By Jacqueline Howell with Photos by Dave MacIntyre

Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) celebrated another great year at Fort York, which has become the jewel of Toronto’s downtown area, in large part, to this festival.

In an increasingly crowded & competitive local music festival scene, TURF maintains its strongly curatorial knack and ability to draw bright stars from all over the map. Solid music acts (44, to be precise) from Canada, U.S., U.K. and Europe are the hallmark of this end of summer music fest, with this year’s draws including Ween, Death Cab for Cutie, Dropkick Murphys, Lush, Explosions in the Sky, James Bay, The Hold Steady, Matthew Good, The Hives, Whitehorse, Limblifter, Okkervil River, Julia Jacklin, The Mekons and more.

With two large main stages set on opposite ends of the Fort York/Garrison Commons site, a third, slightly smaller one with ample hillside seating, and a fourth, intimate stage amid the old Fort York barracks that felt like a secret gig, minimal scheduling conflicts, sensible set times and a site you could yet walk in five minutes, TURF has perfected logistics. The now expected screens, state of the art lighting and sound set ups did not disappoint. For those who haven’t already made this a September destination, the scene at TURF is uncommonly relaxed and laid back, with space to spread out and and few lines or crowds. Always family friendly, TURF affords a setting that can be tailored for front row barrier types and those who bring their own pop up couches alike. When a space is used this well, enjoyment is maxed for all attendees whether towing four kids or a younger couple with nothing at all to carry. It’s rather Utopian.

Having done the local festival circuit for several years now with a packed 2016 slate, we identified a number of really impressive things about TURF that encourage us to recommend this festival to even the most discerning music fan who maybe feels like V.I.P. options are minimal requirements just to get a picnic bench seat and a chance of avoiding rainstorms or porta-potty nightmares. Without reservation, TURF delivered options and sensible, thoughtful offerings that turned General Admission passes into something that surpassed many a festival’s V.I.P. list. Notably:

*More food trucks than we could count or have seen locally (3 rows, in fact), with all the variety you could want from the basic poutine and ice cream to numerous organic & vegetarian offerings, our weekend included delicious jerk fried chicken, fish tacos, waffles, nachos and hamburgers and enjoyed it all. There were many more than these options, at decent prices (average for a meal was $8.00).

*Ample bar stands set up all across the site, which, to our great relief took good old fashioned cash AND offered free water refilling stations at the same locations. We never lined up for a beer or cider.

*No one’s favourite topic but one that is all-important and make or break for your weekend’s enjoyment: Porto-potties were ample, cleaned daily and were stocked with paper.

*Sponsor Moosehead Lager set up a white-picket fenced area full of picnic tables and umbrellas which was available to all guests above 19. The main stage was clearly visible and audible from here and it was a cozy hangout, as well as a necessary respite from Saturday’s rain.

* Bistro tables and chairs were set up in an open areas for people to enjoy their food. With the exception of Saturday’s rain, there was ample soft grassy space to cop a squat anywhere one wished, in view of the stages or away from the action as well.

*Bricks & Sticks set up a beautiful mobile bar area with a wooden deck, strings of white lights, and ample seating and tables for guests above the age of 19. This was a lovely spot to spend some time in between acts.

*The site was continually cleaned and most attendees kept up the trend to an uncommon degree. Security was friendly and professional and we found the entire weekend from entry to exit to be hassle free.

*There was a shaded kids crafting/hang out area, and plenty of open space for families and kids to enjoy away from crowds.

*The cutesy and crafty elements of other festivals make for great Instagram bait, but it seems TURF spent their resources toward sensible, convenient and customer-experience focused elements instead of arts & crafts. In a weekend that ranged from perfect (Friday) to downpour (Saturday) to sweltering (Sunday), we have to say we prefer the latter approach.

*Most importantly, headlining and even non-headlining acts were staggered so there were minimal conflicts for attendees allowing for maximizing time and festival spend.

We got to see a lot of bands we hadn’t seen before and were not disappointed. Some true highlights were the all-Canadian stage which included heavy-hitting talents The Rheostatics, Corb Lund, Whitehorse & Dwayne Gretzky doing a stellar Tragically Hip tribute set. This was probably our favourite stage of the weekend.

Of course, for Shoegaze fans the iconic Lush’s Saturday set was a major draw for us, who performed a killer set in utter defiance of the teeming rain (and real risks of performing in those conditions). (We’ll have a separate review and photo gallery of Lush.)

A major draw since the 1990s, Matthew Good was a major highlight of Sunday performing a set of non-stop hits and rockers that set him apart from so many 90s acts who tried and often just missed the perfect blend of emotional and musical songs. Good is not to be missed and his set was a full one that both tugged the heartstrings and got people moving in some soaring heat on Sunday. “Flashdance ii” and “Apparitions” still hold a lot of allure for this writer but Good has continued to make great, original, compelling music since that 99 heyday so go and see him.

We’ll be following up with some additional focused reviews of our favourite performances and full photo galleries of those in the next few days (Lush, Explosions in the Sky and The Mekons). Here is our overall photo gallery to give you a taste of TURF 2016.

With thanks to TURF – Toronto Urban Roots Festival organizers.


    • Matthew Good, The Hold Steady, The Mekons, Death Cab for Cutie, The Rheostatics, Corb Lund.