2016: A Year in Review

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

2016, the year of some of my highest highs (Coysta) and lowest lows (November 8). I sure am glad this year is over. Let’s put this thing to bed.

Good Vibes Only

Yukon Blonde

Yukon Blonde

Wintersleep

Wintersleep

Drake

Drake

Whitebrow

Whitebrow

Ellie Goulding  Tragically Hip (no pics but they did happen)

WayHome Flags

WayHome!

WayHome 2016

Reading Rainbow

I got through 15 this year. Take that, Goodreads. In order from most to least favourite:

  1. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari
  2. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  3. My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem
  4. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder
  5. Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
  6. Belgravia, Julian Fellowes
  7. The Nightengale, Kristin Hannah
  8. The Witches, Stacy Schiff

Honourable Mentions: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Tiny Beautiful Things, A Stolen Life, Bossy Pants, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, All My Puny Sorrows, Is it Evil Not to be Sure?

Heaps of memoirs and non-fiction with a few novels here and there to keep things light. Reading with the kindle makes things so much easier because I can hold it in one hand on the subway and a pole in the other so I don’t fall over. Not as easy to do with a book. The future is now, friends. I also discovered the timer at the bottom so I can see how many hours and minutes are left in each chapter/the whole book and that motivates me to finish things faster.

I Like Sports and I Don’t Care Who Knows

Jays, Raps, Argos, Team North America etc. etc.

Team North America

Is there anything better than October baseball?

Jays 2016

One Tough Mudder,

Tough Mudder

One O-Course,

Fit Factory O Course

One Ping Pong Tournament, Two Half-Marathons, Two Obstacle Courses,

The Young and the Restless

Four MEC races (the greatest deal of all time).

MEC Toronto

The fitfam is alive and well.

Tough Mudder

Costa Rica – The Best Week of my Life!

I graduated from university in 2010 and college in 2012. Then I sat down at a desk and didn’t move for four years. I was long overdue for a vacation and I finally got everything that I wanted and more. My sister Kay and I picked Costa Rica (which we have been affectionately calling Coysta since Kay spent a month there in high school) because it seemed like the perfect blend of the beach front/all-inclusive scene together with the hostel-dwelling/backpacker travelling experience.

Tamarindo Costa Rica

We escaped to Tamarindo for a whole lotta sun, sand, surf, and cervezas.

Maggie de Barra

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, we did spend the entire week reenacting Blue Crush at every possible moment. I left my heart in Tamarindo and I will need to go back sometime very soon to collect it. Everybody moves a little slower and everyone is happy and free! Nobody rushes, stray dogs are friendly, life is beautiful.

Tamarindo

Pura ♥ Vida

Philanthropy 

My proudest accomplishment this year is all of the wonderful charity activities we organized through work. We raised money for breast cancer, a Thanksgiving food drive, and we collected presents and gift cards for our adopted Syrian refugee family through the Holiday Angel Program at New Circles. I also managed to gather a table for the Hearts for Syria fundraising gala. And, we already have so many plans for next year – Bell Let’s Talk, Prom Dress Drive, Spring Cleaning Clothing Donations… It was a wonderful year and I was so touched by the incredible generosity of my coworkers.

Hearts for Syria

Election 2016

File under ‘worst experiences of my life’. If you were looking for a wake up call, this was it. I was living happily in a bubble, surrounded by people who act and think like me and it was a very rude awakening. The only thing to do now is move forward and keep fighting for the causes I love and support. We can’t fix everything. We can’t help everyone. We can pick one issue and throw ourselves into it. Scream from the tallest buildings. Write letters and emails. Show up. If you are an ally, make it known. Vote. Participate. Be an active citizen and protect the Canada we know and love. We can’t let this happen again and we cannot let it happen here.

Anything and Everything

December is always exhausting and I’m really looking forward to recalibrating and resting in January for a hot minute. 2016 was the best and the worst for so many reasons! The days are long but the years are short, so they say.

