The TURF 2014 Experience

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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.

OPEN SPACES

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.
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Toronto Urban Roots Festival-Day 3

The term “Save the best for last” may have been coined hundreds of years ago, but it’s never been applied more aptly than in describing the Sunday lineup of TURF. Headlined by the reunited Neutral Milk Hotel, the day featured sets by some of the best songwriters of the day and two of the most exciting acts I’ve seen in quite some time. We ended up arriving about an hour earlier than anticipated after a quick brunch at Thompson’s Diner. The West stage was our main attraction for the day, so we set up camp and checked out a set by a Tennessee-based group called Twin Forks. Sweet harmonies and a fun stage presence made them an unexpected surprise hit. They balanced out some of their originals with covers of Roy Orbison and Violent Femmes, to the delight of many fans from the previous day. We had been tipped by one of the local photographers to not miss the East stage performance by July Talk, and they certainly weren’t wrong about the bands combustible energy. From the second they took the stage their chosen mission was to wake up the sleepy Sunday crowd from their drunken stupor and they succeeded in spades. I’d heard of the band but didn’t know much about them. Apparently they have quite a following in their hometown of Toronto, and after just a few minutes it was obvious why. The main singer sounds a bit like George Thorgood with a modern rock band behind him. They also feature a female on vocals who got the crowd going by dancing and running all over the stage. It was certainly a lot more frenzied than Jenny Lewis on the West stage. Not that I minded at all. The last time we saw her live it was a huge disappointment, with Lewis barely able to get through her own songs without forgetting the words. This time she was spot on in all areas of performance. She opened with her latest single “Just One Of The Guys” and spent the rest of the set hopping back and forth through her catalogue from Rilo Kiley and her solo work. The new songs sounded good, but “Silver Lining” was probably my favorite of the set, followed by “A Man/Me/Then Jim.” 20140707-073751-27471016.jpg Continue reading “Toronto Urban Roots Festival-Day 3”

Toronto Urban Roots Festival-Day 2

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Day 2 was scheduled as our “easy” day, and it lived up to that designation quite well. We kept busy, but it was very relaxed and cool. Four sets was all we needed to hit to consider the day a success and we did it without rushing from stage to stage and managed to enjoy most, if not all, of each set we set out to see.

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Shovels And Rope kicked off the day on the West Stage. I wish more people were listening to this amazing country/blues duo. They ended up with a surprisingly high attendance for being so early in the day, so that put a smile on my face. Michael and Cary Ann played a bunch of tunes from O Be Joyful, and also broke out some brand new songs from their upcoming record (out in August). New stuff sounded really good even though they prefaced the first new one saying they were still learning how to play it live. Their set-up is a lot of fun-it’s just the two of them so they set up a drum/keyboard hybrid and mainly face each other while they play. They were great, and festival founder Jeff Cohen let it slip that they’d be playing at Phoenix Concert Theatre in the fall.

After taking in some great americana what else would you want to hear but some loud punk music?¬†Lucky for us over on the South stage Andrew Jackson Jihad was gearing up. We got over to see them a few minutes late, but managed to see probably 90 percent of the set. They flew through what seemed like a dozen songs in about 20 minutes and questioned whether they needed to slow down to make the show last longer. If you haven’t taken the time to check them out, I seriously suggest doing so. They sound like Mountain Goats if John Darnielle were backed by Titus Andronicus-fast and loud and very¬†cerebral and witty.

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