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North by Northeast Music and Industry Conference 1998 - Part 2
by May Lebrun

North by Northeast is an annual songwriter and industry conference held in Toronto, Ontario. This reporter visited the conference this past June (1998) as both a member of the media and a songwriter. In part one of this article, the reader was taken for an in-depth look into the seminars, workshops and exhibits at the conference, but there was much more to saturate the senses than this.

There were exciting artist showcases going on at the various clubs and venues that took part in making evenings at NXNE just as fun, if not moreso, than the day sessions. More than 400 artists and bands played for their peers at this yearís event. Even Speedy Gonzalez could never hope to take in all of them.

It was difficult to pick and choose where to go, so a lot of time was spent hopping from place to place to sample as much of the music as possible. Friday night was spent locating as many of the venues as possible. After a horrific experience finding a parking spot in Kensington market, it was time to set out on foot to check out the nightlife. All of the clubs were located within blocks of each other. Conference-goers passed each other in groups, making the streets even more teeming with life than usual.

The first stop was at a club called Oasis, and that is exactly what it was. The warm atmosphere was surpassed only by the unbelievable quality of the menu and the incredibly reasonable price. It is a mystery how this club could serve such good food so inexpensively in a city with such a reputation for putting deep holes in your wallet. Oasis is definitely on my list of stop-overs next year. The musical style at Oasis was predominantly folk along with all of its variations. Friday nightís lineup included:

Vicki Fraser, Guelph, Ontario;
Miranda Stone, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario;
Karen Novy, New York, New York;
The Lincoln County Social Club, Grimsby, Ontario; &
Vaughn Passmore, Toronto, Ontario.

Vicki Fraserís relaxing voice made the atmosphere even more laid back and inviting. She held an audience easily and took the stress away from trying to park for over an hour. Miranda Stone took the stage after her. She had a similar style, but it was unique too. Her folk-style blended in to make Oasis live up to its name. Then, it was time to move on to another venue. There was a short stop at El Mocambo to take in the reggae sounds of Lazlo, from Toronto, Ontario. Then, it was on to Club Shanghai 4 to witness the return of punk rock, including the three-foot high spiked hair. Sitting behind a pair of the punkers was like watching the band through tall grass. It reminded me of high school days, even though the artists have changed.

The Tirekickers, from Toronto, Ontario, and Libertine, from Syracuse, New York, were loud, proud and punk. It was enjoyable for this former punker, but the kids thought they were being invaded by Mom or Auntie so-and-so.

Now, it can officially be said this reporter has been to the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. A trip to Toronto would never be complete without a visit there, and fortunately, the tavern was taking an active part in the conference. The only redneck country boy in Toronto struck up a conversation there. It was comforting to meet a fellow country bumpkin in a city full of noise and towtrucks just waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists (that was a hundred dollar lesson). The music had a distinct country flavour, but was not overly twangy. Steel guitars provided a sweet backdrop mixed in with bold, electric guitar licks from bands like The Weakerthans, from Winnepeg, Manitoba; Tom House, from Nashville, Tennessee; and Lonesome Bob, also from Nashville. This reporter nearly jumped from the barstool upon spying the lead singer from the Tragically Hip at the Horseshoe, but it was too crowded to consider an interview.

Other pitstops on Friday night included: Holy Joeís, where Suzanne Wylie, from New York, New York was belting out good tunes; Free Times Cafť to sample the music of Gayleen Froese, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and the Silver Dollar, where Steve Hill, from Trois Rivieres, Quebec took the stage. These were all short pitstops just to sample the flavour. There were enough different musical styles to fit any taste. It was exhilerating to take it all in.

Friday night also held a surprise at the corner of Spadina and Queen Street. A team of buskers from a local church mission were performing on guitars and bongos. The music filled the streets, wafting in every direction. This reporter was asked to join in for a while and who could refuse such a gracious invitation? The only regret is not getting the opportunity to beat on those bongos! This group of musicians were unaware of the conference going on, but were thrilled when they found out that they were unwittingly singing right in the middle of it. It was also refreshing to see people of all ethnic backgrounds singing in the same group. There were Orientals, Indians (from India! No political incorrectness intended), whites and blacks. Skin colour and culture were not an issue. Even this country bumpkin was accepted. Hmmm...perhaps Toronto could teach the rest of us something after all.

Saturday afternoon was a blast, despite an interruption by a thunderstorm. John Street Jam took place in front of the MuchMusic/CityTV building. Part of John Street was closed off to traffic as a huge street party ensued featuring such bands as Rusty and the Doughboys. This was a chance for both conference-goers and teens to party on, dude. The atmosphere was electric, with people literally dancing in the streets. Martha and the Vandellas would have been proud.

After taking in just a snippet of John Street Jam, it was time to enjoy a meal at the famous Honest Edís Warehouse Restaurant, which was located just up the street from the hotel where the conference was held. It was a prime opportunity, pardon the pun, to eat the best roast beef in the world in what has to be one of Canadaís national treasures. Honest Edís is an experience nobody should be without. Any visitors to NXNE would be highly recommended to go there, even though it is not officially listed as part of the conference. While there, do not forget to check out the museum as well.

