Published: 2003-08-20
When the power went out on Thursday my first thoughts didn't turn to music. They went directly on how to get home, how long it would take and how I was going to get any money and food. I, like most, had little cash being dependant on bank machines, debit and credit cards.

But as I walked down the street I was confronted with the positive examples of random people helping to direct traffic and the negative ones coming from the radios. There it was all talk of confusion mingled with scare-mongering. And from no radio was music floating on the breeze, as is the norm on downtown streets. Did no electricity mean no music?

Of course the radio stations were still broadcasting, but most were covering the blackout. No one seemed to be listening to any that were still playing music. People wanted news and they wanted it now. Music was relegated down the list.

Most major venues depend heavily on electricity. Amplification, sound boards, lights and many instruments themselves rely on electrical power to operate. There would be few shows tonight. Down at the Molson Amphitheatre Steely Dan was scheduled to play, while up at Casino Rama Huey Lewis and the News waited in darkness. Indoor venues would be incredibly dark when nightfall came and outdoor ones like the Amphitheatre are not designed to carry natural sound, had any groups been able to play without all their equipment.

There were bands at the smaller Toronto clubs like the Rivoli, El Mocambo and the Horseshoe where the management had to decide whether to stay open or not. As the city shut down, things started to get quiet. Store clerks and city residents brought out the candles. But as we lost our technology, for who knew how long, the music started coming back.

As I was walking down the streets of Toronto I heard the sounds of guitars and singing coming out of several bars. Whether they usually had live performances or not, there was no recorded music to play so they were left only with unplugged music.

It's funny that unplugged albums and concerts are a novelty to most these days, but that's where we started and sometimes that's all you really need.

As the night drew on many bars closed and people stayed home. The parties on rooftops and decks continued and so did the playing and singing. The stars, visible for the first time in years in the Toronto sky, lit these evening shows and encouraged people to keep going.

Will the blackout have any major effect on the music industry? No. However we did get to enjoy some simple music, the sound of unaltered voices and good company for a night. The record companies will be pleased as well. Nobody was downloading music for a day. Some of them were making it instead.

Writer: Nathaniel Whitfield



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