When Neil Young penned Helpless, a dreamy paean to growing up in a small “north Ontario” town, he likely only had his guitar-playing pals with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and presumably Crazy Horse) in mind to bring the song to life in the late 1960s.

Fast forward some 40 years later, whereupon the three-chord classic from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu will be the centrepiece of Toronto arts festival Luminato, to potentially be performed by thousands of guitar players.

In a recent online poll conducted by the festival, some 3,700-plus voters picked Helpless over nine other guitar-driven hits as The Great Canadian Tune. Festival organizers now hope to attract the guitar-playing public to gather at Yonge-Dundas Square on Saturday to shatter a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest guitar ensemble. This group will be led by The Heartbroken, East Coast singer Damhnait Doyle’s new outfit.

“It’s funny — this all started out as a meeting of how to simply fill time at the square on a Saturday afternoon,” artist director Chris Lorway tells Metro. “We already have a day-long blues show going on at Metro Square. So after some brainstorming, one of my cohorts suggested the world-record attempt. I took that idea and wanted to find a way to make it more interactive … more Canadian, if you will.”

The choice of Helpless coincides nicely with another Neil Young-themed event happening at Massey Hall. The Canadian Songbook: A Tribute to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall will feature the likes of Canadian musicians Steven Page. Carole Pope, Sarah Slean, Holly Cole, Jason Collett, Cowboy Junkies and more re-creating Young’s 1971 solo acoustic performance at the downtown Toronto venue.

“Instead of past years in which we focused on the multi-artist Canadian songbook in its entirety, this year we eyed just one monumental artist,” Lorway says.

The festival even invited the artist himself to attend, but Young — who ultimately returned to Massey Hall to perform in late 2007 — is scheduled to be touring Europe at the time.

“The intention wasn’t specifically to have Neil there, of course,” Lorway says. Though if he does somehow does show up, that would be a very huge plus.”

Although music-oriented events comprise a huge part of the festival, Luminato also features a plethora of theatre, dance, literature, film, visual arts and design events to attract the non-music oriented.

“How we try to separate ourselves from other festivals on the circuit is that you can do a little bit of everything, all more or less under one roof,” Lorway says. “But rather than be a festival where you just come to sit and watch something passively, we also offer activities where you can actively participate, engaging in the arists.”

Luminato runs from Friday through to June 14.

Best Bets for Luminato

Luminato First Night with Randy Bachman: Former Guess Who, BTO and guitarist headlines opening-night festivities at Yonge-Dundas Square, along with guests Digging Roots and the Canadian Tenors. Friday, 7 p.m. (Free).

Three Girls and Their Buddy: Acclaimed U.S. singer-songwriters Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin, demonstrate proof that America is capable of producing high quality talent at Massey Hall, Friday, 8 p.m.

An Evening With Neil Gaiman:
Author and graphic novelist will be reading from his latest, The Graveyard Book, followed by a Q&A and book signing; Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, Monday, 7 p.m.

Lipsynch: This North American premiere runs nine hours with four intermissions and one extended break, or 2 1/2 hours with one intermission over three nights. Bluma Appel Theatre; St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, June 6, 7, 13, 14, 1 p.m.; June 9-11, 7

Goran Bregovic:
This Yugoslav has composed tracks for the likes of Cesaria Evora and Iggy Pop; Yonge-Dundas Square, June 12, 8 p.m. (free) and Kool Haus, June 13, 9 p.m.

• Details at www.luminato.com.

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