The imposing skeleton of the futalognkosaurus greets the guests in the main hall of the Royal Ontario Museum after they’ve had their tickets taken for Friday Night Live, the first night of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. In front of the massive display are propped big wooden letters lined with faintly glowing light bulbs that spell out the theme for the evening: MARDI GRAS. Now, however, instead of the bright natural light that shines through the hall in the daytime, the bones are lit by the pulsing purple nightclub lights coming from Currelly Gallery.
There, an in-your-face wall of sound strikes as you enter the gallery. Samples of jazz, soul, world music, and other genres drive the dance music courtesy of DJ L’Oqenz. Almost psychedelic and trance-like in its smooth blend of sounds, the music is sometimes classic funk, sometimes a modern club banger, but always invigorating. From the elevated stage erected between the statue of the Vairocana Buddha and a fossil of a hadrosaur, DJ L’Oqenz has guests bopping heads and swaying hips to a wide variety of rhythms from all over.
Across the hall, shortly before nine o’clock, people could be seen lining up to pack themselves into the crowded elevator up to the fifth floor. Taking every seat, huddling into every corner and leaning against every wall, the crowd filled the c5 Lounge to the brim for the much anticipated burlesque performance of the evening. The show featured saucy performances to Big Easy style blues tunes by organizer Scarlett LaFlamme, Fan Tan Fanny, and Dainty Smith who also MCed the performance. The audience cheered and applauded throughout, peaking over shoulders and between heads to try to catch a glimpse through the mob of the feather boas and extravagant, Victorian-inspired outfits the women were slowly and gracefully removing. When the ladies returned fully-clothed at the end of the set, emcee Dainty Smith gave a rousing speech to end the night - one befitting of pride weekend, I might add - about how anyone can be a burlesque star, encouraging audience members to “get the f*ck out there and shimmy your heart out!”
Back on the main floor, DJ L’Oqenz is taking a break to make way for the Heavyweights Brass Band. The Quintet lives up to their name, bringing a traditional hard hitting New Orleans sound. Heart-pounding drum beats keep the band going while the sousaphone pumps out bluesy bass grooves and the horns sting colorful harmonies over top.
On the second floor, guests wander among the galleries and display cases until they find their way to Peter Bronfman Hall, where they gather for a dance party courtesy of DJ Agile. Gone are the jazzy sounds of New Orleans at Mardi Gras, for here they’re playing nothing but the hits; timeless classics like "Uptown Girl," Fergie’s "Glamourous" and, of course, "Baby Got Back" kept what looked to be the younger demographic of the crowd that evening dancing all night long.
Contrast this with what was happening on the other end of the second floor, in the Treasures of the Earth mineralogy hall, where could be found the comparatively easygoing, summery vibes from Gareth Burgess and his trio. Sweet melodies from Burgess’s steel pan float over the bright and breezy nylon string rhythm guitar and syncopated, samba-style upright bass. With the pale, atmospheric lighting glittering off the multicolored stones on display, the whole experience conjured the image of a romantic evening on some distant tropical beach where the moon is bright and the sand is cool. A pleasant way to close the very first night of the jazz fest.