Blackie and The Rodeo Kings Bluesfest Ottawa

Canadian Music Week gets high

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings Bluesfest Ottawa

Blackie and The Rodeo Kings play Massey Hall during Canadian Music Week in Toronto. (Julia Pelish photos/

Report by Adrian Brijbassi Editor

TORONTO — Canadian Music Week keeps reaching higher and for its 30th year it will ascend as high as it can get. The kick-off celebration to Canada’s largest music event will take place at the CN Tower — 1,815 feet up.

Brett Caswell blue Mountain Ontario festival

Brett Caswell and The Marquee Rose are one of the Canadian acts to see during Canada’s largest music festival.

East coast rockers the Joel Plaskett Emergency are the headliner for the March 21 opening show, which will jump start a five-day celebration of music, art, film and, for the first time, comedy.

“Music promoters seem to be promoting comedy more and more. A goal of the festival is that we always want to stay current and we wanted to add Canada’s premier comedy festival to our list,” festival coordinator Zach Gordensky told me.

The event features industry seminars, a digital workshop, the Indie music awards, and musicians from 40 countries. Although there are usually some big names, including Slash this year, the festival isn’t known for attracting major acts. It’s a showcase of new music and that’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t get nearly as much media attention as it deserves. I’ve been attending the festival for the past three years, since returning to Toronto, and it’s one of the most underrated big events in the country. With a $75 wristband, you can get into see dozens of fantastic performances from emerging artists throughout the week. You’ll also get to experience some of Toronto’s best and most intimate music venues, including the Dakota Tavern and the Piston.

With close to 1,000 bands, 800 media members, 500 industry attendees, and between 125,000 and 150,000 fans, Canadian Music Week and its festival lineup have an immense economic impact on Toronto each year.

“There’s been a lot of hard work and people dedicated to building this thing up. It’s pretty impressive for me to work with something with such a long legacy,” says Gordensky, who’s been aboard for a couple of years.

He says he’s excited to see Bear Hands, a Brooklyn band, and Etobicoke’s Cold Specks (aka Al Spx), who was recently on Jools Holland’s show in the UK.

As for the show at the CN Tower, Gordensky says the plans fell into place easily. “The CN Tower is excited to be on board, we’re excited to be doing it,” he says. “It’s the first time we’re putting bands up there. It’s the highest point in Toronto, the highest point in Canada, so we expect it’ll be a really great show.”

In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Canadian Music Week, here’s the list of’s Top 30 Must-See CMW Performances, broken down between Canadian and International acts. For a full schedule, visit the festival’s website.

Top 15 Canadian Acts at 2012 Canadian Music Fest

  1. Johnny Reid (Mod Club, March 21, 9 pm) — Juno Award-winning country star is on the rise in the States and will be a headliner at the centennial celebration of the Calgary Stampede in July.
  2. Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (Massey Hall, March 21, 8 pm) — Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing form this wickedly entertaining and accomplished group whose latest album, “Kings & Queens,” features outstanding female vocalists such as Roseanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and Patti Scialfa. Joining them for this performance will be Holly Cole and Serena Ryder, among others.
  3. Joel Plaskett Emergency (CN Tower, March 21, 4 pm) — The festival kicks off with these outstanding rockers from Nova Scotia. Plaskett and his gang have been bringing fans to their feet for more than a decade and this show on top of the tower figures to be high octane.
  4. Treble Charger (Phoenix, March 21, 11 pm and Indies, March 24, 7 pm) — “Red” remains one of the great songs to come out of Canada in the 1990s and these guys have been making fantastic music for years — not to mention helping to form Broken Social Scene.
  5. Cold Specks (Music Gallery, March 22, 8:30 pm) — She’s just 23, but Al Spx has already gained the sort of attention musicians work long careers to attain. Her recent spotlight in the UK portends big things for this soulful Etobicoke singer.
  6. Zeus (Horseshoe Tavern, March 23, 1 am) — Heavily influenced by the Beatles, these four Torontonians have a world of talent and a number of fine songs for you to enjoy.
  7. Jenn Grant (Mod Club, March 23, 9 pm) — She emerged as one of Canada’s bright, young female singer/songwriters a few years ago and continues to deliver clever, heartfelt lyrics and tunes that are simply lovely.
  8. Brett Caswell & the Marquee Rose (Horseshoe Tavern, March 22, 8:30 pm) —  Toronto area musicians who really give it their all each time out. “If You Need a Friend” is a terrific track that comes to life when heard live.
  9. Martha Wainwright (El Mocambo, March 22, midnight) — The sister of Rufus, the daughter of Loudon the III, Martha is set to make a name in her own right with a string of elegant songs.
  10. The Dears (El Mocambo, March 22, 1 am) — They’ve been around the Montreal music scene since before the words “Montreal music scene” were ever spoken. They’ll put on a killer show.
  11. Dustin Bentall Outfit (Supermarket, March 22, midnight) — Barney’s kid has cut his teeth for a few years now with gigs around Toronto and he has really come into his own over the past year. He’s got a bright future in this country — don’t miss your chance to see him in this tiny venue.
  12. Cadence Weapon (Great Hall, March 23, 10 pm) — Rapper from Edmonton is sure to get the shrewd festival-goers who come out to this neat little place off their feet.
  13. Amos the Transparent (The Garrison, March 21, 11:15 pm) — Lots of buzz in Ottawa around these young indie kids. They’ve got a following in the nation’s capital and are worth checking out here.
  14. Dragonette (The Hoxton, March 23, 9 pm) — This trio opened up for Duran Duran in the US and have raised eyebrows with their mix of electronic pop and sexual lyrics.
  15. Shad (The Garrison, March 21, 9 pm) — The Vancouver-based rapper will be hosting a showcase and playing DJ as he introduces a series of artists, including the soulful Slakadeliqs.

