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article imageReview: Homeless buskers are the endearing subjects of 'Lowdown Tracks' Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 28, 2015 in Entertainment
In Toronto, a common pedestrian experience is walking around and ignoring the city's homeless population. 'Lowdown Tracks' looks at several homeless subjects trying to make some money busking.
Buskers are widespread throughout Toronto, playing in the subways and outside of many buildings. Lowdown Tracks gives a voice to the voiceless in a film filled with music and stories about the struggles of living on the streets.
Director Shelley Saywell gets some help from Lorraine Segato, lead singer of the legendary Parachute Club. Segato and Saywell travel across Toronto, getting the stories of several buskers around town. Mary Lynn, with the "voice of an angel," has stayed in 23 shelters over seven years across three provinces; Wendell "Woody" Cormier sings wayfaring songs as he struggles to reconcile his demon-filled past; Katt sings intensely personal, soul-filled songs as she tries to make ends meet and bring her kids back into her life.
The music from this endearing cast of characters becomes stronger in the context of the struggles they face on a day-to-day basis, and Segato brings some of their songs to higher levels toward the end of the film, when she invites them to record in her studio with the Parachute Club band.
But what speaks louder than the music is undoubtedly the situation the homeless — especially homeless buskers — face in one of Canada's largest cities. Bruce Bathgate reveals his problems getting help with community housing; by Toronto law, having a busking license denies him the ability to get affordable housing.
Katt talks about Toronto's busking licensing system, which gives the city's "top 50" buskers a license for three years. Auditions are "like Canadian Idol" in Katt's words. Once approved, a musician gets shifts every three days in different subway stations. The highly transitory nature of the job is undoubtedly hard on buskers, who are already constantly moving around.
Talking about this film objectively is a tricky task, as the film makes it impossible to not feel sympathy for what these musicians go through daily. At a Q&A after a Monday evening screening, all the musical "cast members" were on hand to answer questions and spoke of how the film gave them hope for the future. Segato said she hopes to release an album of these musicians' songs, and asked residents to lobby their councillors to change the "no housing for buskers" law.
Lowdown Tracks will screen once more at the Hot Docs film festival on May 2. All of Digital Journal's coverage of this year's festival can be found here.
More about lowdown tracks, shelley saywell, lorraine segato, Toronto, Homelessness
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