It’s close to 3 a.m. on a Thursday night outside the Cameron House bar on Queen Street West, and the pavement is alive with music and dancing. People of all ages bounce, twist and grin to the infectious rhythms that explode from the 12-piece band assembled on the street and on the scaffolding hugging the building high above.
“This is Fedora Upside-Down,” shouts musician Michael Louis Johnson, lowering his flugelhorn to address the sweaty smiling audience. Then he raises his instrument to his lips and blasts a long steady note as the crowd below cheers.
Over the past several months, you’ve likely seen the motley assortment of cultural ambassadors calling themselves Fedora Upside-Down. This loosely affiliated and highly inclusive collective of Toronto folk musicians and dancers have spent the summer taking over the city’s streets, parks, restaurants and bars with lively music and raucous dance parties.
“We like to think of it as an urban folk collective,” says Mark Marczyk, 26. He’s the violin player for the band Lemon Bucket Orkestra, which claims to be “Toronto’s only Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk Super-Band.”
Marczyk and several other musicians have brought together numerous Toronto folk music groups to create collective musical events and parties in unlikely places. There have been shows in Kensington Market, in the middle of Queen Street West, and in Trinity Bellwoods Park.
At a typical Fedora Upside-Down event, you might see a Brazilian percussion band complete with Capoeira dance fighting, a flamenco troupe with stomping dancers, a Balkan Klesmer group with a twirling belly dancer, and an improvised collaboration of all three bands.
“A city’s cultural and social makeup is built by immigrants who have their own ways of celebrating their culture every day,” says Marczyk. “This is an attempt to bring those groups together.”
And it’s not just happening in streets and parks. Fedora Upside-Down now also has a permanent home, at the Cameron House every Thursday night.
The name was inspired by busking, the ubiquitous musician with a cap thrown down to collect any offerings. But it also suggests the ethos of the group: That a musical celebration of many diverse cultures can happen anywhere at any time – you just need the people and the spirit to make it happen.
Says Marczyk: “There’s a fedora upside-down on the pavement. What can you throw into the hat?”