Since 2006, Kazoo! has been importing the bands and artists you love and the bands and artists you didn't know you love into Guelph, whether as one-off shows (the tally of which is reaching the 200 mark) or within the cornucopia of Kazoo! Fest. From its humble begginings to it's current and growing status as force-to-be-reckoned-with, Kazoo! has always run on a tank of genuine, generous excitement for the acts it attracts, propelled by can-do organizers and volunteers.
Emboldened by a mutual interest in Guy Fieri, I bugged one such Kazoo!er, Mike Deane, for the inside scoop on this year's festival – you know, really tried to get an idea of the wax paper in the kazoo that makes the thing hum.
Who on earth are you and what on earth do you do with Kazoo!?
Mike Deane, I am the Secretary and Treasurer for Kazoo!, as well as one of the programmers for year-round events and the Kazoo! Festival. I do some of everything for Kazoo! from the overall organization and booking bands to stapling Kazoo! Fest pamphlets to driving around and picking up gear to doing sound to letting bands sleep on my couch. The only thing I don't really have my hand in is the visual arts programming, because I know very little about it.
How'd you get mixed up with these guys? Maybe you could mention the other kids rowing this boat – if you leave anyone out, don't worry: they probably don't deserve mention in that case.
I moved to Guelph from Edmonton with my partner Kathy about 2.5 years ago. I grew up in Caledon, and after spending more than a decade in Montreal and Edmonton, we decided it was time to move to Ontario, but didn't want to move to Toronto. Honestly, we didn't know much about Guelph's arts scene when we moved here. Kathy had a good gig with the Waterloo School Board and I worked from home, and it just seemed like a nice place to settle down. Our good friend Todd lived here, and I knew Bry Webb from Southern Ontario punk days in the early 2000s, but other than that we were starting anew. I first heard of Kazoo! when I saw flyers around town for the U.S. Girls/Slim Twig/Legato Vipers/The Furys show at the ANAF shortly after I got here. I went to that and was blown away by how good it was and how many people were out there supporting it. It was a really great thing to witness, as I'd been involved in music in Montreal and Edmonton, but didn't know anything about music in Guelph.
Shortly after that I met Brad through my friends Marie and Aaron from Weird Canada, who had recently moved to Waterloo and were in town discussing something or other. I figured Kazoo! was some sort of established money-making concert promoter and figured if I wanted to bring bands to town I should do it on my own. I slowly figured out that Kazoo! was actually an artist- and volunteer-run promoter that literally made no money (all goes to bands and expenses) when I volunteered to help out at Kazoo! Fest in 2013. At this time I got to know Brad and Eihab a bit better, and understood more about the festival and the organization's mandate. I booked a few shows on my own the summer following Kazoo! Fest 2013, and Brad, who had been running Kazoo with Eihab for years (with a strong volunteer base for the festival), decided it was time to bring in some new blood to grow the festival, and essentially make sure he didn't burn himself out by single-handedly trying to do everything.
I joined the Kazoo! crew with David Lander, who had just moved back to Guelph from St. John's, and Brian Schirk, we got a board together (with the amazing and generous Danica Evering, Steph Yates and Scott McGovern), and we did some regular programming and Kazoo! Fest 2014. The festival was amazing, and was bigger and more celebrated than any of us thought it would be, with Danica and Scott handling a lot of the multimedia and arts programming, while Steph took the reins of volunteer organization, Audrey King handled a lot of the hospitality, and Brad, Dave, Brian and I contributed to the nuts and bolts, like dealing with contracts, renting gear, running shows, marketing, etc, etc etc. We worked on some shows throughout the year, and then started putting together the 2015 festival in October of 2014. Brian moved to Toronto and kept us informed of what was going on there. With all of us having input on music and arts programming this year, we put together dream-lists, contacted bands, Danica headed up the art curation, Steph took on the volunteer coordination, and we met every week for 6 months to make it happen. I would also like to point out how hard everyone on the team works. Dave and Brad have a drive I could only hope for, and are tremendously skilled with organizing, arts administration, and working like crazy to make things happen. Danica and Steph spend countless hours organizing, contacting bands and artists, reaching out to volunteers, hanging shows, finding venues, and together everyone's individual skills and output make the festival work.
Kazoo!'s been a "thing," putting on shows since 2006, right? How the hell do you stay cool and edgy after almost a decade? Especially since what's cool has changed at least seven times since then.
I can only speak for having been part of it for a few years, and I think a big part of keeping the programming relevant is having so many people helping make the decisions for programming at this point, and Brad's tireless community-mindedness and arts obsession over the past 8 years. I do a radio show at CFRU, which forces me to keep on top of lots of new music, and everyone else is a genuine music and art fan, so it's essentially about trying to find amazing bands that you want to see play in Guelph. I think we all have different tastes when it comes to music, so with Brad, Dave, Danica, Steph, and Brian's input, we get a very well-rounded list of bands we want to play. We also try to ensure that there is a good mix of genres and backgrounds represented, with bigger touring bands being paired with new and emerging bands. We essentially just want people to love the bands we love, and the art that was love, and be exposed to the amazing talent that may not be something you'd normally happen upon.
