fans, artists, organizers and everyone else who participated in some way shape or form.  My idea for this column seems to have already been scooped by The TorontoistBut instead of lamenting the fact that these writers clearly didn’t drink as much or party as hard as I did and actually managed to meet a deadline, I wanted to build on and add to all the great points that were made in that article.

The Good

I always look forward to all the festivals that come through our fair city, and CMW is no exception.  With the over one thousand bands that converged upon Toronto this past week there’s something for everyone to see.  Not only that, showgoers are almost guaranteed to make a new musical discovery, and even come away with a new favourite band.  While new favourites were not in the cards for me this year, I definitely made some very interesting discoveries.  My dear friend Mark, who is always on top of what’s new and hot in the music business that’s NOT indie rock (that’s my speciality), told me a certain well known singer was going to be appearing at CMW, and IMG_7427according to his sources her performance was not to be missed.  He was referring to none other than Charlotte ChurchThe now twenty seven year old rose to fame as a child vocal prodigy, getting her first big musical break at the tender age of eleven, and releasing a “best of” song compilation (Prelude) when she was only sixteen.  After years of singing opera, Church reinvented herself as a pop singer to little initial success, but returned again to the music scene only a couple of years ago with a new look, a new sound and most of all her own identity firmly in place.  A whimsical combination of pop, electronic and even traditional folk music, all tied together with Church’s amazing vocal chops made for an incredibly impressive performance.  It was the biggest surprise of CMW, at least for me, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

IMG_7618Another very pleasant musical discovery was Montreal’s Mad JuneThis group of hard rockin’ women has been on my radar for some time, but until this past week I hadn’t gotten the chance to see them live.  Let me tell you they were very much worth the wait.  With an engaging and energetic stage presence,  catchy songs that, for lack of a better word ROCK all produced by a sextet of sexy female musicians, Mad June is a band I definitely recommend checking out.  They’re definitely making my list of must see bands that I will see again and again.

IMG_6690Aside from Charlotte Church, my favourite musical moment of CMW had to be Matt MaysThe East coast rocker performed at the Kool Haus for the Sirius XM Indie Awards.  While I was unsure as to what the awards were for, and didn’t witness a single one get handed out, I was happy to be there to catch Mays do his thing, and do it very very well.  He had the crowd singing, dancing and acting like lovestruck fools (well, maybe that was just me…)  “Take it on Faith” was my favourite song of the show, and made the trek down to Queens Quay and Jarvis totally worth it.

On the Indie level, my favourite performances of the week had to be Montreal’s The Brains.  Check out my photos and review here, but they were definitely the most visually and aurally entertaining indie band of the week.  Special shout outs go to The Blue Stones, Kink Ador, West Memphis Suicide, Romeo Liquor Store, Saigon Hookers and The Joy Arson who all managed to rock my socks off.

The Bad

rihannaThough there was much good that came out of CMW this year, there was a lot of bad to go with it.  The common complaint that I’ve heard, and that I myself experienced, was the lack of organization and communication from festival organizers.  For one of Canada’s premier music festivals, frankly…it should have been put together a lot better than it was.  There was the blatantly dishonest use of “big name” acts that were used to sell wristbands to well-meaning festival goers.  The fine print that stated “tickets only” or “limited wristbands” was far outshone by the huge glossy images that covered CMW Ann and Nancyposters, the website and the guidebook itself.  What’s the point of slapping Rihanna and Heart all over every CMW piece of advertising if in actual fact these performers were not part of the festival at all?  Passing through Toronto at the same time as CMW does not a headliner make.  All that this dishonesty resulted in was frustrated fans and journalists who were all turned away from venues because, frankly, they were misled.

cmf-artists-2013

The disrespect that the media was treated with (that I experienced anyway) was another irksome issue.  The fact that the media wristband was demoted this year to the level of a normal fan wristband frankly made no sense to me.  Neither did the seemingly random use of special media guestlists at certain venues for certain artists.  When I asked the PR company handling CMW if I required anything else besides my wristband to get into concerts, I was assured that the pink wrist candy I donned was my ticket in everywhere.  Well, that was just blatantly wrong.  I was turned away from venues, told to Waiting in Linego to the back of the line and sneered at by power tripping doormen on more than one occasion.  While no one should ever have to wait in line in the March cold to see their desired band, a journalist is generally in and out of a venue after the first couple of songs, photos obtained, notes taken, and on to the next show.  Having to wait in a 30 minute line for a 3 minute ride is counterproductive and drastically reduces the amount and variety of coverage a music journalist can provide for a festival that is frankly in dire need of good coverage.

Another thing CMW is in dire need of is some discretionary booking.  Just because one thousand bands apply to play in your festival doesn’t mean that those thousand bands deserve to play your festival.  So many timeslots were filled by extremely bland, unmemorable and disappointing bands.  There was also a proliferation of bands that sounded just like everything else you’ve ever heard.  While great entertaining bands were turned away, and out of country, even out of continent bands only got one timeslot despite travelling so far to play the fest, several bands just…wasted time and space.  Fewer bands, multiple slots so the bands time is valued and fans get more than one chance to check out a band that seldom comes to our part of the world – CMW needs to take these things into consideration in order to step up their game.

The Ugly

As the Torontoist so accurately stated, Canadian Music Week is no longer a music festival, but the personal piggy bank for those hanging out at the top of the food chain.  Fans pay for wristbands, bands pay to submit their music and to be considered, and industry types pay for tickets and tables at awards gala.  Aside from a few bigwigs at the top and some organizers in middle management, those who work the long hard hours don’t see a dime of this extremely profitable festival.  The bulk of the festival is run and operated by volunteers.  UNPAID volunteers. They hand out wrist bands, they sell tickets, they check in media, and they hang out at venues until all hours of the morning, all for the chance to say they worked on a world class festival.  The entertainment is provided by bands that were forced to buy their way in, pay for gas to get to the fest and accommodations while at the fest (unless they were local to Toronto).  And the journalists who provide coverage for this festival and work hard to provide it reap no rewards either.  The most irritating and somewhat ironic part of all of this is the big wigs at the top IMG_0554 (1)know all of this, and are more than happy to continue lining the pockets of their expensive Italian suits while the musicians playing their festival can barely afford coin laundry.  How do I know all of this, you ask?  One unsavoury and frankly insulting conversation with CMW President Neil Dixon made it very clear to me that he thinks with his bank account (among other things) and doesn’t care who knows it.  After meeting him backstage at the Indies and making as quick of an escape as I could left me thinking that I’d never write another word about CMW again.  But even though Dixon and his cronies may be reaping the financial benefit off the backs of hardworking musicians, that’s who I’m writing for and about – the musicians and the music.

I’m not sure I’ll ever cover another CMW again.  I strongly urge anyone with the power and ability to make change happen in that antiquated and gargantuan organization to try and do their part.  Share your experiences, good or bad.  Support the bands, not the festivals, and check out the other festivals that Toronto has to offer that are better run and treat those who work hard far better than this one does.

jaysmithAs I’m writing this column I received the news that guitarist Jay Smith (a member of east coast singer Matt Mays’ band) sadly passed away today.  As I mentioned above, one of the highlights of this year’s CMW for me was Mays’ performance at the Indies, and Smith’s always wicked guitar playing was a huge part of what made that show so great.  Though I did not know Smith at all, the passing of one so young and so talented is so sad and so tragic.  My condolences go out to Smith’s family and his bandmates.  His talent on the guitar will be missed by fans, and his life will be missed by those who knew and loved him.  RIP Jay Smith.

Until next time,

Xo

N

 =NE=

Nadia’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonNadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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