Toronto Urban Roots Festival 2016: Day 2

Story & Photos by Kalina Nedelcheva, Feature Photo by Jennifer Hyc

Day number two at the Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) started quite mean-tempered. The sky was dusky, the air gloomy, and the rain kept falling for a good half of the day. However, the TURF crew didn’t seem to pay much attention to the unfortunate weather. In fact, the crowd had undergone a major improvement since Friday. I don’t know if it was the lower atmospheric pressure, the performers, or that everyone was hyped from day one, but the audience was optimistic and having fun.

I couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t many people who made it in time for the early acts. This is hardly a surprise; however I feel like they missed out. Midnight Shine are one of those bands that are an instant mood-lifter. Beckoning you to swing from side-to-side and to sing along—as long as you knew the lyrics—they performed a rather Canadian-themed set. However, I preferred Matt Andersen & The Bona Fide, who played at the West Stage at roughly the same time, with Midnight Shine lacking that one of a kind “shred it or die tryin’” element that I love. Indeed, this is where most of the population had congregated, wide-eyed and woo-ing  to the grooviest vibe I witnessed all weekend. These cats had created an oasis of contemporary blues rock. Matt Andersen—notorious for his solo shows—lavished the audience with virtuoso guitar solos, while producing a very Joe Cocker-esque sensation with his singing. His supporting act, The Bona Fide, didn’t come up short either, with Chris Kerby (electric guitar, keyboard) dazzling the audience with what seemed a Jon Lord-style keyboard solo. Planned or by chance, TURF organizers had scheduled acts that appropriately perked up the mood, and thank goodness, because they did run into some scheduling mishaps later on.

Lake Street Dive was one of the bands I was most thrilled about. Rachel Price possesses that unapologetic femininity, “take it or leave it” kind of deal. The audience picked up on it. Rachel greeted everyone with smiles before hypnotizing with her sensual dancing. It is really hard to grasp that the joyful soul band has been playing for twelve years and not secured a bigger following. There was an aura of all inclusiveness as Rachel insisted on everyone “being themselves” and worked hard to not steal the show. She gave way and called attention to Bridget Kearney’s side-pony hairstyle (which is also the name of their 2016 album) and to her emotional stand-up bass performance along with that of drummer Mike Olson. Their loving set was hard to leave and I lingered until the end, which caused me to miss The Deslondes.

The Sadies took from the youthful vigour of Lake Street Dive and emerged as swamp rock advocates. Wearing yellow/orange suits with classic hillbilly embroidery, they looked like something you’d find in an antique store. The moral of their performance, which I only got from two or three songs was “hide your kids, hide your wife, the devil is a-coming.” Lush, unfortunately, wasn’t that memorable for me, either. There was a faint technical issue with the vocals of Miki Berenyi, as they seemed a little too distorted and quiet. The crowd seemed to enjoy it. However for me, this was a low point of the day.

Soft and nice, Julien Baker slowed TURF down a notch. Baker was a wide-eyed girl with a big voice. However, there was a lot more to her than a non-threatening vibe—at one point, she even called for “total anarchy” on stage. Overall, however, her gentle string picking melodies were gentle and lovely, nearly putting me in a drowsy mood

Things started to pick up again right around 6PM as The Sheepdogs hit the stage with their communal, good-hearted rock and roll. Collectively, they brought the good ol’ 1970s back. I’m pretty sure that Shamus Currie (keyboard and trumpet) is what my dad would have looked like back in his younger days. Everyone seemed to love him: “It was a great crowd. Really responsive. That was awesome when they started chanting “Shamus” and I got a couple of good cheers there,” said Jimmy Bowskill (guitar and slide guitar), after the show. And what a couple of “good cheers” he got. It seemed like the guitar neck wasn’t enough for Bowskill, who was clearly enjoying himself, judging by the cathartic intensity of his expressions. As if the weather was wary of the prolific nature of The Sheepdogs good-natured rock and roll, the sky cleared and the sun shined. In an instant spur of motivation, the audience engaged on a higher level with The Sheepdogs with consistent cheering for more and proclamations like “so good live!”

The evening was followed by the Barenaked Ladies ,who were quite honestly the clowns of TURF, cracking jokes at every turn and singing about the joys of the Gardiner Expressway. With their general take-it-easy vibe, they encouraged the audience to laugh, clap, and sing along. The very happy-go-lucky gents of the Barenaked Ladies sure do love Toronto, as the city was central to a lot of their songs. They also loved making dreams come true, as they welcomed a bongo player to the stage whose lifelong dream was to play with them. Even after so many years—and so many humourous stabs at the passing of those years—the band seems good-spirited and relished in their performance.

The culmination of my TURF experience was Ween, who completely knocked it out of the park with the sort of unbelievable rock energy that is only reserved for those who have truly found greatness within their genre. The aforementioned scheduling issue was that Ween and Guided By Voices had overlapping sets, aa it seemed that the majority of the people who loved the former band adored the latter as well. This mishap threw some of the ticket-holders in a frenzy of annoyance, mild anger and many turned to the TURF staff, and myself, with complaints.

The Ween reunion, however, brought the crowd, and myself, to a state of hallucinatory ecstasy. I felt things that I hadn’t felt since I discovered Primus—I couldn’t stop grooving and expressively dancing. There are a few bands that can generate such dedication in fans, who were all frantically bobbing up and down to “Even If You Don’t,” waving DIY signs in the air, and never ceasing to communicate their excitement during song breaks. Dean Ween (guitar) is the classic rock bad boy who smokes cigarettes continuously. He playfully engaged the audience when he stated he’d be “performing multiple stillions tonight.” Singing“I’m Legit” in a raspy voice, Dean had a conversation about sex with Gene Ween (vocals, guitar). The other members didn’t stay far behind, basking in the glory and feeding off the noise of the people. Ween is the type of band who secure popularity and obsession through their skillful instrumentals, unapologetic songs ,and ruggedly sinful sound.

TURF Day 2 had it, owned it, and drove it to the ground.

Matt Anderson.JPG

Matt Anderson

Lake Street Dive.jpg

Lake Street Dive

Julian Baker.jpg

Julien Baker

the sheepdogs.JPG

The Sheepdogs



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