I’ve just travelled 3,000 miles to see the second annual Open Tuning Festival in Seaton Village, Toronto. (If I were being boringly pedantic, I might specify that I travelled 3,000 miles to see my old friend Ian Sinclair, who happens to be helping put on this festival today, but why let that stand in the way of a good opener?)
It’s a lovely idea: a community-based free festival, using local shops, parks and houses for venues, where anyone who wants can turn up and play. There’s bluegrass, blues, punk, rock, and the brilliantly named ukulele band, Uke Till You Puke. A guy in his fifties played solo by a corner shop with an amp and a guitar, at first to just two people; a group of teens showed with their skateboards, and amazingly stayed to listen for a few songs, despite him ignoring repeated requests to play Smells Like Teen Spirit. A beautiful young girl with an Afro walked past, too cool to change expression, but she nodded to the beat as though signalling approval.
My friend Ian joined him on the bass, then went on to join the Raisins and Grapes a cappella choir, the pitched roof of the porch they sang on giving the effect of a tiny church. At 7pm he’ll be joining his old friend Frank in a jam at the Yoga Sanctuary on the corner of Clinton and Bloor. Genuine Canadian star Jane Siberry will provide the 9.30pm finale in Vermont Park.
This is a festival as it should be: no mud, no hassle; all smiles. You’d think it might be sad to see these men and women, some young but many in their fifties, even sixties – estate agents now, probably, or businessmen, or builders – dusting off their instruments and rekindling the fires of youth. But it’s not. It’s uplifting, and a helluva lotta fun. Because for them, as for most, it was never about the fame or the fortune or the fanfare of big audiences. It was simply because music moved them to pick up the guitar and create songs, and the music moves them still.
The brilliance of the Open Tuning festival is in realising that just as every garage can be a rehearsal space, so every porch can be a stage, and the lawn in front of it a mini-festival. Every town should have a free festival like this. But for now, the revolution starts here: in Seaton Village, Toronto.