Blue

Did I accomplish any of my new year’s resos from last year? Nope. My only resolutions for this year: read more books and be a good person. Go on one trip – I’m thinking Bali or Bust

Blue Mountain

The Theme for 2017 is Bacchanal

*goes to Central America once*

*loves Soca music*

Let me preface this next bit by saying I have a minor in Greek and Roman studies so I know what I’m talking about.

The MVP for our Costa Rica trip was DJ Private Ryan, the DJ who creates the best gym podcasts. He creates mixes with top 40, Soca, hip hop, reggae and more and they are almost all over an hour long so they really go the distance (etc. etc.) during training. They are also great “getting ready” playlists and we always have one playing when we need something to pick us up a little bit. There are a bunch of songs on these playlists that I had never heard before, some are not popular on the Toronto stations and I had never heard them out and about in the city. I never paid any attention to these songs while we were listening to the podcasts before but I was absorbing them the whole time without realizing.

Cut to a scene on the beach in Coysta where Shakira and Enrique Iglesias are still hitmakers and they only play dance music – everywhere! Kay and I unexpectedly recognized all or most of the songs from DJ Private Ryan’s podcasts and it was such a sweet throwback to Goodlife exercise room sessions and bedroom dance parties.

There is a recurring theme in Soca music that reveres the idea of Bacchanal. I appreciate the way Soca artists use this word which refers to the celebrations of the followers of the ancient Roman god of wine, Bacchus. These festivals were called Bacchanalia and they were supposedly very scandalous and for heathens only – just like Tamarindo!

The modern interpretation of Bacchanal as it is used in Soca music is a little different. The ScotiaBank Toronto Carnival Lexicon describes Bacchanal as: uninhibited fun, laughter, and revelry. That sounds absolutely perfect to me and that is all I want for the next year.

#Bacchanal2017 – be there or be square!

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Yer Favourites: Reflections on The Tragically Hip

Trying to sort through a fraction of what I’m feeling before I start to cry again.

There is a consensus among us all. A communal sorrow of Canadians coast to coast. I have been taking comfort in reading the words of others and reliving our shared memories. Their experiences are so similar to mine, we could have all been there together, and my heart aches, and it’s not fair. Terminal. That means the end. That means there will be no more.

Each profile I read, every time a band covers a song, when I stop and think too long, I get choked up. Last night at WayHome, the Arkells played Music at Work and I lost it. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. I don’t know how to describe this collective grief.

These songs, the soundtrack of my life, each one a different chapter in my history. Some transport you back like a time machine, some you just can’t bear to listen to again. The words are weighty and each line is loaded and they mean something to me. A deep something, something different each time I hear it. It means something to you as well. Some of the most significant moments of my life feature The Tragically Hip. My happiest memories. I just sit and think and reflect and then I feel sad again. I’m mourning something that hasn’t happened yet, something that will never happen again.

– – –

We’re sitting around that glass-top patio table in the backyard, hashing it out for hours and someone keeps grabbing refills. You think you know this song. As you tip your head back, you think you see a shooting star, but it was gone too fast to catch it.

A bonfire on a summer night and you can’t tell which is warmer, your toes as they move closer to the flame or the dying day pressing in around you from all sides. Your whole body smells like fire and will take days to wash out. The smoke burns your eyes but you don’t move away, because you know in a few seconds, the wind will change directions and you’ll be okay. Someone pulls out a guitar, there’s always a guitar nearby, and they play you a little something they’ve been practicing. And everyone sings along, some loud and some soft, but all together at once and it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard.

The screen door snaps shut behind you as you head to the water and the music fades away as you get closer. It disappears as you jump in.

The gravel, kicking up and hitting the sides of the car, keeps time as you head out, or home, and there is comfortable silence between you as you all look out your own window. Everyone is too tired and sore to speak, but the radio plays on.

Trying to fall asleep on someone else’s dorm room floor but every time you doze off, those punching chords rouse you. The playlist is looping and after seven times, you know all the words. That night in Toronto, it could be every night.

