For the fourth year in a row, the fields of historic Fort York were graced by musical talents from across Canada and all over the world for the next installment of Arts and Crafts’ ‘Field Trip’. This year’s lineup featured a variety of music from indie darlings like The National to the club thumping beats of Swedish popstar Robyn.
Day One began with sunny skies and smiling faces as eager concertgoers streamed through the gates. With colourful flags flying and various games/activities set up everywhere, Field Trip feels more like an awesome summer fair than just another music festival.
The space inside Fort York was broken up into two parts: the large Garrison Stage with food court and merch tents on the west side and the smaller Fort York stage. The latter featured a bevy of food trucks and a marketplace where you could shop local merchants from all over the city.
Performances on Saturday featured Tor Miller, Beaches, Bully and Santigold. Brother-sister duo Brave Shores were a stand out show on the Fort York stage with their catchy, energetic synth sounds. The sun shone as everyone danced along to their infectious melodies. These two have such a relaxed yet excitable attitude that commands the crowd and transports you to another world.
Unlike a lot of other festivals, Field Trip is geared towards the whole family (and it shows). I’ve never seen more groups of kids dancing along to the same music as their parents. There were also a ton of activities geared specifically for the young ones. These included arts and crafts, hula hoop lessons, a giant bouncy castle (which sadly, the adults were NOT allowed in) and even their own music stage where acts like Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning and Justin Peroff performed just for them.
If you were hungry, there was never a shortage of options for chowing down. Toronto’s thriving foodie community was on hand to indulge in local favourites like Buster’s Sea Cove, Portobello Vegan Treats, Caplansky’s, The Poutine Supreme, Summertime Lemonade, Chimney Stacks and the Food Dudes! Truly something for everyone.
This year, the fest also featured the Laugh Barracks, where guests could go, watch some comedy, and get a few chuckles in while escaping the sun (or the rain) for a few minutes.
As the sun departed and the heat of the day began to dissipate, July Talk stepped out onto the Garrison stage to warm things up again. Frontman Peter Dreimanis opened the show by yelling out to the crowd, “It’s good to be home!”
The group started things off with a bang by jumping right into their hot new single, “Push + Pull”. Peter’s frantic movements were juxtaposed perfectly by Leah Fay’s sultry sways. They are two of the festival’s most rowdy and energetic performers, giving everything they have to the audience, leaving nothing offstage. Leah was dressed in a full suit with her hair tied back. As the show progressed, she removed the jacket and let her hair down, mirroring the stripped down nature of the band’s sound. The literal push and pull of seduction and rejection between the singers was so captivating and made the performance all the more memorable.
They were joined onstage by backup singers Kyla Charter and James Baley, who added another dimension and a welcome accent to the group’s Field Trip set. As per every July Talk show, there was so much drama infused in every note of every song. The rolling fog on stage, which was amplified by the strong winds at Fort York, made the performance almost seem like a thunderstorm. (Though that wasn’t to come until the following day…)
As the set approached its finale, Leah stared out into the crowd, sighed, then yelled, “This is so perfect! Can this be forever?”. We certainly wished it could have been. Peter got real with the audience at the end of the set. CAMH has been onsite all day handing out earplugs and colouring books, but also had volunteers encouraging festival-goers to donate or just learn more about the mental health support systems that are available to them. Peter talked openly about his struggles with mental health and encouraged everyone to donate whatever they could to CAMH since mental health is such an important issue for everyone. It brought a level of realness and honesty to the set, making their last song a powerful crescendo.
As The National was about to come on stage, Kevin Drew came out to thank the group for agreeing to come and headline the fest. He also made mention of Gord Downie’s illness and the support everyone here at the festival was sending out to him. Everyone in the crowd began to chant “Courage for Gord” and the entire audience burst into a Tragically Hip singalong. It was a Field Trip moment to remember.
Finally, it was time for the National to take the stage. These guys aren’t ones to disappoint. Frontman Matt Berninger started the show with “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and, although he started low and slow, Matt was gallivanting around the stage by the third song, bringing the audience to their feet. The National is well known for their incredible visual lighting effects and this show was no different. Imagery that mirrored the songs and would at times match the beat of the music. It really added another dimension to the set, making it seem almost transcendental.
