By Toni Rose Castillo. Photos by Winnie Surya. This year marked the third annual Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) and it definitely did not disappoint. This year’s lineup featured artists such as The Pixies, Wilco, Cake, Of Monsters and Men, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. I immersed myself in TURF’s relaxing atmosphere, partly thanks to a crowd that ranged from the cool parents rocking out like it was the nineties, to the hip teenagers who wish it were 1990. The atmosphere was friendly and nonchalant, as everyone gathered around with open arms to enjoy the music together. Industry professionals such as the owner of the legendary Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace Jeff Cohen and TSN announcer and music enthusiast Dave Hodge were able to successfully curate a great show that ended off festival season perfectly. These were the highlights of this weekend’s festival.
I started the day off by watching Built To Spill’s set with some fresh ears, as this was the first time listening to their music. Being one of many influential bands that pioneered the alternative rock genre, I had to hear for myself one of the greats live with my own ears. I was instantly mesmerized by their sound. They reminded the audience of the great beginnings of indie alternative rock by playing crowd favorites “You Were Right,” “Carry The Zero,” and my personal favorite from the set “Distopian Dream Girl”. The band let their talent speak for themselves, as frontman Doug Martsch captivated the audience with his well-executed guitar solos that excited the audience. Before Built To Spill sent the audience off to The Avett Brothers, they ended their set off with an incredible cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now,” and set some high expectations for the rest of the day.
The Avett Brothers are known to put on a fun show with their upbeat music. Their performance at TURF was definitely no exception. Starting the set off with “Satan Pulls The Strings,” “Live And Die,” and “Laundry Room,” the energy was at a constant high as the crowd was singing and dancing along. The music was infectious as everyone was jumping around with pure joy and there wasn’t a lifeless person in sight. The band’s violinist, Tania Elizabeth, paid homage to her fellow Canadians by performing a solo during the set. They closed out the set with the heartwarming classic, “I And Love And You”.
I spent the last hours of the day watching Of Monsters and Men. Off the bat, they established a mysterious setting that matched their ambient performance, which some could say was chilling to the bone. Playing songs from their new album, Beneath The Skin, as well as songs from their debut album, the overall performance felt as if we were waiting for a storm thanks to the haunting drums and eerie guitar slicks. Despite the mystifying setting they were trying to achieve throughout the performance, it did not leave a lasting impression.
The next day had some great performances by The Elwins and The River and the Road, which prepared the audience for bigger and better excitement. It was not until later that day did the torrential downpour came, which not surprisingly added to the parade during Lucinda Williams and The Strumbellas’ performance.
Things got very interesting at Passenger, as it is never a dull moment watching him perform live. Passenger knew how to entertain a crowd with stories and jokes; but he also knew how to instantly grab the crowd’s attention as everyone was silently blown away song after song. His performance was so captivating that it was all that mattered in that moment.
After Passenger’s amazing set, I swung by to see Wilco. If there is one band you must see live in your lifetime, it should be Wilco. They have been performing for over two decades, and they never fail to put on an amazing set. Wilco got everyone rocking out and on their feet as they played the classics that everyone sang along to, as well as when they performed their entire new album, Star Wars.
The best part about the night was the headliner of the evening, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. As I expected, their performance blew my mind. I was able to experience first-hand the outpouring love and enthusiasm that lead singer, Alex Ebert, put into every performance. Ebert’s carefree and jolly spirit translated into what felt like a campfire sing-along, as he would head off into the audience and connect with the fans during the set. Every so often, he would bring kids onto the stage and superfans to dance with him. One fan in particular was so overjoyed that it entertained both the fans and Alex Ebert. For many, it was a night to remember, and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros made sure of it.
The weekend was sadly coming to an end, but TURF saved the best for last. In the midst of all the rock ‘n’ roll, it was nice to settle down in Lord Huron’s refreshing performance for their sound was calming but ever so beautiful. But nothing amazed me more than Neko Case’s haunting performance. Listening to her voice in the flesh gave me goose bumps because she was so astonishingly flawless with every note she sang. The crowd was so silent and in awe that they were hanging on to every last note she effortlessly belted out. I left her set feeling stunned by her talent; Neko Case can do that to you.
The Pixies ended off the weekend with some hardcore rock and continuous head banging rippling into the crowd for their full ninety minute set. Being one of the most iconic bands in alt-rock, I expected nothing less than rock ‘n’ rollcraziness to end off the weekend with a bang. As they shredded through crazy guitar riffs and perfectly executed smashing of the drums, they rocked down the house. They couldn’t finish the show off without playing the iconic classic “Where Is My Mind?” which left me with a jitter of excitement. I left Fort York for the last time feeling bittersweet. I wanted more from The Pixies, but it couldn’t last forever. I can only imagine that next year will be even better, but it will definitely be hard to top this year. RIP TURF 2015, you’ve been great.