Now in its 5th year, the Somewhere There Creative Music Festival knows how to celebrate… seven distinct concerts in three days, featuring 40 musicians, and probably too many hours to count of music.
Organized by the collective of the same name (Somewhere There), their festival does exactly what it purports: a “celebration of the vitality and diversity of Toronto’s creative music scene.” Needless to say, even a cursory glance at the weekend’s schedule (starting on February 24 at 8 p.m. running till Sunday evening at the Tranzac Club) displays their commitment to that statement. To use their parlance: support the marginalized “weirdos” of Toronto’s musical scenes, and then cultivate a community of warmth, openness, and collaboration.
I had the chance to have a brief exchange with Joe Sorbara, percussionist and member of the Somewhere There Collective. He was able to elaborate on the events of the weekend as well as talk about broader objectives and the character of the organization and festival.
Firstly, congratulations on your fifth anniversary! As for an actual first question: when I first saw your press release, I was absolutely daunted by the sheer amount of music you all were staging. It looks like an absolutely packed weekend. Can you — if even possible — succinctly break down the weekend, general goals, and the people involved?
Thank you! In many ways, five years have gone by pretty quickly. I think we’ve learned a lot in that time, though, and particularly about how to pack as much into a weekend festival as possible and keep a friendly community vibe going with just enough music to witness and just enough time to talk to friends and meet new ones. There are five main shows starting on Friday night and continuing with matinee and evening shows on Saturday and Sunday. Our friends at Healing Power Records have also curated free late-night shows with Body Double on Friday and Prince Nifty on Saturday, both followed by DJ RON WOLF, CEO late into the night.
Our festivals have all begun with a talk that has often started people thinking about things that colour their experience of the weekend. This year The Music Gallery’s David Dacks will start things off followed by the Nick Fraser Quartet and Craig Dunsmuir’s Dun-Dun Band. This is sort of a free jazz/ groove music evening. Our Saturday matinee is about music and movement. We have a solo piece by Amelia Ehrhardt, a large group performance by the Lila Ensemble, and then a panel discussion led by Dawne Carleton. Saturday evening will be Tova Kardonne’s The Thing Is followed by a quartet of Manticore (Zoë Alexis-Abrams and David Jones) with James Beardmore and Xuan Ye and then Matt Fong’s Future Machines. This is all over the map, genre wise. Jazzy songcraft, playful noise, math rock… On Sunday afternoon we have a workshop and performance by the Rhinoceros Saxophone Quartet. We put out an open call for compositions a while back, and the quartet will workshop two pieces chosen from among the submissions by Alice Ping Yee Ho and Tomasz Krakowiak. And finally, on Sunday evening we start with a burst of four, fifteen-minute duo improvisations by Heidi Chan & Sarah Peebles, Rob Clutton & Michael Lynn, Diane Roblin & Michael Snow, James Bailey & Allison Cameron. They will be followed by The Mike Smith Company and then the Bristles Trio. I urge anyone to go and check out the info on our website to hear some of the music these folks are making and read a bit about them. We really have some incredible artists in Toronto who more people should be listening to. So much for “succinct”…
The other thing that struck me about this festival is the diversity of music, backgrounds, and the people involved. It’s incredibly eclectic. Did this affect the way you programmed and organized the weekend?
Yes and no. Our goal is to present the more creative and adventurous musicians in Toronto in a big way, in a way that takes what they do seriously. These are folks who are often marginalized and ignored, whose music goes unheard by too many ears, and we set out to celebrate their work as an antidote to that. So, in one sense there is nothing eclectic about it at all: we pile a bunch of our favourite weirdos together in a room and have a big party. Of course, that pile of weirdos is inevitably drawing on such a wide range of influences and experiences that it can’t be anything but eclectic, which makes for a wonderful sonic journey over the course of a weekend.
This is all to say that I don’t think we set out to be eclectic, but that the eclecticism that you’re seeing and hearing is a very organic one that comes as a result of us getting better and better at putting a program together that accomplishes our goal of celebrating local creative musicians.
As well, you all seem to stress a degree of importance on community — specifically stating that you wanted to provide a good “aerial view” or cross-section of Toronto’s musical scene. To what degree do these ideas, of community(ies), affect the music that your artists write?
It’s difficult to speak to other people’s artistic intentions, of course, but I believe that community is at the heart of creative music making. The vast majority of the weirdos we pile into the Tranzac every year leave some room in their music for decisions to be made in real time, in performance, about what the music will be. That’s the adventure, that’s the experiment. And the wider community is necessarily a part of it for many reasons, not the least of which is that the people who are there to witness a performance energize that performance and influence what is played and how — it is their music in many ways.
But to answer your question more specifically, ideas about community come into play for anyone who leaves some wiggle room in their music for others to determine some aspect of how it will sound because handing over that kind of power is an enormous risk. And taking up that kind of power is also an enormous risk. In its most idealised manifestation, this kind of play is about trust and vulnerability and respect and acceptance. It becomes a question of recognising and celebrating difference, which is precisely how community is nurtured. And this is going on both in the ensemble and beyond it because that kind of vulnerability is very intriguing and inviting to listeners.
As a parting question: I think it goes without saying that this event is very much outside the wheelhouse of the typical Musical Toronto reader and casual “classical music” fan. What specifically would you like to tell those people who are perhaps either intimidated or skeptical of the music that you all make?
That’s interesting because I would assume otherwise, that this festival speaks to your readers in a very direct way. Assuming you’re right, though, I would say that this festival is the perfect opportunity for those skeptical or intimidated folks to check out some more adventurous music. Those folks, in particular, should pick up a forty dollar festival pass and plan on being at the Tranzac for the whole weekend. Even if they’re not really enamoured by everything they hear, they will be impressed by the depth and breadth of expression, they will be awed by the commitment of these musicians, by their belief in their work, and they will certainly fall in love with some local music that they’ve not heard before. They will also have some opportunity to ask questions and express their skepticism in “official” ways when David Dacks offers his talk, at Dawne Carleton’s panel discussion, and during the Rhinoceros Saxophone Quartet workshop. They’ll also be able to speak with the purveyors at our Record Fair about their favourite outsider music and to take home a few recordings to investigate. More importantly, maybe, they will be able to experience this magical thing that we’ve managed to conjure up in the back room of the Tranzac these past four years, which is a great big room full of friendly people gathered together around the music and feeling lucky to be there, to be sharing that experience in community with their fellow weirdos. It’s really a beautiful thing.
For more information and a full schedule of events, please visit www.somewherethere.org.
…but the organization does far more than just one yearly festival! Visit their website.