Melanie Peterson’s “Christmas Breaks My Heart” a gentle, melodic nod to holiday heartache

Melanie Peterson, live at Free Times Cafe for last night’s “Christmas Breaks My Heart” launch.

 

It was standing room only at Free Times Café last night, as Melanie Peterson celebrated the launch of her new holiday single “Christmas Breaks My Heart”, featuring the talents of fellow Toronto-based singer/songwriter guests Matt Gerber and Angela Saini.

The evening opened with the whimsically playful sounds of Matt Gerber, whose delightful tunes borrow from folk, barber shop and pop—from songs for kids for all ages, to sweet and nostalgic romantic musings. Gerber had us singing along with his acoustic set, accompanying himself on guitar and ukulele, punctuated by kazoo and some impressive harmonica chops. Give Gerber a listen, and check out upcoming dates, on his website.

Shining with positivity and poignant at times, Angela Saini both moved and entertained with genuine, heartfelt, and sometimes cheeky, observations of life, love and self-image in a pop-inspired acoustic set. And I dare you to not smile, sing along and tap your feet to her upbeat, energetic sounds. Keep up with Saini’s music, merch and gig dates on her website.

Main attraction Melanie Peterson more than lived up to her “Mary Poppins with a broken heart” reputation, treating us to a selection of folk-infused songs from her earliest recordings to her new release in an acoustic guitar set accompanied by Peter Collins on bass. The lyrics and vocals are melancholy, but hopeful, resilient and determined through heartbreak; and full of gratitude and joy in love. Combining cheer with heartache—sometimes with hilarious results (the tequila song)—Peterson’s sounds get real with the warmth and gentleness of a good long-time friend; all delivered with her signature sweet, lilting vocals.

“Christmas Breaks My Heart” offers a rarely heard take on the holiday season—not always a joyful time for some—acknowledging the loss, grief and wistful nostalgia of missing that someone special by your side. Check out the lyric video; and wrap your ears around Peterson’s catalogue and videos.

Next up for Peterson: Live at Sauce on the Danforth on Sat, Dec 28 from 4:00-7:00 pm.

Here are some snaps I took at the show last night.

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Interview with writer/poet/cabaret mistress Lizzie Violet

img_1052Lizzie Violet is a Toronto-based writer, editor, poet, blogger, cabaret organizer/host and horror aficionado. She is a huge fan of zombies. She’s also an awesome person and a great friend.

Lizzie hosts Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN), which features music, poetry/spoken word, vaudeville and burlesque performers, as well as open mic artists, at The Central. She recently launched Lizzie Violet’s Poetry Open Mic at Amsterdam Bicycle Club, and has ongoing shared organizing and hosting duties for The Beautiful and the Damned poetry and music cabaret at The Central. All this in addition to performing at a variety of other poetry/arts events throughout the City – including WordSpell and Songwriters Circle of Jerks at Free Times Café – and writing (poetry/spoken word, fiction, blogging, music video story and playwriting). I interviewed Lizzie via email about her various projects – and got a peek at what the New Year will bring.

LWMC: So, wow, you’re a very busy gal and I was having a bit of a challenge coming up with what to ask – given your multidisciplined work – so let me first ask about LVCN. You launched it almost a year ago at the former Q Space before moving it to The Central in the fall, and it’s developed quite a following. Tell us a bit about the format and what made you want to launch a cabaret format show.

LV: I certainly do have my fingers in a lot of pies and even with everything I was involved in, I decided to scratch an itch I had for many years. I’ve been obsessed since I was a child, with Vaudeville its history and that entire era (Edwardian/Flappers/1920s). When others find it to be just entertainment, I see the complete beauty in this wonderful art form of performance.

Currently, I only have three features and a true Vaudeville show has anywhere from 12 or more acts per night. Keeping in mind they have an intermission. My dream is to do a full Vaudeville show with a Lizzie Violet twist. There is a lot of preparation that comes with this type of show and I am working to bring that dream to fruition.

LWMC: What’s in store for LVCN in 2014?

LV: In 2013, LVCN grew very quickly into a wonderful night of entertainment. 2014 is about making it bigger and taking it on the road. I absolutely adore our current home at The Central and plan to remain there, but I also want to start taking the event around to other venues in Toronto and eventually other cities in Southern Ontario.

LWMC: This past summer, you wrote the music video script for Toronto band I Hate Todd’s debut single “Zombie Love,” then worked crew for the video shoot. (And I had a blast working crew with you guys that weekend.) Tell us about that experience. What was it like combining your love of writing, zombies and music?

LV: It’s like sitting at a table with all my favourite people, eating all my favourite foods, watching all my favourite movies and laughing till your belly hurts. The whole process from beginning to end, though long hours, was a total blast and I can’t wait to do it again. On top of it all, I got to work with my favourite band and spend three very long and fun filled days with my favourite zombies and friends (both old and new).

