A Festival Story By E.FG
There’s only one thing more freeing then snipping off a three day festival wristband, and that is telling the truth. I have a confession to make. Scoff if you will, laugh if you want or deem me unworthy of my media pass, but the truth is this, out of all fifty one artists performing at The Toronto Urban Roots Festival, I had only heard of two.
On Friday morning, my phone was already in my hands, when it dinged. I looked down and read “Does anyone want to attend TURF this evening to review Of Monsters and Men and The Avett Brothers?”
“Who?” I asked myself. I ran through my mental rolodex of bands I knew, and neither of them sounded familiar, which came as no shock considering my music taste has locked itself in the early 90’s and refuses to come out. “Do it!” a little voice said. “Say yes!” So I did.
The gig was mine, with the option to cover the entire weekend if I wanted to. I often tease myself that I’m so out of the loop when it comes to music, TURF was a chance to get educated, to step out of my comfort zone and into that loop I felt so disconnected from. “I’ll do it” I typed, followed by a click of the send button.
Three hours upon volunteering, I sat down beside a young women on a streetcar. Neither of us wore any indication that we were attending the festival, yet somehow we both sensed we were on rout to the very same place. She broke the ice, “heading to TURF?” I nodded. Her excitement couldn’t be contained, thrilled she had met someone to gush with before meeting her friends, she began listing bands she was there to see. “What about you? Who you going for?” Crap. I had hoped she wouldn’t ask. Out of all the people I met last weekend, she was the only soul I told me secret to, probably because of the “do you live under a rock?” look she gave me. I couldn’t bare to see it again.
As the security guard sifted through my knapsack, I could hear music from every which way. My fingers began to drum a beat on my thigh as a smile crept on my face. Not only had I arrived at 250 Fort York Boulevard, so had my own excitement, and for the next three days, I was home.
I took a spin around the grounds and easily found everything I’d need for the weekend, all three stages, planet porta potty, and the good old food truck guild. The Avett Brothers were my first scheduled review, but it was nearly two hours before their set, and people had already begun to camp out around the East stage, a sea of fans, blankets and band shirts. “These peeps are hardcore” I said scanning the crowd. I played the journalist card and walked up to two girls sitting front row. I asked “What do you like most about this band?” I needed to know something. Anything!
“Their lyrics. I relate to their lyrics. Their calming, like Mom making Sunday dinner,” the girl replied.
“And when do you find yourself listening to their music most? Commuting? At home?”
“All the time” she blushed.
I interviewed others but cut it off at Kevin and Josh, as the message was loud and clear. The Avett Brothers wrote lyrics that spoke to people, no matter where they were in life. And as rain drops began to fall on my pen and paper, I knew it was time to stop writing and listen to them.
The drummer was first to make a sound, then the violinist and then came the lyrics “Baby’s in the cradle, Mama’s in the bed. Sparrow’s on the windowsill and the devil’s in my head.” The band opened with Satan Pulls The Strings, a powerful folk rock hit, that seemed to have cued fans to ditch their shoes and get to stomping. The brothers hadn’t even been on stage for five minutes, and the crowd had already gotten what they came for.
As they played Live and Die, a flock of blackbirds flew over the set, as if to accent the line “Sing like a sparrow anyway. Even if there is no land or love in sight.” I officially agreed with everyone I spoke to, there truly was something special happening on that stage, it was undeniable. And when they sang “Tonight I’ll burn the lyrics” from their song Laundry Room, I giggled and thought “according to what I’m hearing, that’s the last thing you should do”
Harmonicas, banjos, cello, a double bass, this band had every sound a music lover could ask for, done right. My only complaint about The Avett Brothers set, was that I had no one to swing around and dance with.
“Canada’s been very good to us, and it doesn’t seem to be changing tonight!”
Dearest Avett Brothers, you keep doing what you’re doing, and that will never change.
They said their sweet goodbyes with their final number I And Love And You. The crowd raised their arms to count “Three words that became hard to say, I and love and you.” It was one of the most beautiful live songs, I’d ever heard. The band exited the stage, leaving the crowd to retrieve all abandoned shoes.
I woke up to the sound of footsteps, spooky music, and an eerie blue fog that blanketed the East stage. I checked the time and quickly learned I hadn’t just rested my eyes for a couple minutes, as intended. There were only ten minutes left before my next show. I had never seen Of Monsters and Men, so their ambiance was pretty trippy to wake up to. People emerged from the darkness, excited and adamant on finding the perfect spot. Luckily, I had fallen asleep in mine.
The stage went black and all around me, people began to cheer. They knew what was to come, and had waited all day for it. Our attention was stolen by the ten silhouettes that appeared, almost out of thin air. The girl beside me squeezed her boyfriends arm, as if to say “They’re here!” I felt her passion. I began to write everything I was seeing.
“White lights flashing. Cellphones raising. Massive shadows. They’re all wearing black.”
I closed my eyes. Something about the band forced me to take everything in. “Breathe in, breathe out, let the human in” they sang as I let my pen drum the beat to Human, their first song. I had no clue who they were, but I knew I wanted to remember them, and not just for the sake of my story. There was an intensity to their music, and an animalistic, creature-like approach to moving around on stage. The enormous beach balls bouncing in the crowd, almost seemed inappropriate to what I was seeing and hearing.
“Lost in skies of powdered gold, caught in clouds of silver ropes” A lyric that had everyone pointing to the night sky, in salute.
“What’s the name of this song?” I asked the girl beside me.
She looked at me, all starry eyed, smiled and responded with “Crystals.” Even from a distance, I could tell the lead singer loved what she was witnessing in her fans. I did too. It was during the performance of King and Lionheart that I realized something. Of Monsters and Men was no longer just some band I was reviewing, they had become an experience I was having. They were mighty, and infectious. They were foreign to me, yet so missed at the same time. As if something was lacking without ever having heard their music.
The heavy drumming in Six Weeks told me to move. I took my orders from musicians when they sang “so get up, shake the rust.”
“I don’t want to stand here anymore” whispered my dancing feet, and with that, I took off like a shot. I ran all the way to the back of the yard, shoved my writing in my bag, and let their music have its way with me. A fan was born.
After the encore, I melted into the parade of people heading for the exit. I couldn’t believe it was all over, or that I was lucky enough to have two more days of it. I fell asleep that night beside my notes, humming songs I never thought I’d hum, and still drumming my fingers.