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Mu­si­cian Ja­son Col­lett on his in­cred­i­ble mu­sic ca­reer and his lat­est gig as the host of the 10 Lu­mi­nato af­ter-par­ties

As a fes­ti­val, Lu­mi­nato has, in just a few short years, made a big splash in Toronto’s an­nual arts cal­en­dar, bring­ing in in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned artists and projects like Ma­rina Abramovitch, Philip Glass’

and the Roots. But for all its suc­cess, there’s been oc­ca­sional blow­back from the lo­cal arts com­mu­ni­ties at the per­ceived lack of sig­nif­i­cant lo­cal in­volve­ment in the fes­ti­val, which has ben­e­fit­ted sub­stan­tially from public fund­ing.

Many in the lo­cal arts com­mu­nity grum­ble that lo­cal in­volve­ment in the fes­ti­val seems to be an af­ter­thought af­ter all the big-name in­ter­na­tional acts are pro­grammed.

When it comes to bring­ing to­gether those out-of-town artists and lo­cal tal­ent, Lu­mi­nato’s best of­fer­ing is also its least for­mal: a spe­cial fes­ti­val edi­tion of Ja­son Col­lett and Damien Rogers’ Base­ment Re­vue se­ries.

Each night spe­cial unan­nounced guests en­ter­tain the packed crowd with un­usual stage of­fer­ings. Past per­for­mances at Lu­mi­nato and Col­let’s De­cem­ber Re­vue have in­cluded any­thing from Mar­garet At­wood col­lab­o­rat­ing with coun­try rock­ers the Sadies to Michael On­daatje part­ner­ing with Feist.

Col­lett, a life­long Toronto area res­i­dent, is best known for his own mu­sic ca­reer and as a core mem­ber of Bro­ken So­cial Scene, the sprawl­ing indie rock col­lec­tive.

His mu­si­cal ca­reer has al­lowed him to per­form along­side other artists in in­ti­mate venues across the city and de­velop con­nec­tions to an ever-ex­pand­ing spi­der­web of artists.

Those con­nec­tions are what make his Base­ment Re­vue se­ries so popular as the show, which is al­ways held at one of Col­lett’s favourite spots, the Dakota Tav­ern, is al­ways sold out.

“I drink cof­fee at the Com­mon, eat and drink wine at Union,” says Col­lett. “And the an­nual Base­ment Re­vue is ev­ery De­cem­ber at the Dakota — I can walk to all those places.”

Col­lett de­scribes the re­vue con­cept thusly: “Our tem­plate is an old school re­vue show where the acts are short: some po­etry, some mu­sic, then maybe a story, then mu­sic with po­etry and so on — and a house band, so by the end, it turns into a friv­o­lous dance party.”

Their first edi­tion of the re­vue for Lu­mi­nato in 2013 fea­tured, in ad­di­tion to many Lu­mi­nato artists, Hy­dra, a col­lab­o­ra­tive project be­tween fel­low Bro­ken So­cial Scene-ster Feist, Daniela Ge­sund­heit of Snow­blink and Ariel En­gle of AroarA. The house band was fierce fem­i­nist cover band rock­ers Vag Halen.

“I’m a big fan of min­ing the cover band scene in Toronto,” ex­plains Col­lett, “cover bands of mu­si­cians who play in other well­known bands.”

Lately, the suc­cess of the orig­i­nal Base­ment Re­vue (and the en­su­ing Lu­mi­nato edi­tions) has had Col­lett and Rogers pro­gram­ming ver­sions of the re­vue out­side of the city.

“We just did a fes­ti­val at the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre in Ottawa,” Col­lett says.

And the con­cept has evolved as the pair have con­tin­ued their as­so­ci­a­tion with Lu­mi­nato.

“Like a lot of fes­ti­vals, they have an af­ter­party for their artists,” Col­lett ex­plains.

“Most of­ten, those af­ter-par­ties are re­lated to the top floor of whichever ho­tel the artists are stay­ing at, and they’re usu­ally stale — I’ve been to many my­self,” he says, re­fer­ring to his ex­ten­sive world­wide tour­ing ex­pe­ri­ences with Bro­ken So­cial Scene.

“Damien Rogers and I, we bring to the party the cu­rat­ing and host­ing skills we’ve de­vel­oped. It’s a sa­lon for the artists, and for the public, you get to see a re­ally in­ter­est­ing va­ri­ety show.”

The scale of the Lu­mi­nato ver­sion of their re­vue has also changed since the first one in 2013.

“This year we’re at Pe­cault Square in a spec­tac­u­lar tent — they’re trans­form­ing the grounds,” says Col­lett.

“We wanted that out­door feel. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing for our show to be at ground zero for the fes­ti­val.”

As for the for­mat, that’ll re­main the same — with sur­prise guests ev­ery night from the Lu­mi­nato ros­ter and a wide range of lo­cal artists Col­lett and Rogers are familiar with.

“We aug­ment Lu­mi­nato tal­ent with lo­cal tal­ent. You don’t know who you’ll get, but you know you’ll see dif­fer­ent di­men­sions of artists that come to the fes­ti­val, an­other side of them that they may not be known for.… A great thing about hav­ing an in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­val like this in Toronto is that you get to also mix in and show­case some rich lo­cal tal­ent.”

At the end of each night, the lo­cally sourced house band will get the crowd of di­verse at­ten­dees mov­ing.

“It’s al­most like a wed­ding re­cep­tion, muses Col­lett, “which I re­ally love. Wed­dings are one of the few times as a cul­ture we gather in­ter­gen­er­a­tionally.”

And as with a good wed­ding, that ex­cep­tional house band will run through some stan­dards, with many dif­fer­ent guest vo­cal­ists.

“We ex­tend the in­vi­ta­tion to our guest artists to treat [the house band] like a live karaoke band. They may be here with­out their regular back­ing band, so we give them a ready-made one, with a large set list to choose from, so they can jump up on­stage and sing.”

Co­lette has been busy with all this re­vue pro­gram­ming, but his own mu­sic is also pro­ceed­ing apace, af­ter sev­eral years of fo­cus­ing on other work.

(His last full solo al­bum, re­leased in 2012.)

“I’m work­ing on a new record, yeah, af­ter putting it off for a few years now. I’m happy to be in the stu­dio again.”

When asked if he’ll be pre­view­ing some of the new ma­te­rial at the Lu­mi­nato Base­ment Re­vue, he seems to pause to con­sider the idea.

“Yeah, I think I will. I tend not to play much my­self at the re­vue, be­cause I’m so busy wear­ing my pro­ducer hat, but maybe I’ll slide some in, as a way of in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple.”

As for the artists ap­pear­ing, when again pressed for some hints as to who might be on­stage in the tent, he laughs.

“You have to look at the Lu­mi­nato brochure and make some ed­u­cated guesses. That’s part of the fun, the mys­tery!”

It’s no mys­tery as to which act at the fes­ti­val he’s most look­ing for­ward to him­self, though.

“There’s a lot of great mu­sic this year, of course. But I’m most look­ing for­ward to David Byrne’s project [ fea­tur­ing Byrne’s fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor St. Vin­cent, Nelly Fur­tado, Tune-Yards and many more]. I get goose­bumps just think­ing about it.”

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