A short streetcar ride from Bathurst Station and steps away from Fort York Blvd, an open iron gate beckoned Field Trippers. The pedestrian bridge leading into the festival grounds was flying colourful ribbons that made everyone feel like a VIP. Bicycle valet parking also served that purpose, while making traveling on two wheels a convenient alternative to cars or public transit. The security was well-organized, minimally intrusive and polite. Even the minor hiccup of running out of wristbands was less frustrating due to kind and frequent updates.
Once on the festival grounds proper, a green field opened up, sprinkled with people soaking up the sun and surrounded by merchandise tents full of innovative and unique art. On the smaller TD Fort York stage, soft guitar strumming got people engaged, bobbing their heads, as well as rocking some fellas into a sweet afternoon nap. Further west on the main road, heavy wooden doors led to a valley of kid-friendly activities, while bubble machines put a smile on everyone’s faces.
The Arkells had gathered a sizable crowd in front of the bigger Garrison Stage and dove right into their set of energetic and danceable rock tunes. Their dedicated and passionate stage presence made it impossible to not bust out some moves – and like the people around me, I found myself singing along and dancing like no one was watching. Favourites such as “Come To Light” and “Oh, the Boss is Coming!” got the crowd cheering, hands clapping high above their heads. The Arkells started a real party but took the time to show their humble side by thanking a long list of people, event organizers and volunteers alike. It’s always a treat to be reminded that the musicians high up on stage are not just talented artists but grounded individuals. The highlight of their performance was the song they saved for last, everybody’s latest favourite, “Leather Jacket”. Lead singer, Max Kerman, left part of the chorus to the audience and the lyrics rose up from the crowd, in seemingly perfect harmony, leaving festival goers smiling as they said “goodbye.”
The period in between sets was the perfect time to replenish the necessities. The variety of choices on the Food Truck Lane was almost overwhelming, creating cravings I never knew I had. The grilled ham and pineapple sandwich, with arugula and horseradish mustard was, plainly put, art. Plenty of bar tents with a decent selection of overpriced drinks and surprisingly clean port-a-potties meant minimal time wasted in line-ups, so everyone could get back to enjoying the festival.
Alabama Shakes, with their unique take on roots rock, were by far the most anticipated act of the night, quite possibly of the entire festival. By 10pm, the Shakes’ party was in full swing, the crowd packed so tightly that latecomers had to settle for the edges and regret not having brought their bird-watching binoculars. In spite of this, Brittany Howard’s powerful voice could never be drowned out; it led audience members on an emotional journey, accompanied by the skilled performance of the rest of the band. Ballads got the crowd swaying in unison, heads started leaning on others’ shoulders, and some couples were even dancing. As the tempo picked up, so did the dancing and I was happy I had worn my cowboy boots as protection.
The only downside was that there was little stage banter, but that may have interrupted the flow of the resonating performance. However, Brittany connected with the audience in other ways: at one point she raised her turquoise guitar high above her head in a contagious victorious gesture. Later, she added, “It’s so great to be here! Every time we come to Canada it’s always so real; you guys are so real. I don’t know how you do it.” When was the last time you got a compliment like that?
As a source in the crowd (i.e. conversation within my earshot) revealed to me, “Field Trip is something to be experienced. It’s more than just music, it’s entertainment.”