LWMC: Your work was published in several poetry/art magazines/collections in 2013 alone, including Carousel, Big Art Book 2, NorthWord and Nest. What can you tell us about the importance of getting published on paper, as opposed to digitally online?

LV: Even in this day and age of digital, publishers and anyone giving out grants to the literary arts, want you published on good ole paper. Plus, there is something about being able to pick up a physical book or magazine and see your words in ink. It’s euphoric. Plus, it’s easier for my Mom to put on her fridge.

LWMC: 🙂 You’ve also been working on a TV pilot script and a stage play. What inspired you to write these? What have been the challenges and delights as you tell stories in these very different formats?

LV: Both the TV pilot and the play have been inspired by real life and the people in it. The most recent project is the play. A really dear friend of mine Nelson Sobral wrote a song called “Arsenic & Turmeric,” and something about this song grabbed at me and this story formed in my head. I wrote the first draft of the play in one evening. I haven’t been this excited about writing something in a long time. At this moment, I have finished the second draft and am hoping to do a reading in the spring.

The TV series is based loosely on the antics of my single life. My dating life has been like a bad sitcom, so I figured, why not turn it into a TV script. It will be true dark comedy. I have changed names to protect the not so innocent.

My current challenges right now are finding the time to sit and be able to write. The bug has bitten me in the ass again, I’ve been writing like I’m on a mission. This all started right before Yule.

LWMC: Writing is a very solitary pursuit, while performing as cabaret host and feature poet is very public. What’s it like being in front of a live audience with your work after spending so much time crafting it in solitude? Does the prospect of performance influence your writing – and, if so, how?

LV: When writing poetry and spoken word, I keep the page and performance pieces separate in my writing process. Though everything can be read to an audience, I have only been performing pieces that I specifically have written to perform. Oddly, those are the pieces that have been published in print.

LWMC: What else is coming up for you in 2014? (See January events here.)

LV: I have a few features coming up. The next one is January 22nd for the Queer Snow Ball, and a few more that will be happening over the next few months. Currently, I am putting a lot of my energy into the Cabaret and Poetry Open mic. I’m hoping to build on the Cabaret and at some point in the near future have a full Vaudeville show.

Other than performing, finish the play and a full season of the TV series and get them produced.

LWMC: Anything else you’d like to share?

LV: Well, firstly, a great big thank you for interviewing me. You truly are an inspiration to me. I’m looking forward to 2014. There is a lot of amazing stuff happening and I can’t wait to find out what else is waiting around the corner for me.

LWMC: Thanks, Lizzie!

The January edition of Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir is tomorrow night (Sun, Jan 12) at The Central with featured artists Brock Hessel, David Bateman, and Cap & Kev (who are both also in the band I Hate Todd) 7 p.m. open mic sign-up. PWYC – $5 suggested.

Upcoming music, theatre & spoken word awesomeness

It was some big fun, not to mention a great pleasure, as I worked the door at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN) last night, with feature artists Andrea Thompson, Frenchie Fatale and Hugh Wilson. It was LVCN’s first night at its new home at The Central – and the place was packed, with an incredibly engaged audience.

There’s still all kinds of awesome goodness coming up in T.O. this month, my friends. Here is just a small sample of what’s happening on the small stage and indie scene:

David Hustler & the Trustworthy EP release – Wed, Sept 11 @ Horseshoe Tavern @ 8:30 p.m. – $5 cover

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – Thurs, Sept 12 @ 8:30 p.m. @ Free Times Café, featuring Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona from Big Name Actors (among others), Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot and I Hate Todd, and David Hustler of David Hustler & The Trustworthy, with guest Meghan Morrison – PWYC

Eclectic – September Group Exhibit – opening Thurs, Sept 12 from 6-8 p.m. and running till Sept 29 @ Fran Hill Gallery

Jeff Cottrill’s tour fundraiser show Keep Calm & Get Rid of Jeff – Sun, Sept 15 @ 7:00 p.m. @ Black Swan, with a whole line-up of music & spoken word guests – $10 cover

Studio BLR punk rock production of A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show – Sept 19 – Oct 5 @ 8:00 p.m. – show starts in Dragon Alley at the northwest corner of College/Dufferin

Alumnae Theatre production of The Underpants – Sept 20 – Oct 5 on the Alumnae Theatre main stage

Anglewalk Theatre production of tick, tick… BOOM! – Sept 21 – Oct 6 @ Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio

The Beautiful & the Damned – Thurs, Sept 26 @ 7:00 p.m. @ The Central, hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Heather Babcock, Brock Hessel & Nelson Sobral

Matt Gerber CD release – Sat, Sept 28 @ Tranzac, doors @ 7:00 p.m. – $15 cover

Look out for Big Name Actors and I Hate Todd as the play various dates and venues around the city.