A warm coffee in your hands as you bob your head along, steeling yourself before another long day of hard work.

Slow dancing in front of a cast iron stove as the music trickles in from the floor above. It’s snowing outside and you can’t see the lake anymore at this time of night. As you whisper the words in your heart, you know Gord was right, that it was worth the wait.

It’s Canada Day, in an open field, surrounded by friends who used to be strangers. Everyone screaming that we also come from downtown and we were born ready for you. For what? For whom? For life? Love? A challenge? A triumph? Armed with will and determination and grace, too, above all to see us though.

The sadness of watching your Jays hat fly off your head when the wind tipped it as you race across the lake. Mourning your own 50 mission cap that had been your most loyal travel companion.

A car passing by with the windows down and you wish they had a red light so you could listen a little longer.

Fireworks. Always fireworks in our hearts. Sparklers too, if you’re lucky.

A laugh so loud you think your brain or chest or both will explode and you wonder if anyone else has ever heard anything nearly as funny as this in the history of the world. You’re lucky to have such funny friends. You want to bottle this moment forever. Someone should write this down before we forget.

We need to talk about Yukon Blonde.

Canadian rocknroll is alive and well.

You know that feeling when you see a band you love, and they play the perfect mix of old and new, and you know all the words, and everyone around you is having just as much fun as you are, and everything just works? I’ve been to a lot of concerts, and it doesn’t always happen. Last night it happened.

Yukon Blonde

Yukon Blonde played two sold-out shows at Lee’s Palace this week. Last night, my friend Al and I managed to find two solo tickets from Kijiji (the battlefield) to what seemed like the most coveted show in Toronto in a while. For the longest time, it felt like I was the only person who knew or liked this band and then out of nowhere they’re playing two sold-out shows in Toronto? And I didn’t get a ticket? How did this happen?

I’ve had a long love affair with Yukon Blonde. Many many years ago, around 2011 to be exact, I lined up for ages at the Horseshoe for a NXNE show. There was a special guest going on at midnight or so, and I was so young and eager I lined up and waited even though I didn’t know who would be playing. The line moved slow, and after an hour, I was finally first… but by that time, I was tired and cold and I just wanted to go home. I decided to bail. The guy behind me was in disbelief: “Are you serious? You have to stay! The special guest is Yukon Blonde!” I didn’t know them. I had never heard of them! So… I peaced.

Flash forward one year. The Lumineers (of Ho, Hey! fame) were the headliners at a NXNE show at the Horseshoe. Yukon Blonde was their opener. After an amazing day at a Jays game, we managed to get into the Horseshoe in good time and saw them both. My wheel had come full circle. I was surprised at how many songs I knew and they put on a great show. I was struck by their awesome grungey rock style, their harmonies, and their boundless energy.

Yukon Blonde at the Horseshow in 2012(Yukon Blonde at the Horseshoe Tavern in 2012. Notice their long hair and grunge tank tops.)

And that was that for the next four years. They had been pretty quiet since releasing Tiger Talk in 2012 and they dropped off my radar. They felt like a little secret I had. This little indie band that I saw in the hot, dark abyss of the Horseshoe.

And then one day Yukon Blonde came back into my life in a big way.

At work I alternate listening to Hype Machine (for my obscure favourite songs), Q107 (for the classics), and the Edge (for the new stuff). I have a major first world problem because after an intense few years of seeing 1-2 live shows every week (!!!) I have seen all the bands I want to see. Every single one! And now I am faced with a mild disappointment because I have already seen 50-75% of all the bands in the festival circuit for the past few years so I haven’t been impressed with a lineup in a while. I know – what a struggle. And then the aftershock. After listening to a very focused, curated playlist for the past few years, one day I turned on the radio and realized that I didn’t know any top 40 or commercial radio music. For my own good I had to find some new music. There had to be some new bands out there to listen to. There are some good bands on the Edge. Sometimes I write down the names of the bands or songs I like, and research them later. Slowly but surely, I am building up that list of New Bands I Want to See.

