For the last 21 years, virtually all of Toronto’s NXNE Festival has been confined to areas of downtown. But for year 22, there’s going to be a change–one that I think (a) is long overdue: and (b) should work. Founder Michael Hollett (and the publisher of NOW magazine), talked to Ben Rayner of The Star while they were both at SXSW.
AUSTIN, TEX.—Michael Hollett, the founder of Toronto’s North by Northeast festival, has created quite a stir in recent days by announcing a major format change for one of Toronto’s flagship music events and publicly musing that its time-honoured, get-a-wristband-and-go-club-crawling model had run its course.
It seemed fitting, then, to corner Hollett for a chat this week in Austin at South by Southwest — the festival upon which NXNE was originally based 22 years ago and which still holds a large stake in its Toronto counterpart —to suss out exactly what’s going on in Toronto in 2016.
Yes, NXNE 2016 will indeed look very different from North by Northeasts past. There will still be some club shows in major venues about town during the festival’s June 15-19 run. There will still be some free events at Yonge-Dundas Square — where a plannedAction Bronson concert was relocated last year after an uproar over his lyrics.
But most of the action will be centred on the Friday and Saturday nights in a single, 40,000-capacity space in the Port Lands, the same location that Cirque du Soleil has called home in Toronto numerous times in recent years.
The wristbands are gone — for the time being, anyway — but Hollett promises NXNE will still “definitely be the most inexpensive festival of the summer” in a city that, he admits, has lately become somewhat cluttered with festivals. He just feels that Toronto has grown, and grown difficult enough to get around in, to the point that a citywide club crawl has become unwieldy.
For one thing, he says, it’s unfair to expect a band from, say, Saskatoon to drive all the way to Toronto only to get stuck playing to 13 people in “a Hungarian restaurant I’ve turned into a venue for the night” when everybody’s just parked themselves at the Horseshoe or Lee’s Palace for the evening.