The Toronto ferry transported a cheering crowd across the lake to the Island’s Hanlan’s Point, early Friday afternoon. The view of the city skyline never ceases to amaze and increased the anticipation among music lovers headed for the first Toronto edition of the famous UK festival, cheekily named Bestival.
At the entrance, police dogs were being walked through the people in lines, while festival security not only checked bags, but also discarded anything that was not sealed, followed by a thorough frisking. However, everybody seemed determined to start enjoying themselves and just shrugged their shoulders at the slight inconvenience. As it turns out, that was a great decision, because once inside, electronic music started booming from a fuchsia circus tent that instantly became a daytime dance club full of people genuinely enjoying themselves. Numerous majestic flags flew in unison throughout the festival grounds and lent an air of celebration as the concert grounds welcomed those in costumes, stage make-up, or their usual self from the get-go.
The Bestival 2015 app made planning and navigating the festival a breeze, because it allowed users to bookmark their favourite acts and receive alerts 15 minutes before each show. This way, festival goers could enjoy exploring the festival grounds and all four stages, without the fear of missing out on a performance.
Ontario native Alessia Cara’s 15 minute set packed enough punch to convince the crowd of her talent through her effortless singing and confident performance. She owned the stage and addressed the audience throughout and thus delivered an intimate performance on a promisingly large stage. Her song “Here” is a hymn for the wallflowers and introverts in all of us. Its clever lyrics describe a situation we’ve all found ourselves in: attending a party that is so dreadful we’d rather be at home. By sampling Isaac Hays’ “Ike’s Rap II” from the early 70s, also sampled in Portishead’s 1995 unforgettable hit, “Glory Box”, Alessia payed homage to the work of earlier artists and dispelled the myth that young people don’t appreciate music from “back in the day”. At the same time, she incorporated it into a fresh and thoughtful pop sound.
The large field in front of the main stage was muddy to the point of sinking in and forced us to dance without moving our feet, but as it turns out, that’s not impossible. While later that Friday night it would host a large crowd, eager for the headlining band, Florence and the Machine, during the day it was mostly a challenge to walk through. This didn’t stop festival goers who were smart enough to wear rubber boots from frolicking even in puddles. Fido provided a fun resting area with beanbags and phone charging stations, but the hammocks located across the grass and under trees were the ultimate crowd-pleasers.
Saturday’s gorgeous sunny weather attracted a crowd about five times larger than the previous day. More numerous costumes provided a feast for the eyes and made for a perfect ice-breaker, encouraging people to talk to strangers. Some continued the hippie theme and others sported various imaginative costumes, full of glitter, colour, and high spirits. The Bestival costume parade was loud and impressive, as it snaked its way through the entire festival grounds and was joined by costumed crowd members.
Despite the low attendance on a work day, Robert Delong still attracted a sizeable crowd with his percussion heavy take on electronic music. Drum sets were scattered across the stage that he navigated without a hitch, using even a Wii remote to produce his unique tunes. Once lost in his music, it was hard to believe that this was a one man show. Delong also contributed to the festival’s costume theme with an orange stripe painted across his face, inspired by his logo, an “X” of the same colour. He left the crowd wanting more after his last song, “Long Way Down”, which also provided a smooth transition from DJ sets to more indie pop and rock.
On the edge of the concert grounds, an inflatable church performed a mock hip hop wedding with seasoned entertainers. Their colourful costumes and message of universal love spread fun and laughs all around, complete with a bespectacled minister in a pink robe. Unexpected activities like this one charmed the crowd and provided alternative entertainment, in line with one of Bestival’s famous themes of mixing and matching genres and activities.
Nightfall offered another breathtaking view of the Toronto skyline and announced the headliners of the night, Florence and the Machine, who took the festival by storm. The crowd started cheering as soon as staff started setting up the instruments and erupted into even louder animation as Florence Welch entered the stage. She skipped across the stage, from one end to another, singing, in turn, to each section of the crowd. The band spaced their more famous songs, such as “Shake It Out”, “What Kind Of Man”, and “Dog Days” at the beginning, middle, and end of their set, respectively and thus managed to energize the crowd after dreamy or epic orchestral tunes.
Welch was clearly enjoying performing, feeding off the crowd’s palpable excitement, which she instigated with help from her well-oiled Machine. She whipped her hair and turned in pirouettes with open arms. When she took off her jacket and twirled it above her head, she encouraged the audience to do the same, and while united in celebration, she asked us to hug and get to know each other. Before the last chorus of “Dog Days”, Welch shared a funny story about their first Bestival performance, when they played an entire show dressed as clowns, somehow ended up on stage with Chuck Berry, and later jumped off a cliff into an old lady’s backyard, “And that was the beginning! The beginning of our Bestival experience!” just as Friday and Saturday were Toronto’s first taste of this promising festival.
The only downside of the organizational aspect was the limited occupancy of the ferries, especially for such a large crowd, which made the over an hour-long wait partly frustrating. Thankfully, the crowd was understanding and used this time to reminisce about the stimulating experiences of the day, while also having one last opportunity to compliment other’s costumes. Bestival’s courageous attempt at uniting lovers of different kinds of genres under the banner of “Increase the Peace” was a resonating success and visibly fun!
June 13, 2015
Florence and the Machine Photos by Marcia Leeder – http://www.marcialeeder.com
Bestival Phtography by Tara Di Giuseppe & Cristina Dirlea