truly describe this new festival in Toronto, one must understand the "backstory" and how the success of this new music festival could be instrumental in bringing more events like this to the area. 

Toronto has had music festivals before, but very limited and very restricted in their size, location, and even how alcohol is served.  These local legislations and restrictions have pretty much meant that it was near impossible for these events to be successful.  They have forced the events to locations outside of the city centre, with the logistics of getting to the festival, and getting home...near impossible.  They have forced the festivals to serve alcohol in certain fenced off areas, making it near impossible to enjoy a drink and see the stage to watch a band at the same time. Off duty police were the only security allowed to work these events and that was far too expensive (compared to normal event security)..and some of these events were held on Toronto Island, where insurance costs due to having a festival surrounded by Lake Ontario made it a money losing event before it even began.


But recently, there has been a shift in local politics and attitudes.  There is a concerted effort to promote Toronto as one of North America's greatest music cities.  Already considered in the top three by the music industry, a successful music festival could do wonders to promote this.  Local promoters (Collective Concerts) have led the way in bringing fantastic bands to the city, and they have enjoyed festivals such as SXSW, NXNE, Canadian Music Week. and wanted to create one of their own, one that takes advantage of the new attitudes and changes in local policy. that would allow a new festival to be located in downtown Toronto and offer something we festival lovers have not been able to enjoy.


TURF was created...its site in the downtown core of Toronto is perfect, near many transit options (and walkable from my house!) using a government run historical site Old Fort York. the site of the battle of York from the war of 1812!  (Is it any wonder they picked this site considering the importance of the British to defending the site and Britain's history with very successful music festivals?) and with the change in provincial legislation that allows alcohol to be served with no restrictions on where you could drink it. meant you could grab a drink and watch a band and actually see and hear them. a novel concept for us Canadians.


A lot of planning later. and the event was upon us.






While TURF hopes to expand to three stages in the years to come, with a new stage dedicated to introducing local independent artists, it opens this year with two stages with no overlapping of bands.  When a band finishes on the east stage, you have time to grab a drink. and wander over to the west stage as the next band comes on.  Perfect for seeing all the bands.  All the food vendors are small independent local operations and that is a considerable upgrade from the normal pizza slice offer.  Tents full of free offers that include ice tea, vitamin water. help out staying hydrated as well as the free water kiosks where you can fill up your reusable water bottles whenever you like.


Thursday lineup starts with Barr Brothers (Montréal based rock band)  Camera Obscura, Joel Plaskett and She & Him.  Obviously a lot of people are here to see She & Him but Barr Brothers start things off very well with beautiful 4 part harmonies. a great set of rock n roll that pleases the early crowd. 


Off to the other stage for another wonderful hour long set of new and old Camera Obscura songs.  The band are almost afraid of the sun. and apparently its too hot for them! ..guess they are not use to playing music festivals when its warm but it doesn't effect their set.  Another great response for their hour long set with plenty of sing a longs! 


Now its time to grab a beer and wander over to see Joel Plaskett's set.  Joel is very very popular here in Toronto so the response to his set is pretty impressive.  Feel out of place that I have not memorized every lyric to his songs. a great mix of power pop and crunchy guitars, often described as a mix of Big Star and Led Zepellin.  Another hour long set with a lot of happy people dancing around and then we are off to see She & Him.  By now. the crowd has grown even further and dusk is upon us as She & Him are hitting the stage. 


If you are a fan, you would have been pleased. the band is fantastic and Zoey is a lovely singer, but I guess the "no cell phone/camera photo" announcements and the signs they have had to post everywhere regarding taking photo's just seemed to be an odd way to approach a festival show to me.  The band has done this before so no surprise, just thought the vibe would be a bit different here but a solid show nonetheless and now a simple walk out of the park and I can’t wait until we come back for the next nights schedule.


Friday night starts off with JD McPherson..a fantastic rock-a-billy, blues rock artist. and clearly the early crowd is enjoying this guy’s...fantastic little band.   Then its over to the east stage for Justin Townes Earle  Steve Earle's son, his alt country songs and onstage banter is pretty fantastic.


Another short walk after Justin's hour long set and we are about to watch Fitz and the Tantrums. The crowd is bigger but I would guess there are a lot here that have never heard of the band before.  Having seen them at SXSW before, we knew a big dance party was about to start and there was full on.  Great seeing a crowd who had no expectations in advance but, were clearly enjoying what they were seeing and hearing.  These guys do bring the festival to a new level, everyone is responding and the catchy songs are preparing people for the dance party that is going to continue with the next band, the Arkells. 


Back to the west stage and The Arkells play a blasting set of pure fun rock n roll.  The are quite popular in Toronto and they kick the whole night up a notch and its a great rock set. but for the end of the evening, the Arkells invite friends onstage to perform a massive 30 minute classic Motown set!  From Stevie Wonder to Jackson 5...the whole field is dancing. its a dance floor on a field and its wonderful to watch.  Again, a successful evening of shows and another short trip home and its time for rest as the next two days are full day schedules and this old guy needs to relax!


Saturday schedule features, Larry & his Flask, Hannah Georgas, Felice Brothers, Skydiggers, Dawes, Matt Mays, Frank Turner, Lowest of the Low, Hold Steady and Flogging Molly.  Some of these are local favourites, with Hannah Georgas (Feist like ..beautiful voice and clever songs) Skydiggers (roots rock band that have been around for years) Matt Mays..(no nonsense straight ahead rock n roll) and Lowest of the Low (very popular in Toronto with catchy pop songs and a great reputation for putting on a brilliant live show. somewhat of a reunion show as they do not perform together that often anymore)


Larry & his Flask...Americana punk/bluegrass band..odd blend and a fantastic live show started things off...Felice Brothers are a beautiful folk rock/country band that are obviously why a lot of people are here today. great full crowd and a brilliant beautiful set. 


