A Festival Story By E.FG
We all knew it was coming. We had been warned. Some of us were prepared, some not so much. I was exiting a porta potty when the rain made its grand entrance. I turned around and walked right back in, I threw on my poncho and baseball cap and walked out once more. I was one of the prepared ones. My pen and paper would do me no good Saturday afternoon. I’d have to rely on my memory and mental pictures. The day wasn’t off to a good start, a subway delay caused me to miss my first band and the rain wasn’t making things any easier, but a group of children splashing around in the mud, flipped the switch on my bitterness. If they could make the best out of a crappy day, why couldn’t I? There’s no age restrictions on positivity. If a three year old could do it, so could a thirty year old.
The Elwins hit up East Stage to kick off the afternoon festivities. Despite the wind and the rain, their enthusiastic fans danced, cheered and sang along inside their ponchos. The upbeat and cheery tunes were the perfect antidote to the grim weather.
Although the rain was pushing me in the opposite direction, I still made my way to the West stage. I was relying on The Strumbellas set, to help distract from the “woe is me” type thoughts I was fighting, and it totally did the trick. The sea of different ponchos brought color to a very dark day, along with the bands sense of humor. “We’ll bottle all this wonderful energy up for a rainy day” they joked.
I was mesmerized by the violinist, Isabel Ritchie. The way she floated around on stage made it look so easy, as if just about anyone could pick up the violin and play as she did. It was a great set, and had people dancing bare foot in the mud.
“I’m just waiting on a wild sun” they sang. How fitting. Weren’t we all?
I had become addicted to the idea of discovering new bands. I wasn’t even half way through day two, and I was finding myself concerned that my computers hard drive wouldn’t hold all my future downloads. I felt much like Alice, after falling down the rabbit hole. I never knew what was around the next corner, who I would meet or what I would learn. The feeling that I wasn’t worthy of being at the festival had finally subsided. It wasn’t an event built for die hard fans, it was a place of discovery and exploration.
Finally, the rain had stopped. I arrived at the South stage, removed my poncho and looked up to see an acoustic guitar player and a whole whack of people. “Curiouser and curiouser” as Alice would say.
“Who are these people? What band is this and why are there so many of them?” I thought. But before I could ask around, Choir!Choir!Choir! introduced themselves to me by blowing the damn roof off the place. I was in awe. It was amazing to see that many people working together, bringing pop songs to life using only their voices, a conductor and one guitar. I’d never seen anything like it. They covered Girls and Boys by Blur, Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey and much more. They sang their hearts out and with only thirty seconds left in their set, they squeezed in one more arrangement, a true crowd pleaser, Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond.
I later learned that Choir!Choir!Choir! was a non-commitment, drop in singing group, based in Toronto, open to anyone and everyone with a love for belting it out. It was truly an honor to watch them perform. This reads to be so freak’n cheesy but…they made my soul smile.
Soon after, Royal Canoe took the stage. They were six guys utilizing every instrument they could get their hands on. They beat boxed, shook maracas, keyboards, drums, the whole bit! It was impressive. It was like watching busy bee’s hard at work. Every member at every second was contributing to a cool sound, one I had never ever heard before. Their style was all their own. They were unique and effective at…whatever it was they were aiming for. I stood there attempting to categorize them, but I was unsuccessful at doing so and the more I tried, the more my brain hurt. The band was a lot like catching an action flick, you were getting everything you could ask for, while waiting for it at the edge of your seat. Every song and sound was different and I never knew what was coming next. I didn’t get it, but I got it…does that make sense? There was a lot going on, and if your eyes could keep up, you’d see how multi-talented these multi-taskers were. They treated the audience to a couple of unreleased tracks, and upon doing so the sunshine returned.
A monarch butterfly danced around me as I sipped my third coffee of the day. They were everywhere, fluttering above of the heads of all us festival goers. I watched as two of them made their way to the West stage, I followed close behind.
