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Beaches International Jazz Festival (Toronto)

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

The Beaches – Toronto…

I have very early memories of the Beaches area of Toronto. My mother grew up in the area, my grandparents lived here until they passed away and my mother’s sister and her family lived here until my uncle retired. I remember many exciting trips to the beaches to pick up my grandfather on crisp Christmas Days. The area has changed a lot since those days, but the feeling of the area has not. Yes, more people have “discovered” the uniqueness of the Beaches and there are a lot more upscale shops along Queen Street. But the feel, the essence is still there. There is a long sandy beach that borders Lake Ontario and runs the length of the community. Running parallel to the beach is a board walk plus an asphalt bike/rollerblading path. But the most memorable part, for me, is Kew Gardens. The gardens are located right in the heart of the community. They are bounded by Queen Street to the north and Lake Ontario to the south. The park is made up of many activity areas, each lending themselves to the whims of area residents and visitors alike. There is a baseball diamond with stands, an ice/roller hockey rink, lawn bowling greens, a snack bar with washrooms and a large picnic area, but most of all there is a large circular Bandshell. On a hazy Saturday morning in late July, we headed back to my past, and to the Beaches Jazz Festival

The Bandshell…

We had arranged to meet my son and his wife at their home in Riverdale and then it was off to the Beaches and the Jazz Festival. We had been with them to it two years earlier, but this time we were going to stay not only for the main stage performances, but also for the Streetfest that starts after 7:00pm. Even at the best of times, parking is impossible at the Beaches. We got lucky! We drove along Queen Street through the heavy traffic and reached Kew Gardens. There was a street running off Queen to the north. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was one small parking spot left. With a lot of help from my passengers I managed to maneuver my car into the spot…perfect! The main stage was right across the street. We followed the rush of people into the park, all following the sound of the music. We passed booths selling and displaying a variety of goods. At the front a booth was selling festival shirts and hats. There was also a booth from the Louisiana Tourist Board trying to entice festival goers to the charms of Louisiana and its attractions. Before we could move too far into the park, a bright shiny red object caught both my son’s and my eye. We turned towards it to investigate. It was a Formula One Ferrari on display! What a magnificent machine. We both snapped photos of it and then continued on towards the music…

And All That Jazz…

Well, it wasn’t all Jazz, but it was great music. We walked through the crowd to find a place to sit and listen to the music. The main stage, located in the Bandshell, is located at the low part of a hilly area. The stage is elevated approximately 4 to 5 feet. This allows most of the listeners to sit on the side of the hill without blocking the view of those behind. The music system being used was first class. We had arrived at the festival at about 1:30 pm. Two performances had already taken place. We were in time to hear the start of David “Ziggy” Walcott. Ziggy and his band are from the Barbados and play fantastic Caribbean music. His instrument is the steel pan and can he made it SING! The energy he and his band exude is amazing. Next on stage was Carl Weathersby. He had the crowd mesmerized by his sweet sounds and personal magnetism. At one point he and his guitar wandered out into the crowd and he played amongst them. People couldn’t believe their good fortune to have such an amazing performer so close. He and his group performed a wide array of songs, many of which related to the crowd on hand. At the end of his performance, Carl and his band played to a standing ovation. The classiest part came after the he was off stage, when he came to the fence and talked to signed autographs for his admirers. Total class all the way! The final group for that day was Bonerama. Right from the start this group had the crowd on their feet dancing. To say they had a lot of energy would be an under statement. The sound was pure funk! The group, straight from New Orleans, consisted of a drummer, a tubaist, a guitarist and 4 trombonists. Co-founded by Mark Mullins and Craig Klein, this was certainly a show stopper. Mark Mullins took control of the trombonists and lead them to a feverish pitch, and the crowd loved every minute. It was a great way to end this part of our adventure. It was almost time for Streetfest, but first we needed to eat…

Queen Street…

When we had originally arrived at Kew Gardens, we went straight to the music. Well, almost, except for the Ferrari detour! When we were about to leave after the last show, we discovered that there was a lot more happening in the park. Starbucks was giving away free samples. CTV were on scene and giving something away. The line up was too long for me to find out what it was. And then there was an Oasis Giraffe inflatable. Closer to Queen Street was an arts and crafts section. We walked around and looked at the different booths. There was a good selection of different products, pottery, clothing, jewelry and art, to name just a few. After we had completed looking, we headed towards Queen Street. My son and his wife, who were Beached Jazz Festival regulars, said they knew the perfect spot to have dinner. I asked them to lead us to it. We started walking east, on the sidewalk. The further we walked, the more we noticed people walking right on the street itself. The police were in the process of closing down Queen Street in preparation of Streetfest taking place. Vendors and musicians, alike, were setting up booths and equipment on the street. After what seemed like a long hike, we reached our chosen restaurant. There was a line up, of course! Fortunately the line up wasn’t too long. And we only had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. Our luck was holding, because we were seated on the outside terrace, right next to where one of the evening bands were going to perform. As we were finishing our dinner, the music began and the crowds surrounded the musician. It was time to pay our bill and join the party. Streetfest had begun in earnest…

Streetfest 2007…

The group playing outside our eating area was Groove Corporation. It was great being able to relax after our meal and listen to this great band. As the crowds started to grow we joined the ever increasing flow. We started back west towards Kew Gardens. The first group we encountered was Blue Room. It would be impossible to describe to you the great music we heard. You will have to come to the festival next year to find out for yourselves. I can tell you that it was not all Jazz. It was an eclectic collage of different sounds, each having its own unique twist. Other groups encountered along the way included: Project Phoenix (who staged a terrific performance), Toronto All Star Band, Gypsy and Downtown Dixieland. There were many other groups, but I am not sure of their names. I am including photos of a lot of the groups, some I know the names of, some I am not sure. Whatever their names were, it was a very interesting night. After pushing our way through the crowds, we finally made in back to Kew Gardens and our car. My son and his wife were going to stay on and meet some friends. I know they enjoyed the rest of their evening. As we left our “lucky” parking spot, it was quickly filled with another lucky soul. It was time to leave the Beaches Jazz Festival and Toronto and prepare for our next great adventure, sand and sun…

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