No Fun Couver Revisited

Thanks to Rena Warren at Capricornucopia Artworks for sharing!

We had what I call a Tipping Point party in Kelowna the other night: a party where groups of people got together who normally wouldn’t associate simply because they work and play in different social worlds – accountants, employment counsellors, computer programmers, urban planners, landscapers, sales managers and teachers – and I told a story I read through John Horn’s post about Joel Plaskett. Apparently Joel Plaskett refuses to come back to Kelowna because the crowds here are dead.

Here are some important disclosures about me: 1) I’m not from Kelowna, I’m from Vancouver, so I bring an outsider’s perspective and ask lots of annoying questions; 2) I meet exceptional people everyday in Kelowna, but on the whole often agree with Joel. A friend once asked me whether someday I will ever tell people I’m from Kelowna (I always say, “I live in Kelowna, but I’m from Vancouver”). My answer was “Not yet”. But someday I hope I feel differently.

Several years ago, I went to a groundbreaking show at a downtown Kelowna pub where local hero Shane Koyczan opened for Danny Michel.  I’d never heard Danny Michel before and I was stunned when he walked on stage, just him and an electric guitar, and provided the most sonically cool and rip-rockin’ show that one man could make.  Absolutely unbelievable. I’ve been a Danny Michel fan ever since.

Unfortunately I was also very drunk on the occasion – I had chosen to drink stout beer all evening which results in heavy lips and heavy feet – and my most vivid memory of the concert was of me falling on my face on the way to the bathroom. Unfortunately, it was also the loudest noise from the crowd that evening. No cheers, no catcalls, no song requests. And yet, the music that Danny Michel performed that night would’ve started a riot in Montreal, it was that good.

Thanks to Rena Warren at Capricornucopia Artworks for sharing!

So I shared Joel Plaskett’s comments at our party, and instead of angry responses, I got sheepish ones.   Apparently it’s a well-known fact around here that Kelowna has reserved crowds. If you want to go to a great concert, you make plans to leave Kelowna, you go to Vancouver or Washington. Even at hockey games, no one cheers very hard until the playoffs.

A friend of mine who moved to Revelstoke told me an interesting story about the Junior B hockey team there which regularly scored low attendances.  A funny cultural shift happened when Revelstoke became a destination of choice for sports-obsessed Australians looking to work abroad at a ski hill. Australians quickly learn that junior hockey is hard, fast and violent – all the things that Aussies love in their sports – and they’re permitted to drink lots of beer at games. The Aussies started buying up all the tickets along the boards and would stack their beer cups against the glass. They would cheer hysterically when a body check would send cups flying into the crowd in all directions. People around the entire rink would cheer (it’s possible that some betting was involved) and even the players and local fans were getting caught up in the excitement. Attendance at games has never been better.

I now realize that culture has a tipping point. Cities change, sometimes very quickly. When I lived in Vancouver, I remember locals complaining that the city was too boring (this was pre-Olympics) and the media had dubbed it “No-Fun-Couver”. (Even as recently as last spring, I read that UBC was making changes to admissions procedures to accommodate cultural as well as academic variables to make for a more diverse student body.) But I don’t hear as many complaints these days about Vancouver – every time I visit I have a blast – so things must be turning around. For Kelowna’s sake, both economically and culturally, I hope that shift is headed this way or tough times lie ahead.

For discussion, I’m throwing out a licentious thought: that the key driver of well-being in any city lies within your population of 25-35 years old, single, college or university graduates. If you lose more of these people than you attract, bad things are ahead. Because these are your future entrepreneurs, movers & rump shakers. It’s also what keeps your town from becoming a boring place. Kelowna has been failing on this metric and it’s something that desperately needs to turn around. In fact, it’s a key variable that every city should watch.

Masthead image courtesy of Adam Jones, PhD

Adam Grossman – ICBC’s man on the North Shore

Who are you?