Do you kids approach each new Fest with a game plan or thesis? Or do you just throw darts at Bandcamp?
I think for the festival, the only guiding thesis is: Bring great music and art to Guelph for five days. There are definitely other considerations, like making sure the line-up is diverse, with something that will appeal to everyone, but other than that it's about talking to people, finding out what people love, figuring out what we love, and then trying to plan how all this will make sense over 5 days. There's not a "theme" every year, it's really all about quality, challenging, and amazing art making its way to Guelph.
Do you have a sense of the reputation Kazoo!'s establishing outside the blast zone of Southern Ontario? Are kids buying plane or train tickets to hit this thing up? Do you expect a line of cars wending off into the distance like that final scene of Field of Dreams?
Though it would be wonderful to enter into a Field of Dreams scenario (or, heck, I'd even take a situation like the end of that modern classic Pay It Forward), I think Kazoo!'s momentum is still building to that point. People come from Toronto, London, Hamilton, KW to see Kazoo!, but I don't know if we're at the plane ticket level yet. We try to expand our reach every year, and try to make it bigger and better every year to make sure that it draws people to Guelph. Last year was especially great, as you could walk around downtown Guelph and see people from all over Southern Ontario, going to local businesses, jumping around between shows, staying with friends, getting Air BnBs, just to come for five days. We're hoping for the same thing this year.
While Guelph's nowhere near the no-dancing town from Footloose, there's inevitably some chafing between the community and kids with electric instruments. But in its 8th year (correct?), Kazoo!'s starting to feel like its being a bit more seriously accepted by the city – something that the city's full-on proud of, something people will cite when they explain to their friends why they haven't moved to Toronto. Are all y'all Kazoo!ers feeling a bit more accepted?
I don't know if there's ever been any chafing with the local community (again, only been to two Kazoo! Fests). I've always found people of all walks are very accepting and encouraging of Kazoo! People in Guelph love Guelph, and they are usually excited by something that shows off the city to people outside. Also, I think there are enough genres represented (punk, indie, folk, experimental, electro, free jazz, hip hop, whatever), and enough free shows, all ages shows, family friendly shows, and accessible shows that people in Guelph understand we want them to be a part of this too. We want everyone to come out to shows, galleries, dance performances, pancake breakfasts, and experience music and art that would not be in Guelph without Kazoo! I'm really happy that you say that the people of Guelph are "full-on proud" of Kazoo! because it's something that we are hoping will enrich people's lives and make the place they call home more interesting and exciting.
Any advice on how a body can be in more than one place at a time? I assume you guys wouldn't have overlapping shows unless you knew about some sort of duplication device. I mean, you're not jerks, are you?
The organization of running shows is insane, and thankfully we have a ton of amazing volunteers that help out with everything. From volunteers running shows, doing merch, selling drinks, loading gear, cleaning up, doing sound, and more, there is so much support that allows us to make it happen. This is not to say that the whole Kazoo! crew will not be tired wrecks by Sunday morning, but at least we'll make it to Sunday morning without totally burning out.
Let's say I'm one of those people who peruses a Kazoo! Fest poster while waiting to get my coffee and am all like, "I've never even heard of any of these bands." Any advice for me? And don't just tell me to chill out.
First off: Chill out. After you're thoroughly chilled, read through the whole pamphlet, there are descriptions of every band, hopefully informing you of what to expect. We definitely try to include genre signifiers so that people who have never heard of a single band will still be interested in digging deeper into the line-up. As well, our site Kazookazoo.ca has links to music for every band. I also want to put it out there that I stand behind every show we've put together this year. I would be happy to go to any one of these shows, and the fact that there are 20 different music and dance performances, art shows, the print fair, and multimedia events to go to, there will definitely be something you enjoy. So, read the descriptions, get on the net, and just take a chance on anything you think might be interesting. All of the shows are affordable, some of them are free, some of them are Pay what you can, and most of them are all ages.
Why no alt swing bands on the bill? I didn't take all those swing dance lessons back in '97 not to see and enjoy alt swing bands in Guelph.
I was in direct contact with Big Bad VooDoo Daddy, The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and even Royal Crown Revue this year, but none of them could fit the festival into their very busy tour schedules. Don't throw out the fedora and watch-chain just yet, though. Next year there may be some zoot suit worthy bands.
Find a physical copy of this year's festival around town or get acquainted with the online version. Between rock shows, dance shows, art shows, and print shows, you can't throw a rock without hitting something worth checking out this year. The Bookshelf is getting in on the action, hosting a trio of shows:
April 8 - Absolutely Free/Tyvek/Badminton Racquet - $10 door/all ages
April 9 - No Joy/Last Ex/Masques - $10 door/all ages
April 10 - Homeshake/Jon Mckiel/Bass Lions - $10 door/all ages