Toronto Urban Roots Festival 2016: Day 1

Story by Angelo Gio Mateo, Kalina Nedelcheva &  Jennifer Hyc, Photos by Jennifer Hyc



The Toronto Urban Roots Festival arrived at Fort York and Garrison Commons on Friday, September 16, and in its arrival, ultimately began closing the chapter on summer festival season in the city. With the sun beaming down overhead, those looking to forget the imminent season change were bathed in ignorant bliss. Festival-goers were soon blessed with the music to match the weather.

Opening up the main stage was Simone Denny, a Toronto-based vocalist who brought out the big guns (and pipes) for her slowly growing crowd. Opening a festival is not necessarily the easiest task, especially on a Friday in the early afternoon when most are presumably at work or at school. However, Denny’s performance was soulful and attention-grabbing—two things that sell a crowd very quickly, no matter how big. Also thrown into the mix was a cover of The Black Keys’s “Lonely Boy.”

Margo Price, Nashville’s latest sensation amongst critics and audiences alike, brought some of the Midwest onto Canadian soil. While the common rocker may wince at the mere mention of country music, there is no questioning that Price’s groove and lyrical strength make for a refreshing sound. Her voice commands the attention it deserves, and leaves no one astray.

While The Hives pulverized the main stage, a soft and worn out soul was sheltering some of us away from the storm. The atmosphere around John Moreland’s set could not have been any more different from the performers he overlapped, and it was lovely. Moreland sang of love, childhood, and emotional reflection, making for a perfect resting spot.

In the late afternoon, The Tragically Hip descended onto the Battle of York Stage in the form of super-group Dwayne Gretzky. Even if you were to ignore the fact that the Battle Of York Stage was funded by the Ontario Music Fund, and thus featured Canadian artists, the saturation of Canadian heritage going on there was enough for me to even consider getting some overpriced beer. The performance was bittersweet for some in light of the Hip’s final concert a few weeks back, but most of what I saw was happy and slightly buzzed adults nodding and dancing their troubles away.

Although the festival’s turnout felt somewhat lacking throughout the day, you wouldn’t have guessed it once the Dropkick Murphys’s set came around. Even before the black curtain dropped to reveal the Celtic punk band, the energy was high and the spirit relentless. It was the most energy I had seen from the crowd the entire day, combined, and I have seen much more aggressive mosh pits than that. It marked the second time I wished for some alcohol in my system.



I began my TURF experience around 6PM when I walked onto the familiar and homely Fort York grounds. I was greeted by the atmospheric music of Explosions In The Sky and the smell of the food trucks. I have fond memories of this place, having seen both Broken Social Scene play during the first two Field Trip festivals and Phoenix play during the Grove Music Festival. Within minutes of walking through the gates, I immediately recognized that this was a different festival experience from Wayhome: the crowds were older and more subdued. The vibe was relaxed, unpretentious and everyone was tuned into the music. Most importantly, there were PoCs: we were still the minority to be certain, but a substantial number of festival-goers were PoCs. While very few of the festival acts were PoCs, we certainly do listen to this music and it is nice to see that diversity in the crowd. I shouldn’t be too surprised—my experiences with Fort York music festivals in the past have been mostly positive.

It’s been difficult to discern what genres the festival represents. It’s a mix of roots rock, indie folk, Americana, and acoustic singer-songwriter. I have not been quiet in my belief that those genres have become oversaturated, with mediocre artists tending to dominate the scenes now. However, TURF offers a little for everyone to enjoy, and post-rock instrumentalists Explosions In The Sky certainly delivered. Rarely have I seen a band play a set without talking at all and yet Explosions kept everyone engaged and focused on their chaotic soundscapes without a word. Purely instrumental bands normally challenge listeners’s ability to recognize their songs, but the crowd loved hearing some of their familiar classic songs, myself included.

Next, I could have seen Dropkick Murphys or Matt Mays but instead I opted for Limblifter, a band I had never heard before. The band is a Canadian alternative rock group from Vancouver, BC. They have been playing for 20 years, having formed in 1996, and is sonically a contemporary of other early 2000s Canadian alt-rock like Sloan and Matthew Good. But what do I know? I don’t pretend to be part of that scene. But I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed their set. They genuinely enjoyed themselves and revelled in the fact that they were on the smallest stage. It is also nice to see a female bassist rocking out. They sounded like a raw precursor to Kings Of Leon, without the fame. It seems to be what they want anyway, preferring to rock out on the small stage with an intimate crowd (and seeming excited to share the stage with Guided By Voices, who are playing on Saturday) rather than out on the big stage.

I ended the night watching James Bay on what appeared to be the main stage. Bay was catapulted to fame by his track, “Hold Back The River.” He was certainly charismatic, often asking the audience to participate by singing along with him. I must confess however that it wasn’t my style. His music was par for the course for the genre. And that’s OK—the audience seemed to enjoy it. It just wasn’t my thing and I admit that.

All in all, my first TURF experience was pretty fun. The festival is well organized, and while there is a core group of listeners that they appeal to, the wide variety of music will draw in many other fans. One thing will always be the same at every festival though: you will get gouged for some shitty-ass beer.



The Hives were raw energy. Singer Pelle Almqvist was basically a clothed Iggy Pop—he swung the microphone, jumped on amps, and did everything but a somersault on stage, with the same rugged sexual charisma. Accompanied by his brother Niklas Almqvist, the two made Rock’n’Roll “work in daylight.” Despite the aggressive shredding of guitars, the inability to “hold [Niklas] back,” and the smugness of songs like “Hate To Say I Told You So,” The Hives were amazing at engaging their audience. Pelle referred to the “ladies and gentleman” numerous times and engaged in poll taking and many in-depth conversations. I just wished Toronto audiences would be a wee bit more rowdy, even if it was 4PM.

When you think of Skinny Lister, you think of the Dropkick Murphys with just a touch of sweetness. Their colourful set—featuring nontraditional instruments like mandolin, a stomp box, and a double bass, in addition to singer Lorna Thomas’s energy—had me feeling like I wanted skip and dance while having a beer. Undoubtedly drawing from English pub music, this folk-hillbilly punk band was yet again not fully matched in energy by the audience’s behaviour. Enjoying the music, no doubt, but not doing anything about it either.

I have one word for Modern Baseball and that is “precious.” Half of it was from their appearance: Ian Farmer looked like if Scott Pilgrim grew hair and possessed one of the best bass faces I have ever seen, and Brendan Lukens gave off the faint impression of that one guy who still listens to Simple Plan in his mid-twenties. I had never personally listened to this band on my own time, but my friends kept hyping it up and now I see why. Their sound was crisp, they’re music had an extremely relatable feeling of teenage existentialism, and if they lacked something in a technical sense, they made up in charm and self-deprecating humour. Able to bring down the wall that the stage creates, Ian, Brendan, Jake and Sean were basically those super dorky, random, sweet guys that you knew in high school.


simone denny.JPG

Simone Denny


Margo Price


Margo Price


John Moreland

The Hives.JPG

The Hives

The Hives 3.JPG

The Hives

The Hives 2.JPG

The Hives

skinny lister.JPG

Skinny Lister


Dwayne Gretzky


Explosions In The Sky


Modern Baseball


Modern Baseball


Limblifter, photo taken by Angelo


Dropkick Muphys


Dropkick Murphys


James Bay


James Bay


James Bay


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