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Here’s an essential guide to what to see at North by Northeast

Last year’s North by Northeast brought out huge crowds to Yonge-Dundas Square to see the National.

Phil Brennen /NXNE

Do you remember how you celebrated your 20th birthday? Exactly. So, it is no surprise that North by Northeast (NXNE) gets a little wild in 2014 upon its own two-decade marking. Here's a guide to help you make merry with the annual affair of music, film, comedy and interactive media, at venues across the city's downtown.

Yes, in his backyard

Local fellow Tim McCready, a self-described "emperor, wizard, hermit and pope," hosts his annual backyard barbecue/concert. Call in sick and bring your own booze to his party at 159 Manning St. (June 20, noon to 11 p.m., $20, limited room for holders of passes and wristbands; tickets at Soundscapes and Rotate This).

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It's a screen

Everybody's talking up the Canadian premiere of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, a film covering 12 years of a family's life, starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (June 14, 6 p.m., Bloor Hot Docs Cinema). But the musicologists among you might wish to check out Vann "Piano Man" Walls: The Spirit of R&B, a story of a lost piano man and a documentary on the origins of rock and roll (June 15, 12:30 p.m., Bloor Hot Docs Cinema).

NXNE goes soft?

Forget the standing-room clubs and settle into the chairs that are cushy-for-tushy at Massey Hall, a velvety venue that for the first times opens its big red doors for NXNE. Holders of festival wristbands and badges get first crack at seats for shows headlined by the alt-Afropop troupe tUnE-yArDs (June 19), space-rockers Spiritualized and Montreal's bluesy, Fleetwood Mac-inspired Barr Brothers (June 20) and the moody, sublime R&B duo Rhye (June 21).

A streetcar named Squirtcar

We're not sure it's the better way, but it's a different way. A Queen Street streetcar (rebranded by water enhancer MiO) is a moving venue for 100 passengers nightly (June 18 to 21, between Dufferin and McCaul streets). Non-stop comedy and music will happen, with appearances by cool comedian Reggie Watts, Macaulay Culkin's strange Pizza Underground project and others.

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Digital media empire Vice Media is a big presence here. Co-founder Suroosh Alvi is interviewed by Reggie Watts (June 20, at the festival hub at the Hyatt Regency, 370 King St. W.) and Vice hosts a mini-festival on Toronto Island, with Pusha T, Future Islands, Omar Souleyman and much more (June 19, 3 to 11 p.m.). Also on hand for the festival's Interactive component is Marc Maron, who chats about his wildly popular (and fantastic) WTF podcast (June 18, 4 p.m.).

Not your average singer-songwriters

Nothing against the James Taylors and Jack Johnsons of the world, but for festivals such as NXNE the joy is seeking out talents more off beat. We give you Giant Hand (the odd, folk-bluesy introvert; June 20, 11 p.m., Handlebar), St. Vincent (the indie-rock heroine Anne Clark; June 20, 9:10 p.m., free, Yonge-Dundas Square), Mac DeMarco (the sharp tunesmith but off-the-wall performer; June 20, 11 p.m., Opera House and June 21, 7:30 p.m., free, Yonge-Dundas Square) and Courtney Barrett (the slack Australian alt-rocker; June 20 to 22, Silver Dollar Room).

I'm with the wristband

The policies relating to attending festival happenings are mysterious, but basically there will be three lines to each event: Badge, Wristband, and Walk-Up, with priority access given to platinum badges ($599) and wristband holders ($149 covers music and comedy; $50 covers just comedy or just film). The complete breakdown is at nxne.com/tickets.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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