At 7:27pm a group of rowdy men let everyone know it was time for dessert. “Sheep go to heaven! Goats go to hell! Sheep go to heaven! Goats go to hell!” they shouted. My face lit up. It was half an hour till CAKE, a band I knew, songs I could sing, faces I’d missed. A massive disco ball hung from the top of the stage, spinning, shining, waiting for the party that was to come. I was as close to front row as humanly possible, but still off to the side so I could write. I knew the crowd was growing behind me by the knapsacks pushing and shoving against my back, I didn’t even have to turn around to learn the audience had multiplied.
“We want CAKE! Ya CAKE!” People chanted. And by 8:00pm, they got their just desserts. The girls in front of me lit a cigar in honor of the five men that walked out. They opened with Sheep Go To Heaven, as if they had heard their fans request from backstage.
“Go to hell. Go to hell. Go to hell Toronto!” repeated John McCrea, the bands lead singer. Never had I been so happy to oblige. They had this nonchalant way of being so damn cool, as if it were effortless. “I’m bravely battling bronchitis” he admits. We all cheered, not for bronchitis. John then warned us that he was sucking on cough drops, and they might fly out at us. We all cheered, not for flying cough drops. We were their loyal fans, we were going to cheer for anything that came from that stage.
I turned to look at the audience, the disco ball was reflecting on all their faces. It meant so much to be present while so many people had the time of their lives. “I love that f***ing trumpet!” someone yelled. I burst out laughing, me too man. The trumpet, the vibraslap, the deadpan vocals, all of it was so CAKE and so perfect. They played Frank Sinatra, Shadow Stabbing, Mexico, and even divided the crowd help sing Sick Of You.
Sadly, I couldn’t stay to see them off. I looked at the time and knew I had to make my way to the other side of the grounds. I had a blind date with another band at 9:30, and something told me “you’re going to want a good seat for this one.” I tipped my pen to the stage and danced my way through the crowd.
“Aww f***!” I snapped, loud enough that I was almost certain the concert I left behind could hear me. McCrea had mentioned that if his bronchitis got in the way of his singing, there was someone backstage who could help him out. That someone ended up being Choir!Choir!Choir! and the help he received, was during Short Skirt Long Jacket, a song I loved and a choir I had fallen for. “Edwarde Sharp, whoever you are, you and your magnetic zeros had better make this up to me” I said. Soon after, I’d be eating those words.
I kept referring to him as Eddie. My notes were filled with “Eddie’s hair’s a mess. Eddie’s got a butt load of people in his band. Crowd’s going ape s**t for Eddie. Eddie’s sucha nice guy” It was all truth, except for one thing. There was no Eddie, nor was there an Edwarde.
I overheard two women discussing how Edwarde Sharp wasn’t a real person, he was a character invented by the bands lead singer, Alex Ebert. Eddie was Alex and Alex… was awesome.
I’ve always appreciated things that were different, especially people. And that band, was definitely something else. Was it the psychedelic graphics they used, or the fact that they donated three minutes of their set to bring young Jacob on stage to sing him two versions of happy birthday? I don’t really know. They were generous with their time. I’v never witnessed that in a bands performance. They welcomed two random girls on stage to dance for awhile, they passed the microphone into the crowd and let people tell a story of their choosing. They were real and soulful, honest and kind. They were interesting and confusing, qualities I respect. I’m not the type of person who wants to understand everything, I find beauty in letting things be as they are, irrelevant of them making sense.
I crossed my arms and stared at the screen. I was watching more then I was listening. I watched Alex dance, and talk. I watched Alex be himself. A couple people around me made fun, but that’s to be expected with authenticity. The band performed Up From Below, 40 Day Dream and Janglin’, songs that finally helped me understand what indie music was all about…I think.
I knew I had to go home. I had a two hour commute ahead of me, but like a teenager with a crush and a curfew, I didn’t want to leave him.
I like whistling. Nobody whistles anymore” He said
I smiled, disagreed and turned my back to the stage. I toyed around with the idea of five more minutes, but I knew better. I left the festival behind me as I walked under the Gardiner Expressway bridge, while whistling Sheep Go To Heaven. And as I arrived at the subway station, someone was whistling Imagine by John Lennon. It simply wasn’t true. People still whistled. I paid my fare, boarded the train and began to wonder what Eddie was singing next.