Sleepwalk Guitar Festival in Toronto

Though internationally renowned for celebrating films and fashion, books and beer, food and fetishes — and the list goes on — until this year, Toronto didn’t have a festival that celebrated what is arguably the most popular non-percussion instrument in the world: the guitar.

Presented by boutique indie-label Six Shooter Records and named in honour of the famous tune by Santo & Johnny, the Sleepwalk Guitar Festival debuts this weekend. For a three-day period at The Great Hall, the order of the day (and night) will be performances and educational clinics from a diverse list of fret burners, including alt-rock legend J. Masics, blues giant Colin James, and great bands such as The Sadies, among many others; in all, 19 acts are billed on the site. Workshops include “Beautiful Noise” (soundscaping, hosted by Television’s Richard Lloyd), and “Side and Centre” (a twist on singer-songwriting, where different guitarists do their own takes on other people’s songs).

Curator for the event is Luke Doucet, a fearsomely proficient axeman who once backed the likes of Sarah McLachlan and Chantal Kreviazuk, and now fronts White Falcon, a band named after his signature Gretsch guitar. DailyXY caught up with Doucet to discuss the sad state of guitar on popular charts, and how an instrument transformed a ‘small awkward geek’ like him into one of Canada’s most respected string benders.

“Sleepwalk”: Why here?
There are other guitar festivals in other parts of the world, and even in Ontario, but nothing in Toronto. The idea of bringing people together to celebrate the guitar just seemed like a lot of fun.

Why now?
The guitar reached its heyday in the late ’80s but took a beating because it got ridiculous and stupid. It was used as a weapon as opposed to a musical instrument. Twenty years later, the standards have dropped; there are still lots of guitars, but fewer great guitar players. Look at the charts, and try to find a guitar player that rivals that of twenty years ago and you just won’t. This is about putting the instrument back into focus.

What attracted you to the guitar?
If you are a small awkward geek like I was, you are not going to make the football team. The guitar was a way of having friends, being part of a community, finding an identity and, of course, meeting girls. It was something I could grab on to and say, Hey, this is my thing, but it didn’t take long until my relationship went way beyond those superficial things. Now it’s a deep and personal relationship between my head, ears, that piece of wood, and its wires.

Image courtesy of Zack Lovatt.

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