Saturday night was another jam-packed night of concert venues. This time, only one stop was made instead of club-hopping. There was such a top-quality lineup playing at Graffitiís Bar & Grill, there was no need to go anywhere else. The evening started out with an energized, attention-grabbing set by Deaf Kevin, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Deaf Kevin really is partially deaf, but man, can this boy sing the blues! Everyone was impressed, and it was not the type of thing where they said, "Not bad for a deaf boy." This artist is impressive, period. Deaf Kevinís CD, "In my Mindís Ear", was the only one acquired by this reporter during the entire conference. It was a must-have CD. Watch for Deaf Kevin in the future. He is a rare talent, and after meeting him in person, he is also an incredibly kind and charming individual.

Next on the roster was Fuzzy Matthews, from Kansas City, MO. His music can be described as pure adrenalin. His voice is strong and clear and palatable; his songwriting style more than adequate to please even the most discerning ear. Collin Seals played after that. His soft ballads were most enjoyable. Seals had posters and promo material all over the place. His name was familiar long before he took the stage because of his efforts to promote himself. That alone brought in a crowd to hear him, and they were not disappointed. He has a new-country, folksy flare, but then, folk and country have long been bedfellows.

And now for something completely different. Tim Mechís PEEPSHOW, from Toronto, Ontario played a set. They raked in a lot of laughs with their original song, "Why donít you love me like you love the Redwings?" The music was bold, sometimes even crude, but they played it well enough. Chris Tait followed. His songwriting was really impressive with words and music that pierced to the heart of the matter. Chord progressions were innovative and caught the attention of the listener easily. Chris Tait is a seasoned, competent artist. Watch for him.

Tex-Mex never tasted so good. Yo quiero Clayton Denwood, from Toronto, Ontario! They were by far one of the best bands booked at North by Northeast. It was such a unique and original mix of Tex-Mex music that everybody at the club seemed to do a double-take from the first bars they played. This band needs a CD. It would sell like fajitas in Tijuana. The sound is fresh, hot, with just the right amount of spice! If anybody from Clayton Denwood reads this article, read my lips, MAKE A CD!

Steve Singh, from Toronto, Ontario, swept the audience away with his dreamy lyrics that seemed to ride so effortlessly on the music. How could so much talent be at one club on the same night? His pop-folk sound contrasted sharply with Clayton Denwoodís set, but none of that mattered. It was a performance from the heart, with the talent to match. Very enjoyable. Very highly recommended.

What can I say about Lach, from New York, New York? He is the bookings manager at the Sidewalk Cafť in New York and truly a character. His wit is razor-sharp, but he is also a charmer and a person who likes to chat, which we did. His song "Ungrateful" is still etched vividly in memory, even though this reporter has only heard the song once. It had that much of an impact. That is what makes a great song. Lach is a great showman, involving the audience in his sets and often sending them into outbursts of laughter. He has a love/hate relationship with his guitar. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was playing it or beating it up, but the end result was a cross between folk and punk (honestly) that was original and refreshing.

Last, but not least, by any means, is Agnelli & Rave, based in New York, New York. Lauren Agnelli is a former member of the Washington Squares. Dave Rave is a former member of Teenage Head and the Dave Rave Conspiracy. Now, they are an incredible songwriting team, complimenting each other in their lyric and musical style. They closed off the night in high style, getting the audience involved to the point that no one wanted to go home. This songwriter had the honour of playing a concert with Agnelli & Rave earlier this year, and they are seasoned professionals who really know their stuff. Their compilation CD, "Confetti", has an incredible selection of both past hits and previously unrecorded material. "Confetti" contains songs that speak to the heart and please the senses. From the float-me-away chords in "Dreaming after the Movies" to classics such as "When Patti Rocked" and Letís Shake", to the folk-rock sounds of "Mr. SilverTongue", Confetti is an album well worth the investment and Agnelli & Rave are well worth seeing live. Their live performances are fun, energetic and intimate at the same time. Agnelli & Rave are presently working on a new album.

After the concerts were all over, the conference doors closed, it was back to the hotel, exhausted but satisfied. Strangely enough, after listening to all that creative energy, the next morning there was a new song written right in my hotel room. Go figure. It must have rubbed off. There were many other fine artists taking part at NXNE this year. Alas, if only this reporter could have been cloned for a few days, but it was impossible to take in everything. Still, the efforts of all the people who worked so hard to put this conference together is appreciated. Next year promises to be bigger and better. If you would like to learn more about NXNE, or get information on attending or performing there, check out the NXNE website at http://www.nxne.com/.


H. May Lebrun is a singer/songwriter/journalist from Arnprior, Ontario, Canada.  She has two children, Anthony, age 13 and Kendra, age 12.  She will be performing her own compositions at the end of August at the Ottawa Folk Festival, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, sharing a stage the same day with artists such as Arlo Guthrie.

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