A Musical Treasure Hunt

John Southworth playing in St. Andrew's Church, Poor Pilgrim Island Show 2014.
John Southworth playing in St. Andrew's Church, Poor Pilgrim Island Show 2014.
I spent this past Sunday on a musical treasure hunt on Toronto Island. The Poor Pilgrim Island show has been running for seven years, and I’ve made it a summer tradition for the past three. After a brisk ferry ride, a crowd of a hundred or so people gather at a series of scenic locations - Snake Island, Ward’s Beach, St. Andrew’s Church - to experience a diverse set of bands. As I listened to Doomsquad build songs around windchimes, I found myself thinking about how live music has been the single most central and important part of my experience at U of T and in Toronto. Easy access to cultural events was a big part of why I chose to come here in the first place, and I’m glad that I’ve taken advantage of that! I’ve always been a dedicated music fan, though my first forays into concert-going were defined by nervousness. I was still carrying many misperceptions: that all ages shows didn’t exist, that you had to go with friends, and that students can’t afford to go to many shows regularly.
Prince Nifty circa 2013.
Yet a week after my 19th birthday I heard about a show that I didn’t want to miss. None of my friends were willing or able to come along, so I was faced with a choice to venture out solo or stay home and watch a movie. I mapped out my TTC routes and went anyway, bringing along a book to fill the time in between bands. Doing what is normally a social event by yourself can be nerve-wracking at first, but seeing new and familiar musicians create magic live made me feel so full that I just kept doing it. I started to write about the shows I was seeing for a local music blog and U of T’s music magazine. Mostly in an attempt to share how excited I was about the music I was seeing, but also to give me motivation to keep seeing as many shows as I could. At my high point in second and third year, I was averaging 2-3 shows a week and binge-covering major festivals.
OG Melody at Poor Pilgrim 2012.
OG Melody at Poor Pilgrim 2012.
The misperceptions I had at the beginning disappeared: all ages shows are everywhere (check out anything that takes place in a record store, or outside), no one notices if you’re on your own (it can actually be even better to not have to worry whether the friend you dragged along is enjoying the music), and ticket prices run more in the $5-10 range if you explore venues like Handlebar or The Silver Dollar rather than the ACC. And though I’ve slowed down a bit to focus on other writing (anyone want to hire a full-time concert reviewer? No?), the most important thing I found in Toronto’s music scene is community. It's been amazing meeting like-minded people to share amazing cultural experiences with. It’s so important to find your niche at a big school like U of T, and you’ll find it by exploring things that ignite a fire in you. Be brave! Explore! In case you need some places to find concert listings, try NOW Magazine, blogTO’s music section and Mechanical Forest Sound’s weekly concert listing roundups.

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