I am husband and dad. I think these are the most important roles I have in my life and the ones I focus on getting right more than anything else. Being surrounded by women at home – the wifey, two daughters (an almost four-year-old and a just-more-than-four-month-old), and a ginger cat who’s also a gal (apparently very rare) – keeps me strictly in line.

When I get some free time from the demands, ahem joys, of home, I work at ICBC in my paid gig as their spokesperson (yeah, that’s a communications job with some challenges) and my non-paid gig as the President of the Canadian Public Relations Society of Vancouver. After years as a frustrated and poorly-paid journalist (is there any other type?), I’m grateful to work in Vancouver’s vibrant, bustling, growing and inter-connected PR industry. It’s a lot of fun.

In my make-believe life, I play guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll band and am also a Michelin-star chef.

What do you do for fun?

I’m training for those Michelin stars. Before I met my wife Kate, my culinary skills included cheese on toast, spaghetti with a jar of tomato sauce and a stir-fry with pre-chopped veggies and chicken. Kate took me on as her sous-chef padawan, but now I have become the Jedi food-master. I’m a food-obsessive now and would love to be 17 again so I could leave my life of desk jobs behind and train to become a chef.

My other obsession is music – a passion that kept me from a cigarette-addiction like so many of my school and university friends. I spent all the money I had on records so never had enough left for cigarettes (of course, I’d smoke my friend’sMalboros whenever I could). The life-changing bands in my life? INXS, Nirvana, Metallica, Oasis and Ryan Adams. You can pretty much track my life from 12 to 34 via those bands.

Of course, nothing is more fun than the gals back home. I never thought I’d know as much as I do about Disney Princesses but that’s what having a three-year-old daughter does for you. My youngest is going to be a tomboy who plays drums in a rock band. It’s my mission.

As for the good lady wife, I moved to Canada with her in 2004 with no money, nowhere to live and no friends. Seven years later and things have worked out very nicely. I’m glad we made the leap of faith together. Canada will always be our home and we’re proud to have become citizens of this beautiful country two years ago.

What is your favourite community and why?

North Vancouver is a wonderful place to live and work. It’s a joy to live in such a safe, community-minded hood, which is growing and becoming a more funky place to live year-on-year, while also being a great place to bring up a family. Having the water, beaches and mountains all within close reach is perfect, and I can walk to work, dinner and the shops. What more could I want?

Can I have a second choice? Then it’s the Cool-Music-Community. I love going to gigs – it’s always been the place of ultimate nirvana for me. Whenever I’m at a rock show, I do wonder where all these people come from. I have a good group of friends to go to shows with but there are clearly so many more of you out there, for which I salute you. My next show? BonIver at the Orpheum later this month. I hope to see you there.

What is your Superpower?

Life is complicated but I can make it simple. I’d like to be able to fly or make myself invisible but I’ve never been much good at either.

How do you use it to build community?

I see frustrations every day when people don’t understand things, or can’t work together to solve problems. Watch the world news and this is at the root of most of the world’s problems.

In any PR job, the ability to take complicated information and make it simple – to tell a story – is perhaps the most important skill there is so I believe is serves me well. It’s a skill that’s just as important at home where I know the decisions mum and dad make can be complicated to my three-year-old.

My Three Favourite Things About Adam Grossman Are…

1.  General Industriousness. Adam gets stuff done. Whether it’s fielding dozens of calls from every news station across Canada looking to get a quote/clip on the latest ICBC rate hike or his ongoing exceptional work heading up one of the largest and most active public relations professional association in the country, he is a man of action. 

2. Soft but snappy British accent. Some things make your heart smile for odd reasons. That’s what Adam’s British accent does for me. Plus it just makes him sound that much smarter than all us “simple-speaking” Canadians. 

3. Happy go Lucky. Adam is a generally happy fellow. No doubt one can chock a lot of that up to his lovely family. He’s always got a smile on his face, even when dealing with a challenging or stressful situation (which as ICBC spokesperson, there are doubtlessly many of these). His friendly and calm demeanor make him an ideal community builder. 

Erik’s Dudes – The Last Word in Music

Who are you?