The National also brought a horn section with them, which Matt lovingly referring to as the “the brasshole.” Halfway through the show, Matt brought on musician Hayden Desser who he said was responsible for helping Matt get through a rough breakup while he was travelling in India. The two sang “I Need my Girl” together which felt especially poignant.
The band closed their set with a performance of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” against the backdrop of an illuminated downtown skyline, saying farewell by professing their love for Toronto. And we gave it right back to them. In spades.
Day Two at Field Trip was a slightly more ominous day. The rain clouds that had been threatening to open up all morning kept edging closer and closer. Toronto’s Jason Collett’s languid melodies peppered the first performance to grace the Fort York stage that day.
After his set, we rushed over to catch Dear Rouge, who were set to rock out on the Garrison stage. We were all set up, ready to go, when one of the event planners from Field Trip came on stage to notify us that everyone was to excavate the grounds immediately, apparently due to an extreme weather alert. They were not only expecting a downpour of rain, but also a lighting storm. This didn’t come as a huge surprise as over 70 people were injured due to a lightning strike at a music festival in Germany the day before. As we exited, the skies opened up and it began to pour cats and dogs… and some horses too. We hid under the Gardener overpass for shelter and anxiously checked our phones for any updates from festival organizers.
Unfortunately, Dear Rouge had to cancel their set, but for a lucky few caught in the Laugh Barracks with the band, they were treated to a short and sweet acoustic session from the group alongside Kevin Drew. The festival cautiously waited until the weather was clear, and at 5:30 PM, invited all those patient music lovers back into Fort York. The updated setlists gave everyone a good sense of where to catch their favourite acts in the afternoon. Thanks to their careful efforts, the fest was awarded an extension on their curfew by the city.
The hot weather meant that the grass wasn’t very wet and, unlike Riot Fest (which usually becomes a sea of mud after a storm), it was almost as if there hadn’t been a storm at all after the sun came out. Charles Bradley’s powerful soul stylings brought the crowd back to life on the Garrion stage while Ra Ra Riot and Basia Bulat sparkled on the Fort York stage. Towards the end of Ra Ra Riot’s set, a rainbow fittingly appeared in the sky, much to the delight of the crowd.
Ra Ra Riot
The Garrison stage was now being set for Swedish superstar Robyn. There were plexiglass mirrors surrounding the stage, as well as balloons and sparkly silver tassels blowing in the wind. The excitement was palpable as cheers for “Robyn” began to fill the air. The popstar burst onto the stage, dressed in a bright pink rain coat and pants with tassels that swayed to the beat with her every movement.
Robyn is notorious for performing live remixes of her songs instead of the memorable album versions. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of some of these new arrangements, perhaps it was the exhaustion everyone was feeling after the torrential downpour, or maybe even it was the Sunday night blues, but it seemed people weren’t into the performance as much as they should have been. The slightly subdued energy from the crowd didn’t seem to phase Robyn at all. She viciously tore up the stage with her incredible dance moves, lost herself in the remixed music, only to be heard by these people, in this moment. The singer’s big hit “Dancing on my Own” seemed to be the one thing that really got the crowd excited, more so than the rest of the set.
Her flashing lights and backup dancers were reminiscent of being inside a futuristic Studio 54. The overall visual effects were slightly more toned down compared to the light show from the National the night before. But this seemed to work for Robyn, especially juxtaposed alongside some of the stripped down tracks. The band alongside the songstress was one of the strongest points of the show. She was accompanied by a bassist, drummer and synth player that kept the beats coming, transitioning seamlessly from one song to another, never letting a moment of silence enter the air. Although this kind of show might not have been what many were expecting, those who kept an open mind found themselves experiencing something truly unique.
Robyn played right up until the absolute last second of her extended curfew. As the last beat rang out, happy concertgoers began to make their final exit from the festival. The historical backdrop of Fort York adds a uniquely Canadian element to the event and makes Field Trip a true Toronto festival, not just a festival that happens to be in Toronto. As Mayor John Tory aspires to make Toronto a real “music city,” events like Field Trip really seem to bring those dreams that much closer to reality. Bring on 2017!