Women’s words inspire @ WordSpell

I was back at Free Times Café last night for WordSpell – a bi-monthly women’s poetry/spoken word event, featuring an established poet, an emerging poet and open mic performances.

Features Vanessa McGowan and Jill Battson wove magic with their words for a packed room – and the positive, engaged energy was palpable throughout the evening.

I’d heard Vanessa McGowan perform her work before – and I’m always amazed at the powerful combination of sharp frankness, vulnerability and heart – and sly humour – that she brings to her pieces. Speaking of the marginalized in society – the homeless, the disabled, LGBTQ – McGowan’s words weave the personal into the political, the individual into the universal. I can’t recall the title of the piece, but it starts with a verse and chorus from “Angel from Montgomery” – the line “And remember that our deepest human desire is to matter” resonates in a big way. Her published works appear in a recently reprint run of Divine Cock-eyed Genius. Check out this vid of “On Other Chunks”, performed in front of the Toronto AIDS memorial in Cawthra Park.

Jill Battson wordsmiths with visceral, evocative language – observational and sometimes irreverently funny – from treasures stolen from a storage locker to being unwittingly hooked on Martha Stewart Living to the subtly erotic, a pleasure to hear and see perform.

I wasn’t able to stay for the open mic performances, but I will definitely be back. The sense of community and support among the audience and artists makes for a lovely, casual and comfortable space – and I especially love how we all shared in a reading of Margaret Atwood’s “Spelling” at the beginning of the evening, the inspiration for WordSpell’s name.

Look out for next WordSpell event in November.

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Vanessa McGowan
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Jill Battson

Upcoming theatre, music, poetry & cabaret happenings this week

Hey kids! For all y’all who are coming back to your regularly scheduled programming after the long weekend: hope you had a good one. Can you believe we’re well into the first week of August already? Holy moly!

Lots coming up, my friends. Here is just a sample of what local artists and performers are up to here in Toronto this week:

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Parade runs Aug 8 – 18 at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

SummerWorks gets up and running Aug 8 – 18 at various venues. I’ve got my eye on: Delicacy, Eating Pomegranates Naked and Utopia.

The August edition of The Beautiful and the Damned on Thurs, Aug 8 at Q Space from 7 – 9:30 p.m., hosted by Lizzie Violet, and featuring Brenda Clews, Adam Abbas and Andrea Matchett, and a whole lotta talented open mic performers. Dead celeb of the month is Janis Joplin. This will be TB&TD’s last show at Q Space – new location TBD.

Songwriters Circle of Jerks is also up on Thurs, Aug 8 at Free Times Café at 8:30 p.m., featuring guest performer blueVenus.

More music at Free Times Café on Sat, Aug 10 at 8:30 p.m. with Craig Robertson, Heather Hill and Tania Joy.

The monthly cabaret/open mic extravaganza Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir says goodbye to Q Space on Sun, Aug 11 7 – 10 p.m., with feature performers sol knots, Andraya and Tania Joy, as well as some amazing open mic talent. Cabaret Noir heads to a new venue in September – new location TBA during Sunday night’s show.

Big Name Actors rock OHC benefit in advance of “Part Time Friends” EP launch

Got out to Lee’s Palace last night for an Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) benefit, featuring bands Newark Minute, Big Name Actors , I Hate Todd  and Trevor James & The Perfect Gentlemen. Big Name Actors is releasing their Part Time Friends EP tomorrow (Saturday, June 8) and I’m not able to be there, so I was glad to get out to see the full band live.

Big Name Actors (BNA) are Hugh Wilson (guitar, keys, vocals), Nick Verona (drums, vocals) and Scott Sokoloski (bass). I met Wilson and Verona at the monthly Songwiters Circle of Jerks at Free Times Café and had heard them do some acoustic versions of BNA songs, but it was extra awesome to see the full band plugged in at such an iconic venue.

In the weeks leading up to last night’s gig, I gave BNA’s Part Time Friends EP a listen online. Featuring five pop rock, guitar-driven, all original tracks (written by Wilson), the EP opens with “End of My Rope,” a catchy, knee-boppin’, self-deprecating pseudo-title track featuring the lyric “part time friend.” “Built A Bridge” is edgy but optimistic, shifting into “Sour Grapes,” an even edgier anthem of angst and heartbreak, featuring a pounding guitar/drum conversation near the end of the track. “Dearly Devoted” is a truly lyrical song, opening with the lines: “Soaked to my soul in the rain / Would it cost you a lot to ask me to stay?” The EP winds down by way of winding up with “Dancin’ After Midnight,” a tale of a reluctant clubber seduced onto the dance floor. And all delivered with a mix of kicky pop/wired rock supported by driving beats, strong vocals and excellent musicianship – not to mention a way with words. Jeff D. Elliott supplied additional synth and keys on Part Time Friends – as well as the very cool, trippy cover art – and Kevin “Toad” supplied additional keys for the record. Elliott also mixed and mastered the EP.

