Published Jun 12, 2008This year's incarnation of NXNE is all about expanding the festivities to areas of Toronto not typically privy to the world of live music. Working through a "very productive partnership" with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, NXNE set up a series of special showcases at Pearson International Airport. With the aim of branding Toronto as "Live Music Capital of North America," according to NXNE rep Mike Tanner, musicians will be performing in the Arrival Halls in Terminals 1 and 3, scheduled to take place during peak flow times at the terminals.
Tanner says NXNE programmers "selected bands who could present their show in a stripped-down, mostly acoustic format," who would represent "a variety of styles and genres," and artists "who were comfortable setting up and playing in such an unusual setting".
One has to wonder how such events would go over in the hectic and security obsessed environment of an airport.
"So far, it's been a fantastic experience for the performers, the GTAA staff, and for NXNE. Most important, we've been hearing very positive comments from the public," Tanner enthusiastically expressed when asked by Exclaim!
So how have the shows been going from the perspective of some of the performers?
Toronto folk pop artist Proof of Ghosts (aka Stephen Heyerdahl) didn't have the smoothest running experience at his June 5 airport gig, but he admits it may have more to do with some sort of band curse than the event itself, though there were no doubt some organisational kinks to work out at this early stage of the experiment.
"Not exactly the most organised event NXNE has put together..." Heyerdahl explains, "We arrived and unloaded, were harassed by an angry parking cop who wouldn't let us unload at the gate we were playing at and hadn't heard anything about a band. After much arguing and shouting we got our stuff inside."
The troubles didn't stop there for Proof of Ghosts. "We were slotted for 4:30, so by 4:25 with no stage, PA, or stage manager in sight we began to wonder if anything would happen at all."
Heyerdahl tracked down a NXNE rep on the phone and was able to locate the stage manager after being given his name to shout out. The band introduced themselves and inquired about a PA, but were left wondering what was up still after the stage manager "sauntered off without another peep".
"Every NXNE stage manager I've ever dealt with has been all business and fire, inflamed with the rush of command and responsibility. This was however, not the case (this time). The stage/PA showed up at 4:45, the stage manager was also the 'sound guy,' and I soon found out he didn't have the slightest idea how to set up a PA, so I had to set it up."
Luckily, Heyerdahl's other gig is as sound guy for Sneaky Dee's and Do Make Say Think. As if that wouldn't be enough to get a guy thinking "band curse," the band's start time was delayed by another 15 to 20 minutes by a fire alarm and emergency announcements. The band began playing only to have another alarm go off after two songs, this time accompanied by darkness as the power went out for another 15-20 minutes. Finally able to play a couple more songs, frustration levels peaked when a noise complaint caused the stage manager to turn down the vocals to a level so low that Stephen "could hear a mother quietly scolding her son" louder than his own voice. That was enough for the band to call it a gig, but Heyerdahl conveys that there are no hard feelings.
"It was pretty funny...everything that could have gone wrong did. Not necessarily the fault of NXNE - the airport is hard to pull off - but more as part of the ongoing curse of Proof of Ghosts. All that being said, we got paid and also sold a couple CDs."
Most of the organisational kinks seem to have been worked out by the time Toronto/UK songstress and cupcake bringer Erin Lang made her airport appearance last night (June 11).
"That airport was interesting and transient," Lang wrote Exclaim! after getting home from the gig. "The thing I like most about it is that it's so easy to get into the mindset that everyone goes to see live music, but really it's a pretty small group of people."
"These airport shows bring music to people in an unexpected way and hopefully they are entertained and it adds interest to their travel day. Children were fascinated; it's not often that you get to play for children, they are so much more easily inspired!"
Lang takes a moment to reflect on the romanticism of airports. "I love to think about all the reunions that are about to happen. It's a nice thing to be a soundtrack to."
So no angry security, clueless stage managers or untimely alarms for Ms. Lang?
"There were some glitches, but everyone was so nice and positive. The only hard thing was playing through the overhead announcements! They have bell tones at the start and they would throw me off with their dissonance to what I was playing, but I just had to laugh."
Positive signs then, for the continued expansion of the GTAA's initiative to make the airport a more culturally enriching experience for customers.
"NXNE at YYZ has shown us that live music adds a lot to the airport and that passengers and staff really enjoy the experience," says Lee Kathryn Petrie, Manager of Cultural Programs for the GTAA.
"Response has been terrific - passengers have commented that this is a great way to welcome people home, or welcome new people to the city, and that they'd love to see live music by Canadian artists at the airport on a regular basis."
Check out NXNE.com for listings on the remaining airport performers, and if you'd like to catch Proof of Ghosts or Erin Lang at their regularly scheduled NXNE shows, here's where they'll be if you've got cash or a wristband.
June 13 2008, Proof of Ghosts @ The Dakota Tavern
June 14 2008, Erin Lang @ The Savannah Room