The second and now officially annual Toronto Urban Roots Festival (also known as TURF) won over T.O. music lovers yet again with beautiful weather and a great line up. From indie up and comers to influential established favorites, here are my favourite picks of TURF 2014.
Anyone who was born in the late seventies or early eighties is obligated to have serious nostalgic attachment to Violent Femmes. The band could have easily merited a headlining slot, but still drew a headliner level crowd despite their 5pm set time on Saturday afternoon. The band started by playing their debut and self-titled album in its entirety, inspiring anyone between the ages of 30-50 to dance and sing along to their old favorites “Blister in the Sun” and“Gone Daddy gone”. Once done the Femmes regaled us with some tunes slightly outside their wheelhouse, including some sexy bluegrass numbers, and what singer Gordon Gano called a “country death song” that received a far more happy reception than was probably appropriate. As contributor Hilary mentioned in her TURF review, this was definitely a bucket list band, and I’m thrilled I got to see them perform.
One of my favorite performances of the weekend came from a local group that I for some reason have never gotten the chance to see. The Strumbellas rambled onto the stage, barefoot and proud, all smiles as they greeted their audience before stomping their way through their opening number. Beautiful harmonies and incredibly uplifting melodies characterized their set and sound. The Strumbellas make music that makes your heart soar while simultaneously making you crave a whiskey on the rocks at the Dakota Tavern. The desire to drink that they inspire would both have helped and hurt their efforts to lead a crowd in a catch and return, girls vs. boys rendition of “Sailing”. They were a joy to watch, and I’m glad I finally got the chance.
Gaslight Anthem was another American band that graced the TURF stage, to a huge and elated crowd. The pop punk rockers regaled fans with their favorites, including “the ’59 Sound” and “45”. While the band’s set was on point and played perfectly to the male, bro heavy crowd, I was in search of more of my own down home Canadian indie music to satiate my sonic craving. And Hey Rosetta was exactly what the doctor ordered. Another collective sized band that makes ethereally beautiful music, Hey Rosetta was the perfect band to bask in the dwindling sunshine too as they played my favourite tunes “Red Heart”, and closed their sweet set with “Yer Spring”.
My second day experience TURF was at as musically satisfying as the first, mostly because the day started with July Talk, one of my favourite new indie bands out of Toronto. It was a big crowd that came out to see them despite the earlier set time, and did they ever make it worth our while. The band played each and every hit, past, present and future from their debut album, along with a few new tracks that they’ve been trotting out at the their recent live shows. And as always, front couple Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis were on fire, playing off each other vocally and theatrically, bringing another level of life to their show. Half performance art, half musical ambrosia, July Talk entertain while they serenade.
Gogol Bordello invaded the mainstage, an army of musical soldiers whose sole mission is to rock in all their gypsyfied glory. The consummate festival band, they suit a large, outdoor stage perfectly, the bright sunny day the perfect scene for their upbeat and infectious music. Fiddles, guitars, many many drums and many many voices invaded the eyes and ears of the late afternoon crowd, all of them dancing the sun across the sky. It was my second time blessing my eyeballs and earholes with the wonder that is Gogol Bordello, and I highly recommend that if the chance to do the same ever comes your way that you definitely, definitely do it.
My last day at Turf ended far more quietly than it started. Jeff Tweedy, Wilco front man and bro-rock god was the must see for many of the TURF attendees, as bro-ified as the festivals population was, so I made it a point to see what all the fuss was about. Far more subdued than any of the other acts I’d seen over the weekend, I was definitely able to appreciate the talent and influence that Tweedy has had and continues to have on the musical landscape, despite the lack of flair and entertainment TURF had accustomed me to. The crowd hung on every note he strummed and sung, clearly feeling the presence of musical greatness in those downtown fields.
Check out photos of TURF here and be sure to attend next year!
*all photos by Nadia Elkharadly