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Day One: Of sinkoles and idols 

Because it’s Halifax and because half of the city is headed there, Sean MacGillivray and Glen Nicholson, two of Jenn Grant’s band The Night Painters, are on my flight.

Left to Right: Glen and Sean.

Sean has brought two bass guitars with him, except one is an electric upright without a proper flying case, and he’s built his own out of a cylinder tube and wood slats and duct tape. When we haul it all on the bus, the driver asks me “What’s that?” (it totes looks like a bomb) and I say “A guitar” and he says ok, and then says to Sean, “There’s no propane in it, is there?”

“The glamourous life,” Glen, whose main gig is In-Flight Safety, notes as we all slump on the subway.

The nerve centre of Canadian Music Week -- officially, awkwardly known as ROGERS MUSICSTORE CANADIAN MUSIC WEEK – is the Royal York Hotel, which is where the guests of shows like Canada AM were always put up if memory serves. It is opulent and very, very nice and right now it is full of tight pants, tattoos and the stench of desperation.

I enter through a side door and walk down a short hall. As I ascend the spiral staircase to the lobby, there’s a hyped-up crowd-bubbling sound getting louder and louder. When I get to the top I see that there are hundreds of musicians in the area. They’re leaning on railings, drinking in the adjacent restaurant, lined around the upper levels looking over the main floor. They’re wearing sunglasses inside. You could kill a child with a round of Punch Chucky (same as Punch Buggy but with Chuck Taylors...my sister and I started doing it at a City and Colour show).

Anyway it’s a frickin zoo. Having been to festivals with hotel headquarters before, even though there is no signage I let my instincts guide me up the escalator past thousands of handbills, posters taped to every available surface, racks of Eye Weekly, the major media sponsor, and advertisements for all the main events.

A very nice volunteer cannot help me so I find the media room myself.

“I guess the better question would be what doesn’t this cover?” I ask the girl who signs me in. She slides over a piece of paper. Never a great sign when they have a pre-printed list of what you can’t get into.

As I feared/suspected, all Alanis Morissette-related events are not open to me. (A Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame inductee this year, she is doing a keynote interview and a performance at the Masonic Temple.) Apparently you can make requests and I try to do that but the girl tells me to come back tomorrow.

After a trip to Mr. Souvlaki and two Law and Order reruns I head to the Horseshoe. There’s been much fear-mongering about lines, that you have to go early, that ticket holders best badge holders like myself. So I leave the house at 8 o’clock, an insane time for a show unless it’s in a theatre. (The Horseshoe: not so much a theatre.)

On my way up, past the hole caused by last week’s fire on Queen Street, I pass Steph D’Entremont and Matt MacDonald aka The Superfantastics, who have a 1am slot later. A few blocks later I run into Will Robinson of i see rowboats, outside their venue, Cameron House. Tonight Queen Street’s like Agricola!

It stormed here on Wednesday, and I’ve done well navigating the streets, which are mostly well-plowed with mini-ponds here and there. I’ve also eschewed boots, which bites me in the ass when I step into a tiny, foot-sized sinkhole not two minutes before I walk into the Horseshoe.

Ew, dirty lime. (Atmosphere provided by the Legendary HorsehoeTM ladies’ room.)

PS There is no line at all.

Inside Immaculate Machine, who I’ve never seen live somehow, throw down a really fun indie-pop set. Because they started late they get yanked before their set is over. They are clearly hurt but that’s the way this fest has to work – 500 artists, 40+ venues, only so many 40-minute sets in the day.

Dog Day follows, and the crowd is totally into them. Seth Smith seems a touch freaked out by the line of giant camera lenses staring up at him, but he gets over it.

Past Carmen Townsend, a few steps out the door – watch the sinkhole! – and I’m at the Rivoli for Jenn Grant. Julie Doiron is just finishing up, except she’s on drums and the former Jaybird of Shotgun and Jaybird is playing guitar and singing. (I know they call themselves something but I can’t remember.)

Jenn starts about 15 minutes late and because of the Horseshoe I worry about her, especially since she can be a stage banterer. (It’s endearing and engaging, but still, a time suck.) I stand in the front with Jessie Tesolin of hey rosetta, whose bandmate Kinley Dowling is also a Night Painter. The bar is close to capacity as far as I can tell, and they are loving her (perhaps it’s the glowsticks and noisemakers flung into the crowd by its host?). The band burns through a set list of old (“Rainy Day,” “Dreamer,” a fierce “White Horses”) and new (“Fireflies,” “Heart of Sticks”), finishing late but avoiding the gong.

After the set Jill Barber appears – she’s just begun the Sibling Revelry tour with her brother Matthew which itself will be interrupted by a trip to South by Southwest next weekend – to say hi. I am late for i see rowboats’ show so I dash out, saying hi to Jill’s manager Evan Newman and Music Nova Scotia’s Gord Lapp.

This is as close as I ever get to seeing the rowboats:

I get in after they finish, and find out Colin Munroe, who I’ve never seen but wanted to, cancelled and was replaced by Low Level Flight, headed by...Ryan Malcolm, the original Canadian Idol. He’s ditched the nerd attire (“He looks like an addict of some kind,” says my friend Mike) and has decided he wants to be Raine Maida.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

“People are going to leave, aren’t they?” says a fretting Superfantastic Stephanie D’Entremont, who is sitting next to me sipping a complementary Jimi Hendrix energy drink.

It doesn’t look great at the moment – folks are streaming out; I feel bad for Ryan, for so many reasons – but enough people show up just before 1am to make it work. Julie Doiron and Jaybird grab the table a couple down from us, Rich Aucoin takes Steph’s seat next to me, and the Supers charm the room.

Outside the sidewalks have become slick with a thin layer of ice. Tomorrow will be boot weather.

Seriously.

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