LitFest 2012: Roaring Twenties

After returning from a weeklong jaunt to BC late Tuesday night, there were certainly more productive things we could have done on Wednesday, such as grocery shopping. But with the promise of a whisky tasting and burlesque, we threw practicality to the wind and headed to Roast Coffehouse after work yesterday.

LitFest, Canada’s only non-fiction festival, were throwing a Roaring Twenties party to kick off this year’s festival. Mack and I were fortunate to receive guest invitations, and were so glad we were able to make it.

LitFest 2012

Roaring Twenties hosts Jennifer Cockrall-King and Tracy Hyatt in their Twenties finery

Roast accommodated the modest crowd well, its brick and Edison-bulb glow well-suited to the theme of the night. The thoughtful program also encouraged mingling and movement through the space, with well-timed breaks between the readings and performances.

Though the event advertised a number of readings, the evening was so much more than that. Ottawa-based sommelier and independent whisky expert Davin de Kergommeaux kicked things off with an introduction to Canadian whiskies by reading an excerpt from his book, Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert. He noted that we are experiencing a “renaissance for Canadian whiskies”, and encouraged the crowd to partake in one (or several) of the eight whiskies being poured at the event. We also learned that adding ice and even water (gasp!) to whiskies is acceptable, depending on your palate.

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Mack enjoys his whisky sour

While I have to say I much preferred the whisky sour cocktail poured for us to start, it was interesting to compare and contrast several whiskies in a short period of time. Our favourite turned out to be Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup anniversary edition. Made from their 12 year old whisky, a dash of maple syrup was added for a link to Canadiana. Smooth and subtly sweet, it was the easiest drinking of the whiskies we tried straight up.

LitFest 2012

Gibson’s Finest line-up

Edmonton-based author Curtis Gillespie added his own sense of history with a reading from his current book, Almost There: the Family Vacation, Then and Now. He described it as part-memoir, recounting his own remarkable trips growing up, leading to perhaps the most memorable moment of the night – an anecdote involving a squirmy four year old, a car seat, and a severed finger.

LitFest 2012

Almost There

After each of the brief readings, as LitFest Chair Jennifer Cockrall-King put it, they offered a “sprinkling of sin”. That is, performances from the ladies of Capital City Burlesque.

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Some of the ladies of Capital City Burlesque

Congratulations to the organizers for a fantastic opening event! But this was just the beginning – there are over 30 different events happening over the next ten days. I know I’m looking forward to Food Matters on October 27, 2012 that will be highlighting examples of local food production. Thanks again to LitFest for the invitation!

LitFest: Genu-Wine

I was happy to be invited to LitFest’s Genu-Wine this year, though I have to say I didn’t know what to expect. The festival program was vague: “LitFest tackles serious global issues, accompanied by samples of seriously good wine”, but I was looking forward to seeing how it would all come together.

Mack and I walked over to the Kids in the Hall Bistro on Saturday night, and encountered a packed venue. A few stand-up cocktail tables were set-up, but halfway through the evening, patrons moved them aside to make room for more chairs. The room, with a buffet table, a wine station and a podium, was unfortunately arranged without proper flow – I had to think the organizers didn’t anticipate such a large crowd.

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The spread (there was actually quite a bit of food)

Associate producer Shauna Sisson told us later that LitFest had always wanted to put on a “schmoozing” event, and this was their first attempt at combining wine with snippets of literary works. While festival organizers deserve kudos for trying something new, the format of Genu-wine probably needs further tweaking.

It seemed straightforward enough – the host would introduce one of the four authors and the wine to be sampled following the reading, the author would talk about their work, and end with a reading from their book. The audience was then invited up to help themselves to glasses of Yellow Tail wine (which had all been donated for the event), while enjoying upbeat tunes from Don Berner. Repeated three times, with brief moments to network in between authors, it felt choppy.

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Alice Major

The authors themselves accomplished what they needed to do, however – provoking discussion in the crowd. Andrew Potter, musing on the idea (and fallacy) of “authenticity” and Dan Gardener on the nonsensical belief in predictions incited the most debate in our group, but Alice Major was undoubtedly the most eloquent and Lawrence Scanlan the most poignant (and my favourite of the evening), with his excerpt on the rebuilding in New Orleans.

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Andrew Potter addresses the crowd

And though they were the cheesiest portions of the evening, I loved how the organizers cheekily tried to connect random varieties of wine with the authors (I will never think of “bubbles rose” in the same way again).

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Yellow Tail line-up

I’m not sure what I would suggest to make the event better (two readings in a row? more time between readings?), but I think the casual, informal vibe of the evening is worth maintaining. I’ll be interested to check out Genu-Wine next year, whatever its incarnation.

LitFest 2010: All About Food!

One of my favourite presentations from the most recent Pecha Kucha was from Carol Neuman, a Litfest board member. In previous events, presentations from members of organizations were so advertorial in nature that Pecha Kucha started to feel like an evening of commercials, but Carol did an excellent job – skilfully addressing the themes of this year’s festival without overtly promoting it.

LitFest: Edmonton’s nonfiction festival is Canada’s only nonfiction festival, having rebranded itself in 2010 by tightening its focus. And though invited guests will address a variety of topics at this year’s incarnation, including energy, Canadian history, and bees, a definite thread of food can be found in their events.

  • Savouries on October 22, a fundraiser for LitFest, will see food readings served alongside a four-course brunch by Chef Gail Osbeck at Kids in the Hall. Featured authors this year include Brian Brett, author of Trauma Farm (Brett’s tale of small mixed farming on Salt Spring Island), Amy Jo Ehman, author of Prairie Feast (which chronicles her journey of eating locally), and Julianna Mimande, local author of the popular cookbook We Eat Together. Maki attended the event last year, and had great things to say.
  • Genu-wine on October 23 will mix a panel discussion on global issues with wine (the best way to get genuine discussion flowing, I say). Mack and I will be attending (we received one free ticket for the event); I am most interested in what Andrew Potter (author of The Authenticity Hoax and a blogger for Maclean’s) has to say, while Mack is looking forward to hearing Alice Major speak again (she’s a great presenter!).
  • Last but not least, A Brunch of Writers on October 24 will see “stories of personal tragedy, delight and courage combine with live music and an elegant brunch buffet at the Sutton Place Grande Hotel.” Sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

LitFest runs October 15-24, 2010. Tickets available from Tix on the Square.