And then it hit me. A song, that song! A song that sounds like something very old and familiar, but something brand new at the same time. A song I had never heard before but felt like I knew somewhere deep down in my soul.


(I didn’t see this video until just now but they are Canadian rock stars so just go with it.)

A new album, On Blonde, a new sound, and a new girl in the band!? I don’t remember seeing a girl on the keyboard last time I saw them but hey I’ll take it. On Blonde is a step forward for their sound. It reminds me a little of when the Arctic Monkeys released AM and everyone either loved or hated it because it was SO different from their old stuff. Like take a left turn and drive off a cliff different in a good way. The opposite of when Band of Horses released Mirage Rock which felt like a step backwards for them.

Some of the best qualities of Yukon Blonde is their strong guitar riffs and their vocal harmonies which really sounded original and unique in a sea of synth machines and auto-tune. So, naturally, a lot of fans were hesitant to embrace the dreaded synth machine which features heavily on On Blonde. But, Yukon Blonde kills it on their new album because they keep their foundation and build upon it using new equipment and new arrangements.

Last night, they rocked, synth and all – they were amazing. They looked and sounded like pros. It felt like we were witnessing a band who had found the sound that would take them from indie rock band to rock stars.

Yukon Blonde at Lee's Palace February 26, 2016 | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

 (Yukon Blonde at Lee’s Palace on February 26, 2016. Notice their fancy back drop, brand new synth machine, and rock star jackets. Long hair still present.)

Yes, they played the best mix of old and new. You can’t rest on your laurels, but you can’t forget about them either. There has been a lot of heat on message boards and comment sections about how they abandoned their roots and sold out and sold their souls to buy that damn synth machine. But honestly, each song sounded like a little chapter in a greater anthology. And, if you weren’t a long-time fan I don’t think you could tell which was an old song and which was new because even though their albums sound different, they fit together. Yukon Blonde grew up and so did I and so did we all.

I am still on cloud nine and sorting though the myriad of feelings I have from last night. Please do yourself a favour and listen to On Blonde in its entirety. Spin is streaming it here via soundcloud. And then go and buy yourself a ticket to see Yukon Blonde live so you can get a taste of what I am feeling right now. You will not regret it.

Toronto Fall Concert Series

August was on the brink of September.

September is a blank page. Summer is winding down and as I am always looking forward, all I can see is Fall. And with it, the start of my favourite season. Packed with lots of birthdays, the greatest weather, the best holidays and a lead up to my ultimate favourite holdiay season-Christmas, and the best cold weather activity – concerts!

Toronto has a few really great shows coming up. Below are a few of my faves on the way.

Ratatat @ Sound Academy – September 2

The Fratellis @ Danforth Music Hall – September 16

Chvrches @ Danforth Music Hall – October 4 and 5 -> Apparently sold out but I’m looking into it.

Coeur De Pirate @ Phoenix – October 7

Blitzen Trapper @ Horseshoe – October 9

Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness @ Danforth Music Hall – November 15

I’ll update the list as new shows are added. Get your tickets early and often. My two favourite ticket vendors: Soundscapes and Rotate This. Both are cash only, so hit the ATM beforehand. I guarantee there’s something for everyone.

Show Me the WayHome

#BonnarooNorth aka WayHome Festival releases lineup and ticket info.

WayHome

Here we have it! A few weeks ago I was speculating about the lineup for the Bonnaroo expansion to our neck of the woods. We have an official name, WayHome. An interesting choice, as it was rumoured to be called HomeAway, which I think I prefer.

Why not something about Pablum, Crokinole, Poutine or another Canadian invention with an interesting name to compete with Coachella, Lollapalooza, Osheaga, and Bonnaroo. I think I even prefer Boots & Hearts because at least it gets straight to the point. Maybe just Medonte to keep in line with the trend of a strange word ending in a vowel.

