Bestival Toronto Day 1: Friday June 12th

Bestival’s first-ever weekend outside of their annual home on the Isle of Wight, U.K. landed in Toronto this weekend in a glorious explosion of confetti, gorgeous flags pitched to celebrate a new, international monarchy: one of music, love, positive vibes and creativity, and the likes of which we’ve never seen on our shores. Friday’s (all day) rain and thunderstorm warnings could not stop (all day) beach parties; dance tents with killer light shows; impromptu weddings; a Mariachi band; or newly minted number one artist Florence + The Machine from making the most of Toronto Island’s idyllic natural setting to create an immersive experience with something for just about everyone. The VIP area offered ample shelter and a great view of the Main Stage. Beyond VIP, seating was provided all over the island near and away from stages. This was something far beyond the usual fend for yourself/stand or sit on the ground mode of local outdoor festivals.

One of the best places to chill comfortably on scattered and covered seating areas was set back from but in full view of Bestival’s crown jewel: The Bollywood Stage. This stage was a spectacle which will not be forgotten by dwellers of this concrete jungle. It was, like those rare moments of musical euphoria (like day closer and epic anthem Dog Days are Over) when all our dry and modern anxieties fall away leaving a clean, pure feeling of priceless joy, just spectacular.

Toronto is a beautiful city. We have a diverse population of many discerning foodies, top notch international offerings at the highest and lowest price points, the type of serious beer lovers who sell out our various beer fests year round (even outdoor, in snow, a point of pride) and a strong tradition of live music that persists even through a changing media landscape and a cringe-worthy ban on postering (please come back, Banksy!). But as promoters, media types and experienced music fans know, the siren song of our beautiful park system, our people and lovely Toronto Islands runs up regularly against Toronto’s own special logistical nightmares and the regulatory red tape of our labyrinthine and sometimes ridiculous government regulations around noise, entertainment, alcohol, and adult fun.

And so, many local and visiting promoters have tried with varying levels of success to gain a true foothold and create a watershed moment in our live music festival culture, U.K. style, that befits the English, Irish, Scottish and European roots that many native Torontians have kicking around in our DNA. Organizing a Bestival here is not for the faint of heart and must contain many elements of risk; Block Parties hosted by Indie labels are being shut down while EDM festivals have the ongoing risk of kids experimenting with substances with the liability, tragedy and bad PR that follows. Virgin Music Fest came, did it right for a few years, then pulled out, leaving us with nostalgia for what we briefly had in our grasp on this very same island.

By almost every measure that matters, the ambitious and brand new Bestival Toronto was a welcome, beautiful effort and a big success. Every flag that was planted (and there were a lot of them) in every happy colour combination said something about the minds and the hearts behind Bestival: a hyper coloured, unsinkable message in a bottle that arrived on our shores from our friends and family across the pond who we’ve fallen a little out of touch with. Rob da Bank, Josie da Bank and company came to us, just like the import records we used to scour the record stores to buy, to find what news, music and style from England was essential to us. The vinyl and its sleeve was expensive, but so valuable, so rare and so vital. Bestival’s team had to make Toronto City Hall raise a few eyebrows and shake a few cobwebs away, for the benefit of us all. They even got the clothing optional beach as one of the “stages”, Bestival Toronto’s other, more hidden gem (a beautifully stubborn drizzly party on Friday that would blossom into a hot, exclusive memorable day club complete with long lines on sunny Saturday).

Music Festivals can be as enriching and inclusive (or more inclusive) than the more sanctioned big events: TIFF, the upcoming Pan Am and Parapan games, our neverending Olympic bids, the highbrow and the literary. Toronto can be truly world class on this stage (an increasingly crowded and competitive one). Bestival Toronto’s alchemy produced happy and low key crowds,  great food, exciting music and a summer weekend to remember, England style, right on our doorstep.

Here’s our day one gallery: music, fans, and the transformed island with day two to follow. Review by Step On editors, photos by Dave MacIntyre.