The city’s scene is far from perfect — this not-for-profit aims to change that
The city of Guelph likes to call itself a music city. It is home to festivals, weekend music series, and plenty of bands. Guelph’s Chamber of Commerce describes Guelph as a “leader in music tourism.” However, some local organizers argue that the city cannot measure its success by revenue alone.
Kazoo! is a not-for-profit organization that has been a part of the Guelph music scene since 2006. The organization began as a series of DIY basement punk shows, transitioning into multi-genre venue shows, and eventually, a five-day festival.
The organization strives to put on shows that feature independent artists and are physically accessible and affordable. Kazoo!’s programming committee is comprised of the organization’s director Brad McInerney, as well as Mike Deane, Andrea Patehviri, and David Lander. These individuals work to bring artists to Kazoo! and showcase talent across the city.
From previous years’ lineups as well as their running series, it is evident that Kazoo! promotes emerging artists that you wouldn’t see on other festival lineups. In an interview with The Ontarion, Deane said that when it comes to booking artists, “You can’t just try and follow trends. You have to book things that you think are good and bands that deserve to play in front of people. People usually recognize that.”
However, the city of Guelph doesn’t provide a platform to support artists, venues, or accessible shows.
“Accessible venues are so hard to come by, and the ones that are accessible tend to be more expensive,” said Patehviri. That makes it hard for independent promoters to book shows that are both accessible and affordable.
When booking talent, McInerney said, “We try to book accessible venues whenever possible, but it’s just not possible for us. We don’t have the spaces. I think it’s a joke when people want to talk about [Guelph being] a music city when there aren’t venues or practice spaces for young bands to play,” said McInerney. “You don’t have local bands staying here because they don’t have places to practice, and don’t have venues to play in. If you want to invest in a music culture, you have to invest in the nuts and bolts.”
Bry Webb, vocalist of Canadian band Constantines, is a Kazoo! veteran. “Kazoo! is one of the best [promoters] I’ve encountered in terms of community accountability,” said Webb. “They respond to concerns and to input from the community actively. They are the most ambitious in terms of really connecting community and all the disciplines of art in town.”
Webb also sees the need for better involvement from the city: “I would love to see the city figure ways to help its local artists more. Not just funding arts organizations, but figuring out grants and proper payments for arts initiatives.”
When booking talent, McInerney said that the programming committee “really make[s] an effort to represent a lot of different genres, and also just representing a lot of different cultural backgrounds.” Patehviri recalls a moment where the committee questioned themselves after booking a show comprised entirely of white, male musicians. “We’re always challenging ourselves to make sure that there are people of colour on the bill, or women,” she said.
The festival also aims to keep its event prices affordable to the fans and fair to the artist. “I don’t think any promoter should be doing a show for less than ten bucks,” said McInerney.
Kazoo!’s anti-oppression initiative is not something you see in most festival or show environments. With a mandate to make all shows affordable, accessible, all-ages, and fair to artists, Kazoo! is leading the Guelph music scene in an equitable direction.
Photo courtesy of Kazoo! Fest