One hundred kilometres from Toronto and closer still to Hamilton and Kitchener, Guelph is feeling familiar growing pains as it experiences an influx of residents fleeing larger urban centres in search of smaller city existences with cheaper rent, and the city is changing accordingly. Like any DIY community at the centre of a municipality in the throes of gentrification, Guelph’s occupies an uncomfortable, complicated space, but when we stop in for Kazoo! Fest—whose profile grows each year in tandem with the city’s—we find plenty of hope emanating from it.
Initiated 12 years ago by Guelph locals, this year’s edition hosts an ambitious five-day programme overseen from Kazoo! HQ, a white-walled, 6,000-square-foot warehouse space in a heritage building on Woolwich. Decked out with couches and a PA, the street-level space functions as a semi-accessible venue (the space only has one washroom that is not wheelchair accessible) as well as an organizer home base, its impromptu nature making it a natural meeting place for friends and the perfect setting for multimedia performances and supplementary programming as the festival expands to include video games, live podcast recordings, and a kid-friendly chiptune dance party (featuring a chip buffet!).
As much of the audience at Kazoo! is local, this atmosphere of warmth and congeniality extends to performances, which makes for attentive and enthusiastic receptions when programming spreads throughout downtown, understated offerings from the wandering songcraft of Alex Lukashevsky bringing a buzzing Red Brick Café to rapt attention while R&B enchantress Savannah Taylor casts a spell on a small group of thrifters in the front of Outpost Vintage. Meanwhile, legendary chameleonic club experimentalist Hieroglyphic Being ignites a darkened dancefloor at eBar, while larger accessible spaces like Mitchell Hall accommodate events like the annual Kazoo! Print Expo and Polaris shortlisters like Jennifer Castle and indigenous hip hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Queer Songbook Orchestra holding a service of its own at Royal City Church, reinterpreting the pop music canon through an LGBTQ2S chamber music lens, contextualizing performances through the experiences of local storytellers between songs.
Kazoo! doesn’t merely content itself with shepherding concertgoers from one venue to the next; as much as any informal underground community it calls its own, it adopts the important task of celebrating and meaningfully stimulating local businesses and the wider community. So as we make our way home in the syrupy afterglow of kulintang/R&B crossover ensemble Pantayo’s Sunday pancake breakfast showcase at community hub 10C Shared Space, we feel full and satisfied knowing we didn’t merely helicopter in for a series of concerts, but a collective local reckoning with growth and change.
The A.Side On Tour @ Kazoo! Fest short film was shot and edited by Eli Speigel and produced by Tom Beedham and Chayne Japal.