DIY Private Concert
Beats by People
By Ben Blanchard
One chilled and messy late January evening in Toronto, I find myself starting to break a sweat in the kitchen of a main floor apartment located in an area of the city known as Cabbagetown. This kitchen is quite spacious for Toronto standards but the warmth is being caused by the body heat of numerous people jammed together for two reasons. For one, host Julie Neff is celebrating her birthday and while most of the people gathered are friends of hers, there's a good portion of people that are attending for the second reason; the DIY concert she's hosting.
This isn't the first time Julie, a professional musician, has hosted a concert in her apartment. She was inspired by the Festival of House Culture, who organize small events in intimate settings, often living rooms, for a handful of people. Neff realized there has been a vast pool of talent she has encountered through her career and decided to take the House Culture model into her own hands and host a show of her own, dubbing it Eclectic Comfort. The first show, organized in November 2016, went so smoothly and was so well received that she decided to make it a regular thing. She used the same approach the second time around; five musicians, playing short sets consisting of either original songs or covers. The lineup is comprised of musicians that Julie has either gigged with, or are good friends, or are friends of friends.
Take the first performer, Cayley Thomas, for example. Julie had never met her prior to her performance, she was recommended by a friend. Cayley recently moved from Edmonton to Toronto and she seemed to be appreciative of the setting of a room full of people intent on hearing her play which is hard to come by as a new act in this city. The next act was Nat Edgar, a career musician who gigs with various ensembles around town while teaching music. He crossed paths with the host when they both were hired to play covers at a corporate event. He came to this event with a couple musicians in tow giving his performance a loose bohemian vibe as he switched from playing guitar to playing piano between songs. He took advantage of the intimate setting to test out original songs and perform ones he hadn't played in years.
The next act is Chris Noble, another musician who is connected through a shared corporate gig. His set includes an instrumental piece from a project he's working on where he explores the idea of music as therapy. Aside from music, Noble is also a writer and director so he knows something about storytelling. With the instrumental piece he performed he was looking to provoke a story in the mind of the audience and for me, it played out like a relaxing day on a calm sunny beach.
The fourth set was provided by Ben Doerksen, a carry over from the first Eclectic Comfort. Doerksen's songs clearly resonate with people as they come up to him after his set and ask where they can find his music online. Well, you can't because he has recorded his music but you can invite him over to your house to play for food. He explains he tries to stay true to the folk aspect, trying to create unique moments with his music instead of having one final way it should sound.
And that seems to be what drives these nights. A one of a kind shared experience to build a sense of community and foster collaboration. Something that was put into practice during Chris Noble's set as he borrowed some musicians that were a part of Nat's performance. And there was further collaboration near the end of Ben's set as Julie joined him for a duet. Julie then performed her set, singing a new song she had written for last month's event and pulled out a new song that she had been working on leading up to this event. Julie works as a producer at a Creative Production Studio. It can be a demanding job at times and it can definitely take the focus away from her music. So these nights give her something to work towards and a deadline to reach to help her focus on her craft and then ultimately share what she's created.
By the time the music is over the atmosphere is nice and loose. People are hanging out, engaging in conversations with a more inspired tone filling the room. There's great appeal to this sort of DIY show, something that connects those listening and those performing. For the musicians, they're provided an atmosphere where everyone is captivated by the music and the setting allows them to be more relaxed and let their personality come out through their music and the banter between songs. Plus, these are musicians who are in different stages in their career, who engage in different styles of music and approach the creation of their music in different ways. That type of mash up of perspectives in a creative environment is great when it comes to learning new things and building your craft.
For the audience, they're left with an ephemeral moment that is hard to recreate, based on circumstances fuelled by the energy of the room, and it is ultimately unique. When most of our connections and experiences nowadays are witnessed through the impersonality of glowing screens, events like this are worth seeking out, and definitely worth creating.