Jason Collett’s beloved Basement Revue Series returns this month
Jason Collett is a cornerstone of the T.O. music scene
There are a number of holiday traditions in Toronto — from the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker to Andy Kim’s festive concert. One of the best-kept secrets is Jason Collett’s Basement Revue Series. But after Feist backed up a reading by Michael Ondaatje at one of last year’s shows, the secret is out.
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill,” says Collett, contemplating how he can top last year’s monumental evening. “I take it as a challenge to not let people down.”
This year, the series includes four concerts: three at the Dakota Tavern (Dec. 5, 12 and 26) and one showcase at Adelaide Hall (Dec. 19). The shows combine reading and rocking, and the catch is that all the guests are a surprise. But with Collett at the helm, there are certain expectations.
Jason Collett is a well-connected guy in the Toronto music scene. And that’s part of the reason his annual Basement Revue shows have been such a runaway success.
As a former member of Broken Social Scene, he is part of a musical family that has spawned innumerable musical acts, from heavy hitters such as Feist and Metric to the likes of Brendan Canning and AroarA. Chances are, on any given night, many of the performers will have some connection to BSS and the venerable Arts & Crafts record label.
“It’s become this variety show that is half literary and half musical,” Collett explains. “It’s this annual exploration of that common space between those two worlds. And that makes for a very entertaining evening.”
The whole keeping-things-secret thing, according to Collett, allows for using his connections to secure some pretty incredible performers while keeping agents, managers and other such folk happy. The informal nature of the evening adds something special that is very hard to find at a show but also feels quite familiar.
“It is designed to feel very much like a kitchen table, late at night, with poetry and songs,” says Collett, who apparently has a really cool kitchen table. “It makes it very intimate. And it really keeps me coming back into it.”
Last year, Collett moved one show to a larger stage at the Great Hall in front of 500 people. And it worked. This year, that venue has changed to Adelaide Hall for one show, and the other three nights will continue at the Dakota.
Collett, who grew up in nearby Bramalea, moved to Toronto as a teenager to pursue a career in music. He was a member of the alt-country group Bird, with Andrew Cash and Hawksley Workman, before joining Broken Social Scene after the release of their album You Forgot It in People. His sixth solo album, Reckon (2012), was inspired by the activist-oriented, political environment that coalesced into the Occupy movement. Apparently, he still hasn’t worked it all out of his system yet.
“I’m still writing about it, trying to get through it rather than just repeat myself,” says Collett. “It still has an enormous impact on me.”
Soon, Collett will be back in the studio working on a new record that could be released as early as 2014.
“I really want it to be my best record,” says Collett. “That’s the record I’m going to make, so it might take a little time.”
That, and taking the time for his rather large family, which includes four kids aged four to 24.