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Featuring rainy weather, group hugs, intergalactic journeys and Barenaked Ladies
BLOOR OSSINGTON FOLK FESTIVAL at Christie Pits, September 17 and 18. Rating: NNNN TORONTO URBAN ROOTS FESTIVAL at Fort York Garrison Common, September 16-18. Rating: NNN
For the past couple years, the four-year-old Toronto Urban Roots Festival and the six-year-old Bloor Ossington Folk Festival have run on the same weekend in the same town.
TURF brings in big names, from bafflingly popular buzz acts such as James Bay to bucket-list bands like Ween, plus rising indie acts like Modern Baseball. BOFF, meanwhile, has booked phenomenally high-quality local-heavy lineups.
Conveniently for me, the fests were located on the same historic waterway – Garrison Creek – making it easy to bike between the two.
At first it seemed a bit ridiculous to bike back and forth, but I wasn’t going to miss Ween at TURF or the amazing summer vibes at BOFF, which is ending this year.
It might not have been what BOFF director Kristjan Harris had in mind when he boasted to NOW that with more time and money the neighbourhood event could stand up to any festival in the city, but here’s how BOFF and TURF stacked up this year.
Admission TURF tickets ranged from $90 to $425. BOFF was free.
Number of artists TURF had 44 playing four stages, and BOFF had one stage for 17 acts.
Price of beer Tall cans at TURF ran from $8.50 to $10.50, while BOFF charged $6 for 16 oz.
Food options TURF had dozens of food vendors including the Flying Chestnut Kitchen, while BOFF had one food truck per day. However, Christie Pits is a short walk from Indian food, Korea Town and Sky Blue Sky sandwiches on Bloor.
Shelter Under the big white tent, BOFF was the perfect place to be during Saturday afternoon’s unrelenting rain (inclement weather is becoming a tradition at both events), especially during Steven Lambke’s mellow, meditative and lovely set of love songs. TURF offered no cover from the rain, though creative types squeezed into Fort York entranceways, which also provided shade on Sunday.
Distance the artists travelled to be there At TURF, retro folk-rock newcomer Julia Jacklin came from Australia, and a reunited Lush hail from the UK. The English group’s set was reason enough to show up. They sounded great and were clearly basking in the crowd-love. At BOFF, Julie Doiron came from Sackville, New Brunswick, and Constantines singer Bry Webb is from Guelph, but most acts walked there.
Signage There was a distinct lack of signage at TURF. Perhaps the assumption was that everyone had a smartphone to navigate the grounds? A big cardboard sign at the entrance (as in previous years) would have been helpful. No signage was needed at BOFF, but there was a lovingly hand-drawn sign on the stage to indicate you were in the right place.
VI-Pee TURF boasted airplane-style flush toilets for the VIPS and porta potties for everyone else. BOFF was steps away from the Christie Pits bathroom.
Singalongs Without a big show full of effects, the Barenaked Ladies were roughing it by their standards. Singer/guitarist Ed Robertson joked that he’d meant to swing off the giant crane just on the other side of the fence. Hundreds of people sang along to classics including If I Had $1000000 and their version of Lovers In A Dangerous Time. Plus, they brought up Dwayne Gretzky and Born Ruffians percussionist Adam Hindle to play congas on Brian Wilson – his lifelong dream, apparently.
In a strangely oddball parallel feat of working a crowd, BOFF act Wax Mannequin manoeuvred mic-less through the beer garden, getting the audience to keep a bunch of red balloons in the air while we all sang, “Basketball is a good game to play if you want to win a trophy, but if you’re bad at basketball, you can try and you’ll get better.”
Guitar poets At TURF, sad songs off Texas group Okkervil River’s latest album, Away, soundtracked the appearance of a giant rainbow in the sky as frontman Will Sheff introduced a song as “a rainy day one.”
Local hero Bry Webb and his band, the Providers, closed BOFF with a set in a mellow Velvet Underground vein – dreamily uplifting and spiritual. He cracked out a Constantines song, Soon Enough, for the encore, which sounded comically naked when he got to the instrumental.
Politically minded alt-country Southern alt-country vets Drive-By Truckers closed off TURF’s Rebellion Stage on Friday with a set heavy on songs from their upcoming American Band record, an album that is openly critical of the United States. Amen to them, but Toronto’s the Highest Order did it better Sunday evening at BOFF with their song about migrant workers in detention in Lindsay. Plus, they know that toddlers are the world’s biggest showstoppers. (Two kids with ukuleles joined in for their last song.)
Intergalactic journeys Hard to say which festival act blasted the audience farther into outer space, TURF’s Explosions in the Sky or BOFF’s jazzier (but just as amplified) the Cosmic Range.
Emotional moments At TURF, Dwayne Gretzky played a passionate cover of the Tragically Hip’s Bobcaygeon on Friday afternoon. On Sunday, BOFF’s organizers hugged and promised more free festivals to come after taking turns giving wet-eyed, possibly drunk thank-you speeches to the crowd.
Rheostatics vs Constantines Members of the Rheostatics had a foot in both TURF and BOFF, as the Rheos played TURF and Dave Bidini’s Bidini Band played BOFF. BOFF was also blessed with solo sets by Cons men Bry Webb, Steve Lambke and Will Kidman.
Ween needed to be seen If I had any doubts that Ween are amazing entertainers and incredible musicians, they were thoroughly quashed at TURF on Saturday night. Side note: someone should make a drinking game out of how many smokes Dean Ween and Gene Ween go through in the course of a set. Perhaps someone already has.
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