Big Name Actors’ drummer Nick Verona performed double duty last night, also appearing as frontman/guitarist with his band Newark Minute in a reunion of sorts – and they rocked the house. I’d heard a lot of good things about I Hate Todd and I wasn’t disappointed. Their sound is a powerful blend of pop, rock and a bit of goth (“Zombie Love” was one of my faves – and the band dedicated it to my good pal, zombie afficionado, Lizzie Violet) – and features relative newcomer Nelson Sobral (Melting Pot) scorching the stage on guitar. It was getting late, so I wasn’t able to stick around to hear Trevor James & The Perfect Gentlemen in the final set of the night.

Thanks to Mario and the entire OHC gang for a big fun event – full of music, friends and support. I’m very proud to say that I was one of the lucky raffle winners last night, scoring a pair of Jays tickets. Woot!

Big Name Actors launches their new EP Part Time Friends at The Central (603 Markham St., Toronto) on Saturday, June 8 at 9:30 p.m. The evening’s line-up also includes I Hate Todd and The Muckabouts. In the meantime, you can listen to and download the Part Time Friends EP on Big Name Actors’ Bandcamp page.

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Newark Minute
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Nick Verona performs with his band Newark Minute.
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Big Name Actors
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The boyishly handsome Hugh Wilson of Big Name Actors. Seriously – buddy got carded on his way into the gig last night.
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Scott Sokoloski kickin it with Big Name Actors.
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Nick Verona on drums with Big Name Actors. Wilson calls this dude his Swiss Army knife of the band.
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Mario from OHC rockin out to Big Name Actors.
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I Hate Todd (there really is a Todd too – the band’s singer)
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Nelson Sobral’s doppelgänger (from Newark Minute). Should’a known – this dude plays right-handed.
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The real Nelson Sobral, onstage with I Hate Todd. Frankly, I’m surprised that the presence of these two handsome dudes in the same place at the same time didn’t cause a paradox.

So much fun coming up!

Thought I’d take a moment to post about some ongoing/upcoming arts events.

Alumnae Theatre Company’s New Ideas Festival (NIF) continues this week with the Week Two program and reading (March 13-17), with Week Three program/reading running the week after (March 20-24).

Quick note on Saturday’s Week One reading of Falling: We had a packed house, with an audience who responded very positively and had some great feedback for playwright Jamie Johnson. Shouts to Jamie, co-artistic directors Pat McCarthy and Carolyn Zapf, director Ed Rosing, AD/SM Jake Simpkins, dramaturge Diane Forrest, sound designer Rick Jones, and fellow cast members Carys Lewis, Cora Matheson, Ruth Miller and Kristen Scott! And a big thanks to all the folks who came out to support the play, including friends and family – some of whom trekked in from Ottawa, Burlington and Hamilton. xo

The next edition of The Beautiful and the Damned is Thursday, March 14 – 7 p.m. at Glad Day Bookshop. Host DM Moore introduces feature performers Greg “Ritallin” Frankson, Gerald Hannon and Andraya Smith, and some amazing open mic folks.

The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks is coming up on Thursday, March 14 – 8:30 p.m. at Free Times Café, featuring Brian Cober, Hugh Wilson, Marcus Walker, Nelson Sobral and Nick Verona.

Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival opens Friday, March 15 and runs until March 24 at Berkeley Street Theatre – check out the cool promo vid for the fest.  Features a new play by one of my favourite playwrights: Judith Thompson’s Who Killed Snow White? Also check out Nightwood’s annual International Women’s Day Celebration FemCab on Wednesday, March 20.

Speaking of my favourite playwrights, check out ongoing productions of works by Hannah Moscovitch (Double Bill) at Tarragon Theatre (till March 24) and Theatre Brouhaha’s production of Kat Sandler’s Rock at Storefront Theatre (till March 23).

And while you’re at it, check out the March programming and workshops at Red Sandcastle Theatre.

Canadian Music Week (CMW) is coming up hard and fast (March 19-24) – so check that out. Just a selection of some artists I know who will be performing: Angela Saini, blueVenus, Meghan Morrison, Jessica Speziale, Tin Star Orphans

But wait – there’s more! Bella’s Burlesque Birthday Bash: DIRTY THIRTY DANCE PARTY is coming up on Thursday, March 28 at Lee’s Palace – 8:30 p.m. Bella Fox hosts a night of burlesque, music (including High Heels Lo Fi), dancing – it’s going to be a blast. Next day is Good Friday, so lots of you will be able to sleep that one off.

All the more reason for me to get over this stupid head cold, which I’ve had since last Thursday.