We’re Erik’s Dudes – the last word in country-crossover-hip-hop-death-metal-punk-bluegrass-pop music. Our membership is as diverse as it is talented and cutting-edge. Here’s the band:

Erik Finnsson – drums and, well, they aren’t so much “vocals” as they are “angry yelling about how the band isn’t ‘keeping it real’ enough. [Editor's note: the plan is for the band to break up for a few months after Erik goes on a saucy bender, lands in rehab and then explores being born again. Stay tuned!].

Jon Cherry – tambourine and some triangle. Yup. That’s it.

Jim Clifford – bass; fun fact, during Erik’s rehab-hiatus, Jim will release a critically acclaimed three-disc solo album called Straight Pluckin’ with Jim Clifford – it will revolutionize everything.

Kurt Heinrich – vocals and free-stylin’.

John Horn – guitar and vocals.

Erik’s Dudes’s first album, which sold 10 million copies in 17 days, is called Country Road Drivin’. It includes the hit single, “Country Road Drivin’,” as well as some soon-to-be classics, such as “Raccoon Sex Machine” and “Ode to the Sun (I hate You).”

What do you do for fun?

Change the world by writing and performing the most diverse range of musical offerings since Hawksley Workman’s rap collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix. Erik and Kurt also like paintball. Jon Cherry dabbles in medicine and exchanges letters with John Horn. And Jim, well, he thinks.

What is your favourite community and why?

The country. Because it’s real.

What is your superpower?

As a group, it’s our uncanny ability to excel at playing any and every type of music. Have you every heard of death-metal-reggae? No? Well you will when we release our new single, “Spliff with the Devil”. No band out there can roll smoothly from a hip hop track to a 47 minute long bass solo to an angry heavy metal rant about the power of the Sun. Not even Coldplay.

Individually, here are the band’s superpowers:

Erik – dancing.

Jon Cherry – sustained and uncompromising seriousness at all times.

Jim Clifford – thinking.

Kurt Heinrich – ability to consume more butter in a 24 hour period than any other human in the galaxy.

John Horn – haiku poetry.

How do you use it to build community?

If a seriously thoughtful dinner party that involves buttery dancing and poems doesn’t build community then what the heck does?

Our Three Favourite Things About Erik’s Dudes Are…

1. Erik. Through the tantrums, binges, mis-timed drumming, and the thousands of ladies who keep throwing themselves at his taught, young adult body, there is a good soul and a positive force of humanity at the core. Sure, he causes a lot of trouble and tumult for the band, but there wouldn’t be any Erik’s Dudes without Erik. Or, if there was it would be pretty weird.

2. They’re real. Some of you might think that this is a joke and just a way for the Daily Gumboot team to fill a spot on a Thanksgiving Sunday, but that’s not the case. These guys are a real band with real songs and real instruments that they really play. Really.

3. How diverse the songs are. The critics talk about the big, swingin’ differences between, say, a soulful ballad like “Country Road Drivin’” and a fast-paced pop song like “Superawesome Ninja Cool Sex Water Fight” and a politically charged protest song like “High Fructose Corn Syrup” because no one else has the balls to put such different, diverse music on the same album at the same time. It’s what makes this band a creative legend in the making.

- As told by Rolling Stone* magazine

*actually told by John and Kurt as some Thanksgiving filler…

Guest Shot: Jody Paterson

MusicFest brings out the best in people

(Editor’s Note: this article was recently posted by communications consultant and writer Jody Paterson. It was originally published in the Times Colonist newspaper. However, because it was so topical and co-editor John Horn and now lovely wife Michelle Horn have a particular connection to the region in question, I thought I’d reach out to Ms. Paterson to see if we at the Gumboot could republish the piece. Fortunately Ms. Paterson aka Jody, is all about sharing great writing and building community online. Jody – thanks; Gumboot readers, enjoy!

I always enjoy the annual Island MusicFest, and had my usual good time grooving to the tunes at the Courtenay festival last month.