Dawes..another beautiful Americana band..have seen these guys a few times and they really produce an amazing set of wonderful rock songs and a beautiful grassy field setting is perfect for the music.  Next up on this stage is Frank Turner.  There are a lot of people here now and there clearly is a lot of Frank Turner fans.  Every song brings an even bigger response from the crowd and this guy is a punk rock troubadour. He sings with a passion and you cant ignore him. Do love his set, seems like a very good guy and he is a bucket load of fun to watch. Next up on this stage is Hold Steady. having announced that they are just about to go into the studio to finish their new album, the crowd is already excited and the band play over an hour with new songs and old. another straight ahead rock n roll show that has everyone smiling. 


I love being on a field like this with so many people being civilized, happy and dancing all at the same time. just love it!  Their encore includes an appearance by Frank Turner to join the band for a song, ..well. at least half a song as someone failed to tell Hold Steady stage folks that Frank was coming on and thought he was a stage invader and they dragged him off!  After some laughs and a few hugs between Craig Finn and Frank...encore continues and the band has provided one of the many highlights of the festival.

Next up...another huge dance party as Flogging Molly kicks off the East stage with  Irish jigs and Celtic punk songs and its clear there are ALOT of people here just to see them.  More dancing ensues until 11pm when everyone leaves; having danced a night away and there seems to be an awful lot of happy happy people. 



Sunday is another full day, and it features more very popular local bands including The Wooden Sky (beautiful roots rock band from Toronto) Sadies (Canadian country & western folk rock band) and Whitehorse (husband and wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland)  All three of these bands are fantastic. The Sadies set includes a guest appearance with Kurt Vile..and the entire set is a beautiful mix of country pop rock that is perfect for the crowd. and Whitehorse super group is made up of two wonderfully talented singers who had great reputations for great live shows on their own, and since they decided to not only join in marriage but also in a band, they have gotten even better!  Great way to spend an hour on a field! 


Alejandro Escovedo provides an hour long set of rock n roll from this very talented Mexican American artist.  He pushes the crowd to get involved and makes sure everyone is paying attention.  Next up on the East stage is Kurt Vile..his new album hust released, brought out a huge crowd and his set is raw, and wonderful. his band are fantastic and he is a very loveable little character! 


Next up. another great set by Yo La Tango.  The band plays a full set of their Americana indie rock..a hits laden set that is only marred by a sky that is turning quite dark?  Is it possible that rain is necessary for a festival to be successful? Was really hoping that we would have left this lesson learned in Britain. you can keep your rain.


Well...not so lucky!


Cat Empire hits the West Stage and the rain comes!   Now I had not seen Cat Empire or listened to any of their music but this band kicks off an electric ska/jazz set that despite the hugely popular.  There is plenty of cover at this festival..With plenty of trees and tents but nobody cares.  This is what turns out to give me more hope then anything here. is that this crowd could care less about the rain, they are here to see the bands, sing along and dance. nobody left. they stuck around and it was wonderful to watch!


The crowd simply take in the rain and smiles and when this great set by Cat Empire is over, they simply move to the East stage to kick off again with Xavier Rudd.  He is hugely popular with the crowd and brings his multi instrumental show to Toronto often and not so surprisingly, the crowd eats it up.  A one man show..he does pack a punch and people dance around while drying off.


Back to the West stage, and the crowd is huge.  This is the biggest crowd we have seen here since the festival started and while the rain had stopped for an hour or so now, it was clear from the looks of the sky. its coming back!  No sooner had Neko Case come on to stage to a tremendous response from the crowd then the sky opened and it was on!  Torrential downpour unlike anything I have seen in Toronto for a long time!  And the crowd?  nobody moved. they just took their shoes off and started dancing to Neko and her fantastic band the mud. there was mud where the grass was but no matter, the music was fantastic and the crowd was great and another set of classic Neko Case set. 


Neko just smiled at the crowd and thanked them for standing there through this rain and again, I couldn't help but smile as I was witnessing a crowd who was there for the music....and nothing else mattered.  Its pretty fantastic considering most of these people, who had bought the 4 day pass. could come and go as they please and could easily have left and walked the 5 minutes it would take to get to some bars and restaurants that they could have gone to, but nobody left!


Everyone simply enjoyed the show and then shifted to the East Stage for the last band of the night, and the Festival. a wonderful set by Belle & Sebastian.  A laid back set of their classics, an amusing audience participation set that included having audience members play scrabble with the band onstage, as well as sing on stage with the band and it really was a great way to end the festival. 


This festival was a success from where I sit, I saw crowds having fun, not causing problems, drinking and dancing and singing, eating great food and simply enjoying the experience of being at a music festival, in down town Toronto


It’s so rare that I have to hope local politicians see their way to continue to support this type of event.  While the promoters did have complaints about noise levels, I think these complaints were limited and hopefully will not affect this festivals return.  Next year. it will be bigger and better and perhaps I will see some rock club readers. Time a nice little vacation to Toronto with this festival’s arrival and we can all go together!


All the best from Toronto and thanks for reading!




Festival Website