WayHome

I’ve seen a bunch of these bands already: Kendrick Lamar, alt-j, Passion Pit (a new album coming out?), Girl Talk (new mashups??), Yukon Blonde (yay Canada), and Evening Hymns (Ottawa represent). They are all great in their own way and I would go see them again. I’m also really excited to see Modest Mouse, I’ve loved them since high school.

There are also a lot of fad bands on this list: Sam Smith, Hozier, Vance Joy etc. I would trade all of these for another big name. And no Drake or the Weeknd! I guess Drake will be busy with his OVO fest and won’t want to compete.

I like it but I don’t love it – yet. Tickets right now will go for $209.99 – a nice deal for three days of music and camping included.

It sure doesn’t feel like it, but summer is just around the corner and it’s time to start planning your weekends now. WayHome runs from July 24-26.

Bonnaroo Expansion Heads North!

Canadian music fans won’t have to travel too far this summer to get a piece of the festival circuit.

Update 14/02/2015: For more information on WayHome and the lineup, click here.

Lolla

Summer is made for cottages, road trips, baseball, patios, and concerts! The National Post is reporting that Bonnaroo has confirmed a Canadian expansion of their popular music festival! I’ve been following these rumours for a while now, and I’ve been hoping for a Toronto/Ontario music festival for ages!

I’m a two-time Lollapalooza alum, and it would take a lot to get me out there again. It’s about a 12 hour drive from Toronto, plus tickets + accommodations + food. It’s hard on your vacation time and your wallet.

The US has Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and more in the summer. Up here we really only have Boots & Hearts (all country music-not really my thing) and Osheaga in Montreal. I’ve never been to Osheaga because both Osh and Lolla usually fall on the same Civic Holiday Weekend each year.

This festival will take place one week earlier – clever – and will run from July 24 – 26, 2015 at the Burl’s Creek Event Grounds (home of Boots & Hearts) near Orillia, about an hour north of Toronto.

Coachella just released their lineup today, so we can bet most of these bands will be playing the summer festival circuit. Some good ones on the list: AC/DC, Tame Impala, Jack White, the Weeknd, alt-j, Ratatat, Father John Misty, Drake (headlining!), Florence and the Machine, David Guetta, Brand New (high school nostalgia), and more.

Looks like a good mix of genres and popular/indie bands. Happy to see Toronto represented by two major players- the Weeknd and Drake. Interesting that Drake is closing Sunday. He started from the bottom and now he is at the top of the headliners for Coachella. We’ll probably see a lot of overlap at Osheaga, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Bonnaroo North or whatever they decide to call this new festival. More to come!

Update 14/01/2015: Bonnaroo has released their lineup here. No word yet on #BonnarooNorth.

Toronto Patrons of the Arts

Starting the year off on the right foot. 

tickets

The Nutcracker was fantastic, as was expected. I always get chills during the Waltz of the Snowflakes. Toronto has been having a non-stop waltz of snowflakes recently, and I’m just about ready for a waltz of sunshine.

Les Miserables was extremely well done, from the set and production design to one of the most talented casts I’ve ever seen. Every single actor was at the top of their game. Each song was so powerful, and filled with so much passion. The run is over now, but if it does make a return, I highly recommend it.

This year I’d like to see the Lion King again, that last time I saw it was way back in elementary school, and the Book of Mormon because I didn’t get a chance the first time it came around. Stratford has King Lear, and Antony & Cleopatra in their lineup.

Jay-Z was the exact opposite of Kanye West. He had no back up dancers, no elaborate mountains, or monsters skulking around. He just showed up, and gave us an energetic performance filled with a mix of old and new. It was exactly what I hoped for, and he delivered.

The takeaway here is that money, time, and energy are better spent on experiences and people rather than things. One day more, friends. Another day, another destiny.

Christmas Carols

This is what I’ll be listening to until December 26th.

Last Christmas, This Christmas, Blue Christmas, White Christmas, Home for Christmas, Christmas Bells are Ringing, Oh Christmas Tree, Chrismas Canon in D!!!