The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 12

A Week in Hogtown: Old-Time Music in Toronto
By Cary Fagan
Chris Coole. Photo by Tony Burns

It's early spring and I'm walking along Bloor Street just past Spadina , a dense neighborhood populated by University of Toronto students, would-be artists, and well-heeled professionals who can afford to own the handsome Victorian houses that have been converted back from apartments and rooming houses. A familiar melody floats in the air and I look ahead to see a portly, middle-aged man playing "Temperance Reel" on a penny whistle, baseball cap upturned at his feet. I'm just considering whether or not to give him any money when somebody in front of me starts digging in his own pocket. The person moves forward with a slightly bobbing head of reddish hair, and I realize that it's Chris Coole .

Chris Coole is an unassuming, thoughtful, and very funny thirty-six-year-old who's also a beautiful banjo player and singer. He's not only a fine old-time musician but also one of those responsible for the thriving old-time scene in Toronto–a scene that has emerged from kitchens and living rooms in recent years to become a vibrant part of the city's diverse musical life. Watching Chris drop his change into the man's hat, I remember that he himself spent the first ten years after high school busking in the subway. When he couldn't make his rent he'd pawn his Heiden dreadnaught guitar for a couple of weeks. These days, with gigs almost every night of the week, tours, CD sales, an instructional banjo DVD and students, he manages to hold onto his guitar.


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