Last weekend, the Toronto Urban Roots Festival took place at Fort York in Toronto. Despite Toronto’s slight over-saturation of festivals, TURF manages to remain unique in that it’s not really about booking buzzy-bands or even bands from this decade or continent necessarily.
The TURF field has very little that doesn’t have to do with music. There are less branded tents, a focus on local food vendors and music maintains the centre. Plenty of kids were around all weekend but it was the fun curation of music that captured their attention. I even saw a 7 year old girl who was reviewing the festival.
This year there were four stages of music As I began the day, the soulful sounds of Simone Denny filled the sunny air at the East stage. She was a vocal powerhouse and the early concertgoers were lucky to experience it.
Next I headed over to the west stage where Nashville rising star Margo Price. She dazzled the crowd with original music as well as covers from Loretta Lynn and Billy Joel Shaver.
One of the highlights of the afternoon was Swedish bands The Hives. In their coordinated black and white suits, they were amazing showmen with frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist leading the crowd like some bizarre church preacher. The whole set was spilling with good times. Almqvist interacted with the crowd, both the special VIPs up front (a pass that is the only one of it’s kind that is worth the money) and those behind the barriers. The microphone found itself in the air frequently. This one live band that you should definitely see if you have the chance.
Over at the farther but intimate Rebellion stage I saw Skinny Lister, a folk band from Britain. They introduced us to Dan the flagon (a giant jug) and passed it around to the crowd offering them a sip of rum. The performance was like having a jolly night in a pub full of dancing and chanting with friends. Their set included “Wanted” from their upcoming album The Devil, The Heart & The Fight.
Philadelphia’s Modern Baseball focused on the punk tunes from their latest record Holy Ghost that are breezy and full of life ruminations.
Back on the West stage the crowd grew large for well-known Celtic punk rockers The Dropkick Murphys. The set began with “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya” and finished with the hit everyone knew “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”. There were covers of classics including The Press’ “21 Guitar Salute” and The Cars’ “Just What I Need”. Before I headed out I caught some of alt-country band Drive-By Truckers.
As I walked out of the gates under the beautiful Harvest Moon, I heard James Bay play “Hold Back the River” in the distance and remembered who the heck this mysterious headliner was.