Nothing short of magic happened just below the Gardiner Expressway this past weekend at the Toronto Urban Roots Festival.
When I first arrived, not many people were at Fort York National Historic site. I guess they saw the 70% chance of rain all afternoon. But as the day went on, and the rain clouds rolled in, more and more people crowded in dressed to the nines in ponchos and rain boots. I, however, came completely unprepared and was walking around in utter denial of the rain.
It took my eyes a second to adjust as I walked towards The Strumbellas set where frontman, Simon Ward, was decked out in skeleton face paint. Perhaps it was an ominous foreshadow to the weather we were about to experience. It wasn’t even halfway through The Strumbellas set when the rain began to ruthlessly pour and the wind sent chills. I expected people to disperse but as I turned around to look back at the rain-soaked crowd, I saw that the fans just huddled in closer. At first, I must admit the rain was unbearably cold but after about a song or so, I started to forget and began to just enjoy. The kinetic energy of the crowd was intoxicatingly warm and The Strumbellas did a fantastic job of keeping the crowd in good spirits with lyrics like “everyday it looks like rain/ But I keep hopping for that sun” from their song In This Life. After a while, the rain became the butt of jokes as Dave Ritter (vocals and keys) dropped puns to keep the audience entertained: “I will save that for a rainy day. Oh you didn’t like that one? Fine, I will take a raincheck.” And in case you were wondering, no, Ward’s face paint was not damaged in the weather.
After I couldn’t handle wearing a soaked tshirt, I jogged over to the Merch tent where I bought myself a Union Duke shirt and an Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros sweatshirt. After, my friend was kind enough to give me her Indie 88 rain poncho. Needless to say, I was prepared for any weather mishaps.
During the afternoon I caught glimpses of Lucinda William and Choir! Choir! Choir! at which point the sun finally came out to say hello. I took this opportunity to look at some of the interesting and unique food trucks at the festival— and there were some questionable foods. Indian taco anyone?
I was able to see a bit of the Passenger concert, which was definitely one of the more moving concerts of the evening. After the initial butterflies and sentimentality faded a little, I was able to speak to some fans. One fan in particular told me her heart-warming story. After suffering a stroke two months ago, Sarah (Toronto) made watching Passenger her goal in her recovery. She explained that she wasn’t able to speak or get out much after her stroke but seeing Passenger at TURF was a big part of her speedy recovery process.
After the contemporary artists, came the Indie Rock granddaddies, Wilco followed by Cake. Cake stole the show with John McCrea’s commentary. After singing his opening song, McCrea confessed, “I am bravely battling bronchitis so if I pass out its for freedom and entertainment,” and later admitted, “I have a cough drop in my mouth so if it flies into your face, it’s not because I don’t like you.” McCrea and the band was able to have fun with the audience with some challenging crowd participation and playful inside jokes.
The headliner of the night, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, put on an amazing and satisfying finale of the day. At first Alexander Ebert, frontman of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, apologized saying he was not at his best, but as the show went on, every one became more comfortable with each other. Not only did the band connect with fans, they connected with them deeply and spiritually. At one point I had to glance down at the ground to check if I was levitating. Ebert enthusiastically helped fans come up and dance on stage; one fan was so starstruck she could barely move. At another point he passed around the microphone in the audience and fans had a chance to tell their story. And how could I forget the spontaneous silent dance party that broke out? What is that you ask? Ebert explained that you don’t need music to dance and encouraged us all to try.
I left the festival feeling quite drained but also overjoyed. I was walking out and seeing groups of friends in their teens, early 20s, then families with small children or even three generations. One father and daughter were wearing matching Cake tshirts. TURF is a great festival to bring all types of people together and let them bond over the power of music. But if I can give a word of advice it would be to bring an umbrella next year.