The inauguration day of Toronto’s new lit fest: Pages Festival + Conference

logo for pages festivalThere are a lot of people who will claim that festivals celebrating books and publishing are fading out of existence. However, with the rise of a new festival on the literary scene, the written word seems just as popular as it was the day Gutenberg invented the printing press!

The evening of March 13, 2014, I attended the official launch day of the inaugural Pages Festival + Conference: Unbound, hosted at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto.

Because it was the first festival event, there were various speeches, introductions, and expressions of gratitude that had to be given at the beginning. The main spokesman on behalf of the festival committee was the artistic director of This is Not a Reading Series, Marc Glassman, who was also the proprietor of the bookstore Pages Books & Magazines on Queen Street West in Toronto for 30 years. Glassman was the one who founded the festival with the objective to explore the “evolving word” in the digital age.

It was during this interlude that I took the time to look around, and I noticed that besides myself and maybe ten to fifteen other audience members, the majority of the night’s spectators was made up mostly of an elderly crowd. I quickly found out why with Glassman’s introduction of Bob Bossin: folksinger, activist, writer.

banner of Bob Bossin

My attendance of the festival having been a last minute decision after a long day at work, I was unaware of the musical and historical delights the night had in store for me. It seemed that everyone in the audience knew who Bob Bossin was but me. However, it didn’t take long to realize that he was a man with a few interesting stories to tell and some catchy tunes to sing.

Davy the Punk book by Bob BossinThe book he has written is called Davy the Punk and is a narrative about the life of his father, Davy, who turned out to be a lot more than just a father figure. Referred to as “Davy the Punk” by those he worked with, Davy, unbeknownst to his son at the time, was an intimate part of Toronto’s gambling underworld in the 1930s and 40s, and one of Toronto police’s most elusive quarry.

While I haven’t read the book myself, I was fascinated by the small excerpts Bob gave us, from free baseball tickets magically being given to his uncle and new bride to unsuccessful police raids on his father’s place of business. Bob’s renditions truly brought the era to life through his manner of expression and his Godfather-like “gangster” impressions. His personal investment in his father’s story was evident throughout the night and during the conversational interview held between him and former Premier, classmate, and old friend, Bob Rae.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the evening was when Bob Bossin reunited with his 1970s Stringband and played old favourites that had the audience singing along.The folksongs were simple enough to pick up, and I found myself easily joining inBob Bossin and the Stringband with the rest of the crowd. I think my favourite song of the evening had to be “Show Us the Length” — crude and catchy, I was chuckling to myself and humming the song long after the performance was over. I now wish I had thought to record it, but if you’re interested in hearing clips of the Stringband’s music you can check it out in the Jukebox section of Bob Bossin’s personal website <http://www.bossin.com/>, and it thankfully includes my favourite (which you will have to listen to yourself to discover why I find it so  utterly amusing).

Although I wasn’t able to get a book that evening (I wasn’t exactly relishing the idea of battling the older crowd intent on reminiscing and getting their books signed), I definitely recommend checking this title out, especially for its rich take on local history where “Toronto the Good” shows its darker side.

While I wasn’t able to attend any other festival days, there is no doubt in my mind that each was as delightfully entertaining in its own way with more author events alongside panel discussions during the day-long conference.

If you are interested in learning more about the Pages Festival + Conference, you can learn more about it on their website, Facebook page, or Twitter.

Also, if you are as intrigued by Bob Bossin’s book as much as I am, you can get a copy at The Porcupine’s Quill, Indigo, Amazon, or independent bookstores.

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