JIM BRYSON performing as part of TASTE OF THE DANFORTH at the Main Stage (Danforth and Logan), Saturday (August 9), 6 pm. Free. Taste Of The Danforth runs August 8-10. For more info, see www.tasteofthedanforth.com Rating: NNNNN
Taste of the Danforth's annual culinary and cultural smorgasbord kicks off Friday down on the family-friendly strip of Greektown between Broadview and Pape. Although most folks are probably drawn to the weekend neighbourhood party more by the promise of wood-oven-seared souvlaki and brew, I've always been a fan of the event's solid lineup of free live shows on three stages.
When I was a wee pup with a crappy fake ID in junior high and high school, Taste Of The Danforth was one of the only opportunities I had to catch cool lesser-known local rock acts without getting turfed by the bouncers at Lee's or the 'Shoe. I still remember fighting my way through the stroller-pushing throng to jump up and down during high-energy sets by Weeping Tile, Blue Rodeo and the Lowest of the Low.
Glancing over this year's schedule, it seems like the vibe has changed slightly. Instead of punchy alt-rock acts, the Main Stage at Taste Of The Danforth showcases some of the city's rising singer/songwriters - which isn't a bad thing at all.
The lineup's well chosen. Adorable NOW cover boy Matt Barber opens the weekend with a set of perfectly crafted, literate pop Friday (August 8) at 6 pm. On Saturday (August 9), alt-country guitar slinger Shannon Lyon is on at 3 pm, and creamy-voiced chanteuse Kathryn Rose at 5 pm. Then, jazzy up-and-comer Serena Ryder touches down for a Sunday-afternoon (August 10) set before rootsy supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings close the show at 6:30 pm.
Buried in the middle of all these sensitive souls with guitars you'll find the perennially underrated Jim Bryson (August 9, 6 pm). The rootsy Ottawa rocker whose stunning new full-length, The North Side Benches, drops next month on the Universal subsidiary Orange label, played Taste Of The Danforth two years ago. Some may recall that he was joined by his then little-known pal, a country rock gal named Kathleen Edwards.
Bryson's forthright about what brings him back to the event.
"All that free Greek food and beer you have to back a truck up to!" he laughs over the phone from Ottawa. "It's a bit of a weird show to do, you know, 'cause there's an element of pop music but also a lot of traditional music. This time around I know fewer bands who are playing. But it's so laid-back, it doesn't feel like a big rock fest. "
The mélange of trad tunesmiths and nascent popsters is one of the cooler aspects of the festival, since even on the Main Stage, T.O. Mediterranean music stalwarts like Arkadia and Ev are sandwiched between mainstream musicians like Bryson and Barber. Beyond the expected quota of Greek ditties, the Broadview stage offers a slightly bizarro roster of world music ranging from Celtic pop to flamenco.
"I don't think people come down specifically for the music," says Bryson, "but they'll wander over to see who you are if they hear some tunes. I remember the good times we had last time around just sitting around and drinking after the show."
The free-for-all party tone of the weekend means you can stuff yourself with souvlaki while previewing tunes from Bryson's soft-sounding new disc. "It's not like I was making Kid A or anything, but I wanted to focus more on interesting melodic structures," he says. He admits he's nervous, though, about playing one song in particular for local audiences.
"On the first single of my new album there's this one line, 'I get tired sleeping in Toronto,' and I hope nobody misunderstands what I mean and hits me with a the anti-SARS backlash. I mean, I could've picked Colorado for the rhyme, but Toronto just fit. It's really just about failed love. I'm probably crazy, but watching SARSstock made me worry." firstname.lastname@example.org