But it’s the people-watching that’s the best part of a music festival. Pack several thousand people of all ages and backgrounds into a fairground for three days and nights, and things are guaranteed to get interesting.

Island Music FestA whole lot of people in tight quarters is a true test of our civility. Yes, there are rules at MusicFest, and quite a number of security guards and police on hand to try to enforce them.

But when that many people gather in one place, what really determines how things will go comes down to people’s willingness to be tolerant and respectful of each other. And the MusicFest crowd always delivers.

If you’ve been to a music festival, you’ll know all about blanket rules, and the strict but unwritten code that governs the sea of blankets stretched out in front of the main stage.

Blanket rules probably don’t occupy even a few seconds of your thoughts in your non-festival life. But at a music festival, they’re a major preoccupation. When the sun’s shining and the music’s fine, as it was last month, you’ll spend most of your day on a blanket on the grass in front of one stage or another.

So your blanket really weighs on your mind.

You think about how to set it up in the morning in front of the main stage so that you won’t need to check on it again until that night’s concert gets started.

You think about the sea of blankets all around you, and how to strike a path through them that avoids the trampling of other people’s blankets. You contemplate the space that your blanket takes up, and whether it could truly fit unobtrusively into that gap in front of the older couple comfortably positioned on their own blanket, or if it would be rude to even try.

Trivial stuff, sure. But the thing about blanket rules is that they work even though there are no actual rules. That they do is a small but heartening testament to the basic decency of human beings.

Camping at MusicFest is another major test of civility. With no reservation system and no designated spots, it’s essentially a free-for-all once you’ve made it into the fairgrounds and a supreme patience-tester just to get to that point.

The painfully slow check-in for campers is the first place civility is severely tested, but I didn’t see anyone lose it in the long, long hours of waiting to get into the campsite.

Once in, there’s simply no predicting what kind of neighbours you’ll get. Too bad for you if you inadvertently end up in the site beside a horde of drunk teenagers with a dozen coolers of beer loaded up for the weekend. (Thanks for the “Quiet Area” campground this year, MusicFest organizers! Loved it.)

Even if you’ve got the nicest camping neighbours in the world, you’re still going to be in each other’s laps for days on end.

You’re going to hear that nice young couple having a nasty fight, because their tent is right outside your trailer door. You’re going to get a ball bounced off your head from the kids playing soccer two campsites over. You’re going to be in the middle of life being lived out loud, and that includes those enormous snores coming from the guy in the tent less than a metre away from yours.

You’re going to line up for food, and for the porta-potty. Your bag is going to be searched regularly, and your wrist band examined at every opportunity. You’re going to be cheek-to-jowl with the young, the old, the beautiful, the weird and the vaguely creepy, and you might even end up dancing with one of them.

In other words, you and thousands of other festival goers will endure a series of inconveniences that you probably have little tolerance for in your regular life. But this time you’re just going to go with the flow.

To see it all unfold that way — well, it restores my faith. Rules and laws are all well and good, but it’s the unspoken agreements we make to tolerate each other that actually keep our world rolling along. How we behave when stuffed into tight and potentially unpleasant circumstance speaks to the essence of civility.

Group hug, people. And to all those volunteers and security staff who make MusicFest and all those other big public events enjoyable for the rest of us by riding herd on the handful of party animals who don’t get it: Thank you.

Jónsi

(I’ve written my concert review of  Jónsi in the form of a letter to an old university friend, to try and make it as personal as possible. That’s because I find music reviews often come off as impersonal. Once upon a time, I was a theatre major. )

Dear Alistair

I miss you. I went to a concert last night and it made me think of you.

Jónsi is the lead singer from Sigur Ros (I’m sure you know this.) He’s traveling the world, performing songs from his new album, “Go” – a side project while his Sigur Ros band mates have babies.

