Toronto is becoming a city of festivals from food, arts, film, and of course music. What has been lacking in the past has been good solid outdoor music festivals similar to those in Europe. With TURF (Toronto Urban Roots Festival) now in it’s second year settling in to the grounds outside of Fort York, it is becoming an established and highly anticipated annual event – something that is great for the city of Toronto.
Going in to the festival, I’ll be honest as to being not familiar with many of the artists, but that’s the beauty of discovering new music.
TURF launched on America’s birthday, the fourth of July, and our first act to see was Jackson Mississippi’s, The Weeks. I had been hearing about this band but I hand;t heard any of their music so I went in with no expectations. I was pleasantly surprised – the singer sounds similar to Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows, the guitar player has a unique style choosing to have sparse rhythms with strong melodies, while the rhythm section were tight in holding down the foundation of each song. A great way to kick off the festival.
On the East stage (main stage?) was Toronto’s Born Ruffians, who I have been hearing a lot about but also hadn’t seen. JC (from the Horseshoe Tavern / Lee’s Palace) gave a rousing speech about getting Toronto’s government onboard to support outdoor music festivals before introducing the band. The Born Ruffians impressed me from the start – they have catchy pop tunes that had everyone bopping along. The bass player was head banging throughout the set which was fun to watch while the singer was good at being quirky enough to hold everyone’s attention. The band was solid throughout the set and the energy level was well maintained, the only comment I would make is that after awhile the songs did start to sound the same.
Next up was Lucius on the South stage – which I only caught the last part of their set with their rendition of Whitney Houston’s, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. It was the type of cover that you didn’t realize it was a cover until the chorus kicked in. The fans were very appreciative and the band spent time after posing for photos and signing autographs.
Food trucks have become synonymous with outdoor festivals and has also become an attraction seeing what unique items are available. Tacos, poutine, corn on the cob, and pulled pork anything all seem to be the popular choice. I gave the brisket tacos with a side of coleslaw from Caplansky’s paired with the new cider from Molson Canadian a go. The tacos were flavourful and filling, the coleslaw average, and the cider was a good choice to go with the tacos on a hot summer day. Other vendors on hand included Toronto’s Indie Radio station, Indie88 and the cab company Halio.
Back at the South stage was a band called the Willie Nile Band – an older group that was showing the kids how to rock out at a festival. The band showed great enthusiasm and energy. Everyone was bopping along to the tunes.
Before having to leave for another event, I caught the first part of Gary Clark Jr.’s set. His music is a modern take on old school blues rock with a heap of jamming – his guitar tone is thick and chunky. It was also good to see a three piece sounding as big as they did – think Jimi Hendrix meets Stevie Ray Vaughan with a ZZ top influence. I’m glad I stuck around to see some of his set.
I didn’t make it back until Sunday to catch July Talk who I had seen the week previous at Lachie Fest and was gown away. I had to capitalize on this chance to see them again. The band didn’t disappoint, they were consistent and the chemistry between Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay as the two vocalists is amazing. It’s what makes the show. Peter’s vocal styling brings immediate comparisons to Tom Waits, while Leah’s approach is similar to Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. On their own they are very close to their comparisons, but together they bring something unique to the stage. Their on stage rapport forces you to watch and pay attention as you don;t know what they will do next which makes their show interesting. I’m hoping to see them at their Monday night show at the Horseshoe.
The last band we caught was Manhattan’s Gogol Bordello. Another act that has eluded me for years. The band consist’s of 8 members that are on 110% full kick throughout their set. There is a lot to see and hear as the members are all moving around and the music is on full tilt! The music is a punk version of gypsy inspired music with Latin / Cuban thrown in. Violin and accordion included! This band was probably my highlight of the festival as they took the fun meter to a new level. Especially when they had a break within a song saying that everyone must start wearing purple and that purple was the frequency. Followed by some dowsing of red wine on the crowd of course. If you get a chance to see these guys live – do it!
The festival had great programming this year which turned me on to some new acts – I already look forward to seeing this festival grow throughout the years. Great job and kudos to the organizers!
Please leave your comments at the bottom of the page, I’d love to hear your thoughts on your experience at the festival – all opinions are welcome!