We spent last weekend in Canada celebrating our own American independence by rocking out with some awesome bands at the Toronto Urban Roots Festival. Only in its second year of existence, TURF gets a lot of things right that other festivals have been getting wrong for ages. It was honestly some of the most fun I’ve had covering anything in the four years I’ve been doing this. The mixture of genres was well-balanced, the bathrooms were still clean well into the third day, and they had some awesome Toronto-based food trucks parked in the center so you could grab something easily between sets.
The thing I appreciated most about TURF was the ease with which one could get around. Fort York is a huge park, and everything was set up so the stages weren’t too far apart with plenty of green space to grab some shade under a tree or eat a bubble cake in a canoe. The photo pit got a little crazy during the more popular bands sets, but even then most people were courteous about bumping into you. This is a stark contrast to a fest like Lollapalooza, where they sell so many tickets that even in the vastness of Grant Park you’re hard-pressed to find a spot where you aren’t completely surrounded. The openness at TURF gives the whole thing a very relaxed feel.
Adding to that is one of the big changes they made from last year, inserting gaps in the schedule. Now you can catch all of a new bands set and know you have time to make it over to the other stage where your favorite band is playing. This was a big concern for me, as Tweedy went longer than I thought and I was nervous we might miss Neutral Milk Hotel’s first song. But Tweedy finished his whole set and we walked at a leisurely pace to the East stage and still made it in plenty of time.
With a name like Toronto Urban Roots Festival, you can really add any name to the schedule and not be misleading. We got bluegrass/americana with Shovels And Rope, blues with Gary Clark jr, punk with Violent Femmes and Gogol Bordello, rock n roll with Gaslight anthem, indie-pop with Jenny Lewis and Lucius…it just goes on and on with one great act after another. They could’ve added a hip-hop act and just make it all-encompassing (maybe get Run The Jewels next year!), but what organizer Jeff Cohen and co. put together was fantastic.
So, I probably ate a lot more than I should have at the festival, and I’m blaming it on everyone but myself. The smells coming out of food truck central were so tantalizing I couldn’t help myself. On day 1 I had Korean BBQ spare ribs, a medium order of fries, and a bubble cake from Penny Lou Lou’s Sweets and Treats. On day 2 I had another bubble cake, and a hot fudge sundae with peanuts, and I drooled while talking to Deacon Batchelor of Andrew Jackson Jihad about his order of poutine. Day 3 I finally succumbed to Poutine Machine and got myself an order. And it was fantastic! Also more bubble cake.
Everyone working the festival was top notch. The security guys weren’t total assholes unless they absolutely had to be. Like, maybe they learned from Dalton in Road House. Cohen himself was super visible, introducing a lot of the bands and working the crowd. He’s a really passionate guy and wants Toronto to become more music-friendly, especially when it comes to outdoor festivals. The photo pit had a really great manager in Grace, who took all feedback seriously. By day 2 all of the issues we had on day 1 were resolved thanks to her work.
THE ONE BAD THING
This may not be an issue for a lot of people, but for me the smoking was out of control. Apparently everyone that attended the festival is a smoker and in Toronto there’s no law about smoking in public places like a park. People we conversed with from the area did say it’s something that the government has talked about, so maybe that will change. For a family-style festival, I would think they’d want to cut any danger to kids out of the equation, but u guess there isn’t anything they can do right now. My recommendation would be to set up an area for people to smoke just outside the main stage areas so they can still see and hear the music without blowing cancer up my nose. But at least the people of Canada know how to manage their alcohol so no one threw up on me and I didn’t see a single fight, so I goes that balances it out.
I’ve been to Lollapalooza, SxSw, and Way Over Yonder in the past few years and TURF blew them all away. I would absolutely recommend any music fan to head that way next summer. Dates will be revealed in the fall so keep an eye out.
To check out more pictures from the festival, check out our Facebook page for albums of all the sets we covered and take a look at the Instagram page for some short clips of songs.
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