Column by Lynn Burshtein
TORONTO, ONTARIO — During his 1886 election campaign, Toronto’s 25th mayor, William Holmes Howland, coined a slogan for the city that would linger. Influenced by the city’s image at the time as a guardian of Victorian-era values, “Toronto the Good” is how Howland referred to the capital of Ontario. Though Toronto has undoubtedly evolved into a vibrant, multicultural metropolis since then, there are those who believe that traces of Toronto’s original image still persist. Despite the notoriety gained by its current mayor, Toronto still holds an international reputation for politeness and a relatively early nightlife.
Contrasted against this image is Austin, Texas. The vibrant and eclectic capital of an otherwise conservative state, Austin is a cultural oasis in a desert painted Republican Red. Dubbed the Live Music Capital of the World, the downtown core is a hot spot for concert venues and bars that remain open well past last call in Toronto. Austin is not just known as a destination for music lovers, however. It is also the birthplace of the Whole Foods grocery chain and a number of politically progressive movements. The city’s official slogan is, unabashedly, “Keep Austin Weird.”
Weird in a good way. With its myriad music venues and festivals (including South By Southwest Music and Film Festival and Austin City Limits) and bars located on 6th Street, live entertainment options abound.
While Austin and Toronto are 2,600 kilometres (1,615 miles) apart, they enjoy a bond of sorts. Toronto’s North By Northeast Music and Film Festival (NXNE) is the Canadian counterpart to SXSW. And the connection between the two cities is about to be made stronger. Last summer, the cities’ respective city councils passed a motion to establish a formal cultural alliance. Toronto’s recently launched 4479 campaign aims to promote its arts and music scene internationally and part of the campaign includes a recognized “twinship” between Austin and Toronto. One of the goals from 4479’s perspective is to eventually establish Toronto as a live music tourist attraction on par with Austin.
For years, free spirits have made the pilgrimage down south to soak up the Austin experience. Canadian musicians often sing the praises of Austin and some have even relocated there.
Toronto wants the same results for its hot music scene. The city has started to live down its puritan image and has taken significant steps to distance itself from its “goody-goody” reputation. A sophisticated cultural destination, Toronto has capitalized on its status as one of the world’s most multicultural cities. It continues to promote its ethnic and cultural diversity with numerous festivals, including a well-attended Caribbean festival, the popular Salsa-on-St. Clair and the Greek Taste of the Danforth, to name just a few. The World Pride Festival will be held in Toronto this summer, as well, marking the first time that gathering will take place in North America.
There is also, of course, the Toronto International Film Festival, which has grown significantly in the past decade. Now widely considered one of the world’s most popular film festivals (some say it ranks only behind Cannes), TIFF has firmly established the city as a film-lover’s destination. In terms of live music, the venues scattered about Queen Street West and elsewhere have nurtured internationally renowned artists, from Neil Young to Barenaked Ladies to Feist. The Rolling Stones have traditionally set up rehearsal camp in Toronto in preparation for their world tours. Canadian Music Week annually celebrates indie musicians from around the world.
Like Toronto, Austin has hip shops and outstanding casual fine-dining choices. The Texas city’s SoCo district (located on South Congress Avenue) is an artsy neighbourhood where you can find vintage clothing and costume shops, authentic cowboy boots, art galleries as well as a few charming boutique hotels. In terms of local dining options, Austin’s BBQ joints are legendary. And then there is the seemingly endless procession of food trucks, a tourist attraction in and of itself. Food carts here will serve up anything from Fried Green Tomato BLTs to Panang Curry crepes.
While the framework and exact terms of the Austin-Toronto alliance remain to be established, the Alliance Agreement states that the “two cities will work collaboratively to develop and expand all elements of the music industry, including but not limited to, artists, venues, festivals, studios, management and promotion.”
Certainly both cities’ music scenes stand to gain from this collaboration and joint initiatives. And perhaps other traits of these two cities will rub off on one another as well. Maybe Toronto will learn a thing or two from Austin about growing its food truck scene, and perhaps Austin can benefit from greater exposure to Toronto’s climate of cultural and social diversity. What we know for sure is many positive things await as these two great cities work together in harmony.