Toronto Urban Roots Festival 2016: Day 3

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

JENNIFER

 

Day 3 of this year’s Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) kicked off with only slight remnants of Saturday’s downpour. Aside from some small puddles and muddy patches, it felt just like any another summer day in Toronto, construction happening nearby and all. I didn’t need to enter the festival grounds to realize that the most buzzworthy band of the day, and perhaps the entire festival weekend, was Jimmy Eat World. It felt as if every person I overheard or interacted with brought them up at some point. Trailing closely behind when it came to buzz was The Hold Steady, who were set to perform their celebrated 2006 release, Boys And Girls In America.

First up were the Canadian crush pop band The Belle Game. On record, they are entrancing and easily likeable, but it does little justice to the strength in singer Andrea Lo’s voice. I found myself totally entranced by it, and watched as the sound carried across the festival grounds. Their stage set up and look is simple enough, but in that simplicity they build something that is hard to ignore. On the opposite side of the grounds, Marlon Williams delivered a set that was charming and humorous. Between songs, The New Zealand native spoke of his home country and of a recent stare-down with his first Toronto raccoon. Williams’ voice is smooth and comforting, so it came as a bit of surprise to hear a line about a fictional wife dying of cancer.

Surely summer festival staples at this point, The New Pornographers took to the main stage to much enthusiasm. I struggle to think of what Toronto music festival the band HASN’T played, because it feels like I’ve seen them too many times to count now. Nevertheless, they played a set that was consistently fun and true to their loyal following. After playing together for so many years, you could feel the comfort and mutual understanding they shared with their audience.

I noticed the buzz going around prior to The Hold Steady’s performance that afternoon, but I didn’t understand it other than Boys And Girls In America perhaps being just a really great album. To be frank, I did not have much personal background with any of the bands going into day three, except for Death Cab For Cutie (shame on me, I know). Not only were The Hold Steady the most band fun to photograph, but they were a joy to witness. Half of that joy came from witnessing the elation in the audience members’ faces as the set went on. Even ten years after their breakthrough album’s release, The Hold Steady are full of life, and witnessing this celebration with their fans was a definite festival highlight.

Wild Child are the type of band that remind me of the Juno-era cutesy folk songs I loved in early high school. While I have strayed from the genre long since then, it felt good to return to those earlier days, when I was just starting to plant the seeds of my own interest in indie music. The group features everything you could want in a lush pop band—sweet harmonies, romance, heartbreak, and undeniable spirit. Over on the main stage, Canadian rock icon Matthew Good took to the stage. Talking to fellow photographers prior to the show, I got the impression that, while well respected as a musician, Matthew Good did not have the best reputation, personality-wise.  He had the scowl to match, but I didn’t feel like being quick to assume anything. In regards to his music, it delivered enough punch and melody you can expect from any good rock concert.

While Jimmy Eat World took the title of the evening’s true rockstars—photography waivers and all—Rheostatics played on the Battle Of York Stage on the opposite end of the festival, to a respectably sized crowd. More of a staple for the older crowd at TURF, Rheostatics were humble, personable, and made you smile with their familial banter. The contrast between them and their rockstar time slot partners was very real, and each brought something entirely different. It really was a matter of what you were feeling up for at that point in the evening.

Shortly before Death Cab For Cutie were to go onstage to close the festival, legendary seventies punk rock band The Mekons hit the smaller stage, fresh with stories from the night before at Lee’s Palace, where a couple of stagehands supposedly fell off the stage in drunkenness and confusion. The opportunity to see such a prolific and original band was a rare and undoubtedly exciting, even just for a small boost in “indie-cred” points. The experience was, however, dampened by some of their very loyal and feverous fans, who berated photographers such as myself for leaving mid set to quickly grab a few shots of Death Cab before the three-song limit was up. We get it, you are punk and we are not, sheesh. I went back shortly afterwards to take in their performance from a bit of a distance. It was the kind of performance you needed to sing along to with a beer in hand, and then definitely get a little bit ahead of yourself.

 

ANGELO

Music festivals are a good way to spend a Sunday evening, especially in the dying days of summer with the setting sun behind Jimmy Eat World. Everyone knows real life awaits tomorrow morning, but festival-goers hope to delay reality at least for a little while longer.

I bought a portable lawn “chair”—if that’s what you can call it—from one of the small vendors at the festival. It’s just two soft panels, with a make-shift back support that you can lean against, and it actually kind of works. It is the last festival of the summer, so it might’ve been more useful if I had bought earlier on, but at least I can use it for next year. You never really know how useful these accessories are until you actually need them. Take earplugs for example, which that vendor actually specializes in. Sure it’s a mark of honour to have ringing in your ears the first couple of times but hearing loss is a real thing and you don’t want to damage your ears in the future.

But most importantly, music festivals are about the music and TURF did not disappoint. I’ve been really looking forward to seeing Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab For Cutie for weeks, and the nostalgia they brought was the main event. Jimmy Eat World played under the shadow of a construction crane at the West Stage of Fort York and lead singer Jim Adkins joked that they tried to put together a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” but it didn’t come together. I admit, I was waiting for the hits, but Jimmy Eat World brought the energy for even their newer and more obscure songs. Fans were up and dancing and they knew the lyrics of their favourite songs from the nineties and early oughts. “Hear You Me” still felt as emotionally poignant as the first time I heard it. “Sweetness” is still a great precursor song of the pop punk/emo of the mid-2000s. And “The Middle” is going to be stuck in my head for at least the next week. Though the band is a little dated, Jimmy Eat World has remained greatly entertaining.

Finally, Death Cab For Cutie closed off the weekend. My cousin told me many years ago that seeing Death Cab was like a religious experience, so they’ve been a band I’ve been dreaming to see for years. I was instantly transported back to my middle school days, singing along with Ben Gibbard on both tracks I’ve known for years and their more recent work.

They began their set with an extended intro of “I Will Possess Your Heart.” The lights went down for “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” with one spotlight shining down on a solo Gibbard with an acoustic guitar. It created an intimate atmosphere, with people putting their arms around their significant others, friends, and even other strangers. Gibbard commanded the stage, lifting his guitar above his head at times while he was singing. Between songs, he was joking about starting up a new band with Jim Adkins, as the sweatiest band in North America. Songs from their excellent 2015 album Kintsugi felt like instant classics, with fans visibly excited for songs like “Black Sun” and “Ghosts Of Beverley Drive.” I do wish they played more songs from Plans, but they did play “Marching Bands Of Manhattan” during their encore. While I don’t think it will be one of my favourite or most memorable shows, it really was satisfying and just what I needed to close off the weekend. Death Cab proved themselves as icons in indie rock.

The highlight of my weekend, however, was seeing a young family with little kids—two of them who looked like twins around three years old and a one year old—that were full out dancing to Jimmy Eat World with their parents. The mom was singing every word to her one year old son in her arms. I sang “Sweetness” like a geek as well, but I couldn’t keep up with the little kid, who seemed to know every word. This is what music is all about—bringing people together to collectively enjoy emotion through sound, whether you’re young or old. My experience at TURF was a testament to that idea and a great way to end the summer music festival season.

 

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