The stage was designed by Fifty Nine Productions, a company that usually designs sets for the Metropolitan Opera Company and the English National Opera. The stage was set with a series of backdrops built for projections. Jónsi’s performance started quietly and slowly built into what became an obvious but elegant theme, to which I won’t reveal in the hopes that you go see the show yourself. Animation was projected  on stage throughout the show and accompanied the rise and fall of the music and Jónsi’s unmistakeable falsetto voice.

I was sometimes irritated by the crowd’s applause. Like a play or any worthwhile story, it could have done without interruptions. “Jónsi” or  Jón Thor Birgisson’s falsetto vocals soared in perfect pitch. The costumes were bold. And his band mates used a number of unusual instruments and tools to fill out his sound. But most of all, Al – Jónsi reminded me of you. The moment he stepped out on stage, you knew you were about to witness something very personal and close to his heart. And that’s exactly what I feel when I watch your work.

I thought the best moment of the whole evening came at the end, when Jónsi and his band of talented and beautiful young men, returned to the stage before a standing ovation, bowed, and spent a good moment looking out at us, as if they couldn’t believe we were there to watch them perform. They gave us genuine smiles and expressions of surprise.

I think you should go see, Jónsi . It’s likely he won’t tour with this band and set again. And I want to know what you think. I’ve included a video – a snippet from his song “Grow Tall.” A friend told me he wrote the song the day after a New Year’s party. He wanted to try and capture the feeling of “the next morning”, after a night of celebrating with his friends.

Lots of love,

Theo

Bringing Music Back: From Me to We

The brilliant author and neurologist Oliver Sacks has recently written a book on the ways in which music can move us, change us, and bring us together. Musicophilia (http://musicophilia.com/) describes the peculiar, the miraculous, and the poignant ways in which music is integrally woven into the fabric of our lives, our memories, and our very neurological compositions. He tells tales of individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, who, after months or years of confusion and lost identity, respond to music in beautiful and remarkable ways: smiling, keeping time, and regaining a sense of lucidity that sometimes lasts for hours. He tells of instances where music has animated those with Parkinson’s, and given those who have suffered from strokes the ability to speak.

Music, it seems, has presented a pathway to these individuals: a pathway to their memories, their souls, and their very sense of self. The ability for music to stir in people emotions, memories, and a sense of wellbeing is truly amazing, and may be one of the reasons music has a way of bringing people together – of developing community.
I recently went to a CBC Book Club recording, where the author in the hot seat was renowned musician and conductor Rob Kapilow (who coincidently, is chummy with Oliver Sacks – oh, to be in that circle of literary brilliance!). Mr. Kapilow (http://www.robkapilow.com/), in ‘All You Have to Do Is Listen – Music from the Inside Out’, describes the way music moves us at this very instinctual level. We don’t need to be musicologists* to have this visceral reaction, to feel what the music is telling us, to respond to it in real and beautiful ways. Music can bring us together, tie us to a certain cause or moment, and make us feel like we’re a part of something larger than we are.
It seems, somehow, that this has been lost. I blame it on the iPod. Before the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800s and the subsequent explosion of recording devices and recorded sound, people had to go to a concert hall to listen to a musical performance. It was something that was necessarily shared – as Rob Kapilow likes to put it, it was a “we” experience. Think about how we listen to music now: through our Ipod headphones. There is nothing communal about it – it’s turned into a resounding “me” experience.
Music is made to be shared. When we hear music, we think back to the moments they’re embedded in. Music and the people and places we love are – or should be – integrally connected.
So my call out to you all is to celebrate music with those around you. Go to more concerts. Rent out a Karaoke room and sing your heart out with your friends (and some beer). Take a salsa class. Share the Music, because that’s how it was meant to be experienced.
*Yes, yes, I know this is probably not a “real” word. Am I OK with this? SURE AM! I suppose I would consider myself a ‘functional linguist’, and am at ease with taking creative liberties. Words have come in to our vernacular over the years because they’ve become socially relevant (I love how ‘facebook’ has now become a verb). Down with the Ivory Tower of Linguistic Supremacy! Give words back to the people, I say! (A linguistical liberal commie? Some might say …). And if you have a problem with this, you can Facebook me …