John Borra & Joe Sztabnik

August 4th, 2023 8pm   Stage 1


John Borra


It’s fair to say that John Borra has seen and done it all within the Toronto alternative music scene, from witnessing the first stirrings of punk as a kid in the late 1970s, to joining his first bands at the dawn of the alt-rock movement in the 1980s, and forging a solo career during the roots music renaissance that followed.

His new album, Cassettes In Common, pays tribute to virtually all of those eras by presenting Borra’s new interpretations of 10 songs by fellow singer/songwriters who helped build the scene, such as Ron Sexsmith, Kyp Harness, Bob Snider, Sam Larkin and Frank Nevada. Assisting Borra in the studio was another group of Toronto underground legends including Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, Blue Rodeo keyboardist Mike Boguski, original Blue Rodeo drummer Cleave Anderson, Doughboys/Rusty guitarist Scott McCullough, fiddler extraordinaire Miranda Mulholland, Handsome Ned guitarist Steve Koch, and Borra’s longtime friends and collaborators Sam Ferrara and Johnny MacLeod.

As well, Borra is paying tribute to his own past in a way by simultaneously giving his first solo release, the 1997 self-titled John Borra cassette, its first CD/digital reissue. Featuring his longtime live staples, “Last Sexy City On Earth,” “Who’s Pickin’ On You” and “In The Afternoon,” it’s a collection that still holds up as prime example of Canadian alt-country.

Both new releases follow Borra’s last solo album, 2020’s Blue Wine, which Exclaim! called, “A fine collection of songs from an artist meriting more attention,” and UK blogger The Rocking Magpie described as, “equal parts poetic Honky Tonk and revved up Punkish barn burners.”

Blending those two sounds has been Borra’s mission for the past several decades, and now with Cassettes In Common, he’s pulled back the curtain in a sense on what’s helped him achieve that seamless balance.

Joe Sztabnik


Joe Sztabnik is a native New Yorker, born and bred on Top10 hits from the 50’s, Classical and Church Music, 60’s folk, R&B, Pyschedelic, and schmaltz, among others. From 1971 to 1973 he traveled the world. He wrote his first song on a mountain top in the wilds of Ethiopia; 3 self-taught chords and his buddy’s Martin guitar and he was hooked. Landing back home in NYC his first thought was how to get in a band. Roadie sounded good…He went from carrying amps for friends to fronting a band during the next two years. Not really knowing how to play like the guys in cover bands, he turned to writing his own material. Lucky for him CBGB’s and Hilly Krystal only wanted originals. And so it started….

The first time he played CBGB’s was in 1975, with his band, Zabnik, opening for the iconic NYC band the Heartbreakers. He formed long lasting friendships with Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure until their passings. Some of his other bands were the Dragons, The Drones, the Renegades and he also did a short stint writing songs with Dee Dee Ramone. He has shared the stage with The New New York Dolls, the Cramps, Suicide, David Johansen, Clarence Clemons, Tina Turner, War and Johnny Thunders, to name a few. For the last 11 years, with bassist Cynthia Ross and drummer Gary Barnett, he’s been the guitarist and lead vocalist with New York Junk, keeping the dirty, gritty downtown sound alive. Most all of their songs are original's by Joe Sztabnik, except Mystery, ( written by Cynthia Ross), Poison Heart ( by Dee Dee Ramone and Joe Sztabnik) and Gutter Angels (by Puma Perl and Joe Sztabnik). They have toured extensively across the states and in Europe and consider Prague, where they recorded three of their four albums at Golden Hive Studio, a second home. Their latest recording, Dreaming,on Tarbeach Records, came out at the height of the pandemic and has gotten great reviews and air play. Joe has built a small sound studio in his basement and has encouraged many bands and solo artists from the downtown scene to come out and record, but only if they can write.