Top 15 International Acts at 2012 Canadian Music Fest

  1. Slash (Phoenix, March 23, 11 pm) — Guns n’ Roses guitar god is the fest’s headliner. Expect a blow-out performance.
  2. Joseph Arthur (Horseshoe Tavern, March 22, 9:30 pm) — This singer/songwriter from Brooklyn, New York offers up polished songs with sharp lyrics and a touch of class.
  3. Nneka (Mod Club, March 23, 8:30 pm) — A Nigerian-born German who sings soul and hip-hop songs in English is five years removed from her debut album and is hitting her prime. Hers is an eclectic sound made for this generation defined by diversity and global consciousness.
  4. Shanren (Lula Lounge, March 22, 9 pm) — Do you like your traditional Chinese music with some reggae and ska? That’s what you’ll get from this inventive outfit that’s going to be a hot ticket at CMW.
  5. Fred (Neutral Lounge, March 21, 8 pm and Rivoli, March 24, 11 pm) — A cheery soft rock band from Ireland, these guys mix in humour with their melodious songs. They’re playing in support of their solid new album “Leaving the Empire.”
  6. The Wedding Present (Horseshoe Tavern, March 25, 10:10 pm) — They have scored 18 top 40 singles in the UK since their debut in 1985. Worth a look for sure.
  7. Sizhukong Ensemble (Lula Lounge, March 21, 9 pm and Tranzac Lounge, March 24, 9 pm) — A jazz band from Taiwan? That’s right and they’ve earned quite a bit of critical acclaim for creating a new kind of Chinese music.
  8. Cat Empire (Phoenix, March 24, 10 pm) — Rockers from Melbourne, Australia have gained a well-deserved international following and their gig at the Phoenix is one of the most anticipated of the festival.
  9. Pond (Phoenix, March 25, 7:30 pm) — Also from Australia, but with a much different sound, Pond will remind you of early Red Hot Chili Peppers. They’re funky, grungy and a lot of fun.
  10. Nicholas Jaar (Revival, March 23, 8 pm) — Based in New York, but born in Chile, Jaar brings a unique electro-pop sound to CMW.
  11. Devin Therriault (Dakota Tavern, March 23, 11 pm and Silver Dollar, March 24, 10 pm) — New Yorker comes to the festival with a debut album and praise for his guitar-oriented songs.
  12. Traveller and Fortune (Rancho Relaxo, March 21, 11 pm, Library Bar, March 22, 11:30 pm and El Mocambo, March 25, 1:25 pm) — Folksy indie band from Adelaide, Australia make the most of their visit with three shows. You should aim to catch them at the intimate Library Bar in the Royal York Hotel.
  13. Sea + Air (Painted Lady, March 21, 10 pm and Free Times Café, March 24, 10 pm) — A duo from Stuttgart, Germany with a clean, crisp pop sound, Sea + Air showcase superb voices along with some U2-ish melodies.
  14. Johnny Dowd (Comfort Zone, March 23, midnight) — Psychedelic rocker who’s been around since the ’70s will no doubt have a few surprises for those who show up at this venue known for its after-hours scene.
  15. Bear Hands (Sneaky Dee’s, March 23, midnight) — Brooklynites have opened for MGMT and Vampire Weekend, which should tell you a little about their genre.

Dates: March 21-25, 2012
Schedule and Wristbands: To find out the schedule, read about all of the artists, and to purchase wristbands, or tickets to single shows, visit the CMW website. Wristband pickup is at the Royal York Hotel, the CMW host site.

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Vicky is the worldly publisher of Having graduated from McGill University in Montreal, she has set about building a talented team of travel experts to deliver to you words and images of the very best places to see and experience in Canada. Based in Yorkville in Toronto, Vicky regularly jet sets around Canada — be sure to catch up with her when she's in your part of the country.

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