Finding Roots

We should probably blame The White Stripes.

I have no idea why roots music is so popular in Toronto, but I dig it. Five and six years ago, when I started attending shows in the city, most of it was, to be honest, garbage, aging bluesmen soloing endlessly over Eric Clapton’s Crossroads and lame restatements of the worst parts of ’90s CanCon Alt-Rock.

Maybe I’m just going to better shows these days, but it seems people have actually discovered alternate means of making music to the standard guitar/bass/drums/vox 4-piece combo format. I’m seeing multi-instrumentalists, mandolinists (or whatever they prefer to be called,) even one group with an autoharpist. I’m not saying it’s all great–3 chords is still 3 chords, no matter how many instruments are hitting harmonies over top of them–but it’s much more interesting to listen to than the endless rehashing of ‘Riff / Verse / Half-Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Riff’ I used to find at the Horseshoe.

Even at the music store, I find more people asking for mandolin and banjo strings than ever before. The ukulele is once again selling out every time it’s stocked on the shelf! Maybe it’s a cycle thing. I still teach just as much Avenged Sevenfold and Slipknot as before, but the kids who are a little more in the know are asking for Johnny Cash, The Pixies, and a host of great country bands who are currently kicking my ass trying to figure out all the riffs.

I’m wondering if it’s gotta do with the recession; people aren’t buying shred machines anymore. Junior may want the Floyd-Rose-equipped, cemetery-graphic-applique can opener, loosely referred to as a guitar. But Junior’s dad knows his job’s precarious, and instead, Junior’s  parents go into the attic and find Grandpa’s old banjo, thrust it at him and say, ‘There. Play with this.’ And six months later, Junior’s figured out a way to duct-tape a pickup to it, bought himself a pair of Ray-Bans, slicked back his hair and is fronting a six-piece soul/bluegrass revival group called ‘The Resurrection Men.’

I don’t really know. But there’s enough decent music around the city today, be it blues, jazz, 1980’s kitsch, roots, or that weird 8-bit dance music that’s so cool as to be not cool, Toronto’s positively hoppin’. It’s taken a long time for all these kinds of music to collectively reach a boil, but I’m getting the feeling they’re all getting there at the same time, and that’s nothing but good for the city, its art scene, and those of us who enjoy both of those things.

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