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Toronto Urban Roots Festival Day 1 at Fort York; Thursday July 4, 2013


TRIBE Member
Attending just two days of this delightful festival made me feel incredibly grateful to have lived in Toronto. I use the word lived because for the last two years I have been a resident of the bustling city of Guelph, living the life of a transplanted Toronto concert goer.

With that being said, I could enjoy small bits of the Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) and only have an hour commute to see anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of TURF as it felt like the underrated Toronto festival of the summer, lost in the shadow of Field Trip, hometown heroes Broken Social Scene’s gig just a couple of weeks before, also at Fort York. I managed to make the big trek to catch the bookends of the festival, leaving out two of the four days. A four-day festival is quite an ambitious feat, for even the best promotion companies in the world. The festival’s Creative Director Jeff Cohen, who also owns Lee’s Palace, the Horseshoe Tavern, and Collective Concerts, was bang on in creating a weekend-long indie music festival for Toronto. Given a few years, TURF could become what Osheaga is to Montreal and what Hillside is to Guelph, however it sure has a long way to go.

Horrendous weather conditions aside, the stage layout worked really well. No bands were missed, as there was no overlapping of sets like Field Trip a few weeks before. With that being said, the festival could have been shortened a few days had they more stages, which would have certainly received my undivided attendance.

The line-up was beyond excellent, with veterans such as Yo La Tengo and Belle and Sebastian, as well as newer artists such as Kurt Vile and the Arkells. However even the best of line-ups, catching a crowd is a hard thing to do when you are charging $50-$70 per day. I asked a handful of friends to keep me company and the dominant response I received from pals is that they cannot justify paying $70 for just one day. All of them however agreed that $150 for the weekend was in fact a good deal. Frustrating.

Day one’s weather was quite good, not even the threat of rain throughout the evening, which was good thing because security was on their A-game checking-in every umbrella they found. I missed the Barr Brothers, however made the entirety of Camera Obscura’s set. Oddly enough, Camera Obscura was the band that I most thrilled to see. In all honesty, there’s nothing particularly dazzling about their set. Their tunes, with the exception of a few bangers, are quite flat both recorded and live. It’s always a mega struggle to try and understand what lead singer, Tracyann Campbell, is trying to say beneath her thick Scottish accent. I suppose in saying all of this, I keep returning to see this silly band because I adore their few banger tunes like “Hey Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,” “French Navy,” and their forever closer “Razzle Dazzle Rose.” For the record, they did not let me down but they also didn’t blow me away.

I took a twee break to watch The Joel Plaskett Emergency play. Even after seeing Plaskett numerous times, I still haven’t found a big love for the guy’s music. I appreciate its energy and angst-y tendencies however he always manages to lose me a few songs into his set.

She & Him were certainly the highlight of my evening in great form, as usual. Frontwoman Zooey Deschanel entered the stage in a dress that she told the audience, after being complimented and asked, that it was a custom-made dress. She delivered her response with a bashful grin, reminiscent of her adorkable character Jess on the TV show, The New Girl. In their roughly two-hour time slot, they plowed through the majority of their three-album catalogue (I leave out the Christmas album for obvious reasons). I was delighted to hear most of their first album, which to this day plays incredibly easy in any mood I find myself in. It’s been just over three years since M. Ward and Deschanel were last in Toronto playing Toronto’s worst rock concert venue, the Sound Academy, and I am just delighted that they have kept “You Really Got A Hold On Me” in their live repertoire. Like the two times I’ve seen them play before (and the countless occasions on YouTube), I found myself in absolute awe of how beautiful their rendition is. Their band leaves the stage and Deschanel and M. Ward strip the song naked, to its most raw, tender capabilities. These are glowing words of a song that has been covered by so many terrific (and not so terrific) bands.

The evening as whole played out extremely well. I know some folks were bitter that they couldn’t use their cellphones throughout the She & Him set, for absolutely any reasons. A security guard sought and hounded my friend and me for texting each other mid-set. It was a little ridiculous in an open environment like Fort York.

There were even a few bright orange TURF signs acknowledging the tight camera policies. They were so small and hard to see that I didn’t even notice them until it reached the Twitter world, they read:

“At the request of Matt and Zooey, we ask that people not use their cellphones to take pictures and video, but instead enjoy the show that they have put together in 3D.”

How adorkable.