It only took me two years but I finally made it out to an edition of Long Winter. This monthly, PWYC, November-March-only event started back in 2012 and I’ve wanted to check it out ever since it was first announced. But for whatever reason, I could never get myself over the Great Hall, the venue it calls home, until this past Friday. Now, having experienced one Long Winter, I’m regretting not making more of an effort to go to past nights because these events are exactly what I want in a night out (well, for the most part).
Each Long Winter is quite different though all of them are multidisciplinary events that include everything from bands to visual art to food. The event takes over the entire Great Hall complex, opening up all the various back halls and stairs and creating a maze-like environment where every space has something different going on inside of it.
March’s Long Winter featured, among other things, puppets, an aerial act, a chat with Toronto’s possible future mayor (more on that in a minute) and not-so-secret performance by Fucked Up, the band that’s partially responsible for Long Winter’s existence.
Fucked Up took to the Great Hall’s main stage at around 12:15 and performed all of their upcoming album, Glass Boys. It was a performance that I wanted to see but didn’t because I left before midnight.
My early leaving wasn’t my choice however, it was either leave then or stay at the Great Hall alone. While my time at the Great Hall was fairly brief compared to some people (there was a sleepover aspect that meant some people were staying there till dawn), I learned quite a bit about how to best enjoy that event. Rule number one: Go with the right people. I didn’t and as a result, I didn’t get to see Fucked Up. Thankfully, other people did and you can read about the band’s performance over here.
My friends wanted to leave early because they were hot and didn’t like how busy Long Winter was. I agree that it was crowded and yes, there were lines for everything from the bar to getting into the main room, but personally, I can handle that.
What I did have a hard time handling was the heat. The Great Hall is always a warm venue but I thought that maybe since it was below zero outside, it might be tolerable inside. So I dressed with that in mind: jeans, a tank top and a short-sleeved sweater. That led me to learning rule number two: Dress like it’s +30 outside.
Thankfully I already knew rule number three: Take advantage of coat check. Yes, it costs a big $3 but it means that you can dress for both winter and the heat of the Great Hall. It’s also not very busy as a shocking number of people attend this event while dressed in a winter coat. I can only assume that these people are trying to lose a ton of water weight.
The hottest rooms seemed to be the ones where there was a good band on. The first band we saw was GROUNDERS in what’s called The Conversation Room. It was soon packed as this local band put on a pretty good show despite some less-than-ideal acoustics. It wasn’t a very long set, maybe 30 minutes if that, and once it was over, everyone flooded out of the room to find a drink. Then, maybe 20 minutes later, when another act went on, the room filled back up again. So I guess rule number four is prepared to be jostled a lot.
But it is possible to escape the heat and the crowds while still being in on the action. The upstairs balcony turned out to be a cool, refreshing place where you could easily sit down and enjoy what was happening on the main stage. Okay, there’s no bar up there but you can bring your drinks up so that’s not a big deal.
Part of The Great Hall is a restaurant called The Samuel J. Moore. Normally it operates separately from the main building but on Long Winter nights, that event takes it over and provides a great spot to grab a drink and listen to some music. We actually made a couple visits to this section of the venue and once caught part of an act called You’ll Never Get To Heaven, that sounded pretty good though on the quiet side.
Another great spot to hang out is the BLCK Box. The lower level is filled with chairs while above it is an open gallery. Depending on what’s going on, it can be practically deserted. But even when it’s pretty full, it’s still on the cool side.
On Friday night, the BLCK Box played host to Vish Khann’s Talk Show, a regular Long Winter feature that sees Vish interview a panel of interesting people. This time around, one of those people was MP Olivia Chow who mostly used her Talk Show appearance to promote her new book. But Vish did ask the big question: Will she run for mayor? As I suspected, she dodged it, basically saying that she was still considering her options.
Despite Olivia’s vagueness, I really enjoyed the Talk Show and I’m glad that it’s a part of Long Winter. Live music is great and in my mind, it’s completely nature to partner it up with art installations and food, but adding things like Talk Show or puppets really takes the whole event to another level.
And all of that leads me to rule number five: Be sure to explore all of the Great Hall and try to take in stuff besides the bands. While I’ll admit that I didn’t see as many acts as I wanted, that’s going to change when I attend the next Long Winter event; an experience that I’ll do with the right people, wearing the right kind of clothing.