I just went to my first multi-day music festival: the Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF). A three day festival situated within Historic Fort York in Toronto. Yes, the place that once was a battle zone during the War of 1812 was now host to a pleasant and sometimes raucous weekend of musical celebration. Three stages within a park setting of open grass and mature trees, flanked by the elevated Gardiner Expressway to the south and train tracks to the north.
It’s a wonderful way to see multiple artists. To watch bands you have loved forever and to discover new artists you never heard of before.
The day before the festival, I was telling my boss about my weekend plans.”I’m going to the Toronto Urban Roots Festival”, I said. “Oh, is that some hippie dippy love fest?”, he asked, in reference to the title of the festival. “Oh no”, I said. “The Pixies are headlining”. I thought that would be a clear counter to that question. Alas, he had never heard of the Pixies and their 90’s punk prowess. So, on name only, his thoughts were immediately confirmed.
It was a wonderful 3 day festival leaving me with great memories and many TURFlections such as: our ability to get front row for all the shows we wanted (except when the dag blamed VIPers hustled in front of us after the photographers were done); musical surprises like Lucinda Williams, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Neko Case (maybe not surprises for many, but for me they created a new long time fan); the torrential downpour during the Strumbellas show wearing our insanely lacking ponchos; finally seeing Ron Sexsmith; the amazing food; and the art of perfecting the equation of drinking Boneshakers, Ciders and water to achieve that perfect buzz.
So many great moments at TURF 2015. Here are this Pal’s top 5 TURFlections
The Avett Brothers show and a further indoctrination into the Avett Family
The big ticket for us Friday night was the Avett Brothers set. They had followed us from Red Rocks to see us in Toronto. In Red Rocks I felt officially a part of the Avett Family. At TURF this was further cemented when we met a journeyman who was travelling to three shows in three days at three different locations. His only travelling companion was a canvas banner that was being passed from show to show for the entire 2015 tour. He volunteered and it got passed to him to solicit fan signatures from each of those three shows. We all gladly signed it along with all the other diehards who were parked front row while the show on the other stage was happening. That was a real treat to be a part of. The bigger treat was the show, which of course was amazing. They tore it up as usual. It was certainly the best show of the festival. I admit to getting a bit weepy during The Ballad of Love and Hate. The Avett Brothers had the whole audience in the palm of their insanely talented hands.
Wilco playing Star Wars front to back
Talk about another treat. The whole first half of their set was their latest album in its entirety. Star Wars is great. Many critics say they are back to form with this album, but I feel they never broke their perfect mix of thick fuzzed-out Rock and delicate Folk beauty. Tweedy leaned into every word with a knowing snear letting us know that he knows that we know that this is some pretty kick ass shit we are hearing.
Pitch blackness at the kids stage and the band that decided to play adult friendly songs for an extended set
After the Wilco show we went to go piddle away what had just been rocked out of us. The Port-O-Johns were situated between the two main stages. A very dark place with a very long line up. Or ears tipped us off first, but soon we could see through the blackness to a smaller stage. The kids stage, here were two women (Rattle and Strum) playing bright jazzy-folk creations, essentially on crates, in front of a crescent shaped group of adults. “Normally we play for children but seeing as there are none here right now, and our set is over, let’s just play songs we like to play, for you guys. Would you guys like to hear it?” The crowd was more than eager to hear it. A fun impromptu midnight busk. It was so dark you could barely see six feet in front of you, but this little gem of a moment will stick in my memory as a highlight of the weekend.
Punch Brothers and the south stage
I was most excited to see The Avett Brothers, but I was MOST excited about seeing The Punch Brothers. These guys delivered in spades. Their musicianship is unparalleled. They are the Prog Rock extension of Bluegrass music maintaining acute sensibilities for Pop, Folk, Jazz, Classical and Alternative Rock. What made this even more memorable was its venue. The South Stage is the lower rent venue that played all day long adjacent to the two main stages. Situated under the backdrop of the Gardiner Expressway, the huge sound of The Punch Brothers was perfectly framed by its behemoth pillars and sprawling girders. There is a small grassed area in front to dance. Behind that is the south slope of Fort York. There you can sit amongst the plentiful gopher holes to take it all in. Country, history and infrastructure. This is the Punch Brothers.
Feeling like a deviant after watching the sexually charged family that is Kitty, Daisy and Lewis
It’s a good thing that I don’t believe in a heaven or hell. My experience discovering this band felt so sinful that I would have surely sealed my fiery fate. The band features three siblings: two sisters in shimmering jumpsuits a la Adrienne Barbeau in Cannonball Run, and a brother singing hard rocking Blues music. They must be 20 years old but they had the grizzled sexually charged sound of a seasoned Blues group. To make it even stranger they were backed by what looked like their Mom (bass) and Dad (rhythm guitar). Their stage presence felt Taboo. I was fixated as if in some kind of trance brought on by large flowing hair, one zipper jumpsuits, assorted jiggling bits, and well crafted Blues music. When their set was over, I broke from my fever dream, recited ten “Hail Marys”, and prayed that the devil didn’t take me away for all the horrible thoughts they conjured inside me.
In summary, it was a wonderful hippie dippy love fest. Despite the fact that the Pixies closed the show.