Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Field Trip

Congratulations to Toronto-based record label Arts & Crafts on throwing not only one hell of a birthday party but also on organizing one of the best outdoor, music festivals that this city has ever seen.

Yep, that’s a pretty strong statement but I think it’s one that the majority of the people who spent this past Saturday at Arts & Crafts’ Field Trip festival would agree with. The record label organized the day as a 10th anniversary party for itself (and I think as an excuse for the disbanded Broken Social Scene, who helped to found the label, to play one more show) but in the end, they created the model for a perfect festival.

(Before I write anything else I should mention that this entry is photos-free because I only had my phone with me and I didn't want to waste its battery life on taking crappy images. If you want to see some great Field Trip photos, check out these ones over on BlogTO.)

While our day did have a shaky start thanks to ill-formed security people who sent us in the wrong direction, the rest of it was basically perfect (okay, it could have been warmer). Once we got to the correct ticket window, we were quickly given our tickets and then whisked inside.

The festival took place at Fort York, which proved to be an ideal setting for this not-huge-but-still-substantial-sized event. There were two stages, one in Fort York proper and one on Garrison Common, and acts took turns alternating between the two stages, meaning no sound bleed and no having to decide between bands. While the flow between the two stages did get a bit tight in one spot, in general, it was easy to move about the festival and to find a good watching, or resting, spot.

While I think tickets for this event sold fairly well, it certainly wasn't crowded and I quite liked that. Lines were minimal, even for things like the free wine and beer tasting, and there was even still hand sanitizer available in the potta-potties near the end of the night.

I loved that Arts & Crafts teamed up with food festival organizers Toronto Underground Market to sort out the food side of the event. Instead of Pizza Pizza, the usual festival food supplier, we had the choice of almost two dozen different local food vendors who were selling everything from perogies to cupcakes to buns stuffed with elk and bison.

And because Arts & Crafts just wanted to spoil us with food options, there were also at least six food trucks on site, including Stuft, Caplansky’s and Buster’s Seafood Cove. Of course if you didn't want to spend any money, you could just eat the free ice cream bars and drink the free Doctor Pepper and vitaminwater that were being given out.

This was the first festival that I've been to that took advantage of the recently changed liquor laws. Gone was the formally standard beer garden and instead we could buy alcohol, including two speciality cocktails or a litre of wine, from one of over half-a-dozen beverage vendors and then we could freely walk around the venue with our drinks. Thank you government of Ontario for finally allowing this to be possible!

With a drink in hand, attendees could then check out the small but interesting Esty craft market; a special Arts & Crafts photo exhibit; a pop-up version of the Drake General Store; multiple merch tables; an autograph station; the kids’ play area; a hula hoop field or even a yurt.

And on yeah, we could also check out the 15 different acts that made up this festival’s stellar lineup (yes, all of the bands are on Arts & Crafts). As pretty much every other write-up on Field Trip has mentioned, the sound was fantastic. With the exception of Bloc Party, who sounded a bit shrill-y from where I was standing, all of the artists I heard sounded more like they were playing in a small, well-designed club than an outdoor festival.

My favourite performers of the day were Trust, who really brought it despite being a goth band that had to play a mid-afternoon set. They got people dancing, and talking, thanks in part to their interestingly clad go-go dancer.

I was also quite impressed by Dan Mangan, who I was seeing for the first time. Both the man and his songs have a warm, charming feel and some of his songs, like “Robots” are extremely catchy.  I feel like Dan won himself many new fans on Saturday.

And of course I have to mention Broken Social Scene’s set. The band played their breakthrough album,   You Forgot It In People, from start to finish and I have to admit that at first I wasn't thrilled at this idea; it sounded like it had the potential to be boring and/or sloppy. However, in the end, the concept went off without any real issues and I really enjoyed what I heard. Sure, BSS wasn't exactly a well-oiled machine (“Anthem for a 17-Year-Old Girl sounded particularly rough) but the dozen-plus members were clearly giving it their all and there was a real energy coming from the stage.

Also, the band was able to power through the album quick enough to play five more tracks including two of my favourite, “7/4 (Shoreline)” and “Meet In The Basement.” The latter track sounded particularly strong and I think it might just be my favourite BSS-performance to-date.

Like many other people out there, I'm hoping that Field Trip becomes an annual event. This city needs a decent, reliable, annual outdoor music festival and I think Field Trip could fill that role quite nicely.

If there is another Field Trip perhaps these small adjustments can be made:
  •  Better informed security staff; 
  • A bigger Etsy market, in a bigger location (checking out the market was the only time I felt squished);
  • More beer (early in the evening a beer shortage struck though I understand that an emergency load was brought in);
  • A more diverse lineup (while I quite like Arts & Crafts' roaster, if Field Trip does become an annual thing, it's going to need to expand the lineup to include some friends of the label).
But if not, I would be more than happy with a repeat of what we got this year. Here’s to hoping that Field Trip 2013 is just the first of many!

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