This December, the Basement Revue series returns to Toronto’s Dakota Tavern. For the uninitiated, the Basement Revue is a concert and interview series where a writer, musician or other artist performs some of their work and has a discussion with the hosts: Torquil Campbell, singer/songwriter Jason Collett and poet Damien Rogers.
Over the past nine series, the Basement Revue’s hosted a widely diverse range of talents. Musicians like Hayden, Gord Downie and Daniel Lanois have appeared, as have some of Canada’s biggest writers: Naomi Klein, Joseph Boyden and Michael Ondaatje. At the same time, the three hosts are also big names in the Canadian arts landscape: Campbell from his work in Stars, Rogers’ poetry and Collett’s work as a solo musician (not to mention with Broken Social Scene or Feist).
Essentially, if you’re lucky enough to get tickets, it’s an up close and intimate performance where you can see big figures in the Canadian arts scene in an informal setting. However, the operative work is lucky: as you’ll see below, the series has limited tickets and often sells out well ahead of each date. As such, it almost operates under the radar of many: you hear about it, but it’s hard to actually get into. In a sense, it’s been one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets over the last few years.
Which is why, for the first time, the series isn’t limited only to Toronto residents who are lucky enough to get tickets. Starting this fall, it’s also being presented as a podcast series over the Antica Podcast Network. I spoke over email with Rogers about the Revue, the decision to move to podcasting and how the Revue has grown over the years.
B.G.M.: First, could you walk me through a typical performance? For example, is it a writer comes up and does a reading, then introduces a band who does a set? Or is it more mixed up between the two, with perhaps some audience interaction?
Rogers: Jason usually begins the night by playing a couple songs. The order is not always the same, but typically he introduces the music and I introduce the writers. We don’t announce who is performing in advance, but we have a carefully planned set list for each night. Most nights he will introduce me early in the night and then I will introduce the first reader. We tend to have two or three readers a night, including at least one poet and either a storyteller, fiction writer, or playwright. We often have 3-5 bands or musical acts. We had a live cooking show once. We are open to experimentation.
The only audience participation we’ve had was with a collaborative piece called The Treatment, in which Torquil Campbell interviewed/diagnosed guests and Snowblink would administer musical medicine. We found that it worked better when the folks being treated were other artists though.
B.G.M.: Second, you were involved with The Basement Revue right from the beginning, correct? What do you remember about how it came together? And how has it changed over ten editions?
Rogers: I attended and wrote about the first Basement Revue show, I read poetry at the second one, and I started helping book readers in the third year. So there was an evolution there, but it’s been a long history.
I’d say we keep pushing the edges of what we are doing. We get more ambitious every year.
B.G.M.: Why did The Basement Revue decide to start podcasting?
Rogers: The podcast series was created to address the fact that we sell out our annual Dakota shows well in advance and there’s a lot of incredible art happening that only a small audience has been able to enjoy. Our first season of the podcast is mostly made up from highlights of last year’s December series at the Dakota with additional interviews and some gems from our massive archive of material.
B.G.M.: I see from the past guests you’ve had a great selection of talent, both literary and musical. Are there any guests you’d love to get but haven’t gotten yet? Or, similarly, any writers/musicians you’d like to introduce to a larger audience?
Rogers: We have been very lucky in terms of talent. I’d love to work with Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Alice Munro, Claudia Rankine, Alice Notley, Joanne Kyger, Robyn Schiff, Suzanne Buffam, Srikanth Reddy, Jerome Rothenberg, John Doe, Leanne Shapton, Elena Ferrante (ok that’s a joke)… Seriously, I could do this all night.
The Basement Revue runs for four evenings at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, plus one at the Great Hall, throughout December. Tickets are already getting scarce, but the podcast is already up and running at the Antica Podcast Network. For more information on the show, it’s podcast and how to get tickets, please visit their website.