Since it was announced earlier this year, Arts & Crafts‘ 10th anniversary celebration was pegged as not only a celebration of the label’s music, but also of the city it calls home. Trying to embody and celebrate a city like Toronto in a single day festival may seem like a tall order, but the folks at A&C managed to do an astoundingly good job of just that.
Greeting festival attendees at festival gates was a bevy of food options, food trucks have thankfully become a mainstay in Toronto in the past few years, and that was apparent here. Everything from mahi-mahi tacos from Gourmet Gringos to vegan options from Animal Liberation Kitchen and plenty of sweets kept stomachs full. The laid back vibe of the festival permeated its food options, as attendees were encouraged to bring their own food, something many did.
Arts & Crafts had hyped up their partnership with Amsterdam Brewery for the fest and the collaboration paid off. The fan titled ‘Field Tr-IPA was a hoppy drink, one which I can attest paired well with fish tacos.
Soon after the lunch hour the music got into full swing, with Still Life Still taking to the main stage for a short but briskly paced set. The East York natives are one of the smaller names on Arts & Crafts, but their straight forward approach to rock was well suited for the fest. Meanwhile on the B Stage, fest-goers were treated to another short set by The Darcys, who aren’t a band you’d figure would work well in the daylight at a fun outdoor festival, but they pulled off their dark sound well.
Heading from the Main-Stage to the B-Stage, attendees had to pass by the dug out section of the fort. The sight of carnage in the 19th century, the spot was home to something entirely different for Field Trip, hula hooping.
Back on the main-stage, Jason Collett‘s set seemed to signal a different gear for the day, really putting things into motion. Collett, who was dressed in a very suave suit as per usual, provided one of the first real musical highlights with a great performance of ‘Love is a Dirty Word’. Another memorable moment in Collett’s set came when he was joined onstage by Brendan Canning, Torquil Campbell, Amy Millan and her child who wore adorable bright pink earmuffs –to protect those infant eardrums– during ‘I’ll Bring the Sun’. Collett was also the first artist to speak to one of the myriad socio-political issues on many Torontonians minds, saying that “Kensington don’t need no Wal-Mart“, a simple but pointed statement that got a hearty round of applause.
It was moments like that which gave this festival the feeling of something more than just a series of artists coming on-stage and playing some songs, it was a celebration of Toronto’s arts and culture scene as a whole. That was made apparent in declarations by musicians as well as installation art, a yurt, an Etsy tent and merch tents selling A&C’s trademark well crafted wares which reflected Toronto.
Don’t be mistaken though, this festival was all about the music, and there was plenty of good music to be had. Back on the small stage, Cold Specks continued to show that her Polaris Prize nomination was no mistake, making the most of a small set. Specks frontwoman Al Spyx’s soulful voice played well in the Fort, and her piano and woodwind accompaniment sounded great and lively, especially on a new track that is “probably called ‘An Offer’“, according to Spyx herself.
Whereas Cold Specks’ star is still on the rise, Bloc Party‘s is already sky high. One of the few non-Canadian acts to grace the stages at Fort York on the day, BP got a warm welcome none the less. Opening with ‘Like Eating Glass’, BP walked the line between frenetic rockers and slowburning ballads like they do so well on record. Lead singer Kele Okereke had an endearing moment when he pointed at the ‘Started From The Bottom’ billboard which was in plain view of the stage and quipped “I didn’t think that was real, but it is!“. The band’s set also featured ‘Banquet’ and ended on ‘This Modern Love’ stirring the audience into a frenzy which wouldn’t die down until well into the evening.
First of the big names to hit the stage was Stars, who, unlike Broken Social Scene, have been recording and touring since 2001 without any breakups to speak of. That consistency showed on this night, as the band’s trademark boy-girl exchanges and harmonies were on point. A band which can sometimes dwell on the darker moments of love, Stars avoided that on this celebratory night, opting instead for an upbeat set. Highlights of which included ‘A Song is a Weapon’, ‘Elevator Love Letter’ and a fan favourite to close it out, ‘Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It’. The vibes of Toronto love flowed forth again during this set, as Torquil Campbell asked “what happened to this city? It used to hate me in high school“. Campbell then went on to malign the homophobic hate he used to have to face, one which is sadly still existent in this city but is outweighed by love.That love was almost palpable as Stars left the stage. While the air inside Fort York may have been cooling, the atmopshere was heating up as the crowd’s anticipation grew in conjunction with its size ahead of Feist‘s appearance on stage. When Feist did take the stage she did so in quite the outfit, featuring a bedazzled poncho with fringe to spare and matching white heeled boots. Despite being supported onstage by Snowblink, James Whiteman, Charles Spearin and more, Feist was undoubtedly in control of her tight, buoyant set. Opening with ‘The Bad in Each Other’, Feist’s set showed just how much her sound has grown from 2004′s Let It Die, she now employs vocal effects and other experimentations aplenty. Those changes resulted in a stellar new version of ’1,2,3,4′ which sounds almost like a Radiohead take on the popular track, a risky change which paid off in spades and had many talking about it after the show. The only blip in Feist’s performance came when she struggled with a call and response. Getting an audience at an outdoor festival to ‘ooooh’ in unison with you is difficult, who knew!? That aside, this was a stellar set from Feist and one which left the audience buzzing ahead of the headliners.
When those headliners –namely Broken Social Scene– took the stage, the tension that had been building in the crowd was let loose and the noise it produced could have easily been mistaken for armoury fire from the nearby barracks. Even though it had been publicized that the band would be playing their breakthrough seminal album You Forgot It In People in full, the beginning notes of each song were met with rapturous applause. Those applause were merited as the songs held up ten years later. Highlights included ‘KC Accidental’, ‘Almost Crimes’ and ‘Cause=Time’, each one rocking out as hard as on record. Having a full supporting roster benefited many of the songs, especially more ambient tracks like ‘Capture the Flag’ and ‘Shampoo Suicide’ which saw full horn sections, including a sharply dressed Torquil Campell blaring away emphatically on a purple trumpet.
A band whose changes and squabbles in personnel have been covered ad nauseum, BSS seemed to get along on this night, although Brendan Canning kept eluding, jokingly, to a lack of communication between he and Kevin Drew. Another between songs remark was a personal highlight of the night, as Drew, speaking of Rob Ford, said “that fucking man does not belong in our city”.
That vitriol powered BSS through the second part of their act, one which was notably high paced and fun. After completing their play-through of You Forgot It In People BSS treated the audience to a number of songs from their last two albums, with highlights being ‘Fire Eye’d Boy’ and ’7/4(Shoreline)’. Another special moment from the fest occurred in this second half of BSS’ set, as Bill Priddle of Treble Charger and surprise guest James Shaw (of Metric) joined the band onstage for unreleased track ‘Jimmy + the Photocall’.
Clearly, there is a lot that can be said for what Arts & Crafts managed to achieve with Field Trip. Inside of a fort in the middle of the third largest city in North America was a microcosm of what it means to live in Toronto. Small disparate communities, here represented by hubs of art, food, music and merchandise, joined together to form a larger, more beautiful, interdependent whole.
Check out the photo gallery below if you haven’t seen enough already: