TURF Music Festival Toronto

5 reasons to check out the Toronto Urban Roots Festival

This weekend marks the inaugural edition of the Toronto Urban Roots Festival, more succinctly known as TURF, being held over four days at the Fort York Garrison Commons.

While Toronto has no shortage of options for the music-loving festival-goer this summer, be it the joyous communal vibes of last month's Arts & Crafts Field Trip, the college rock-leaning Riotfest later in the summer, or the island paradise of Wavelength's ALL CAPS! festival, TURF offers a unique experience compared to other events of the same ilk within the GTA. Here are five reasons to check out this new festival.

Grassroots Festivals Are Good

Speaking with the fest's creative director Jeff Cohen (co-owner of iconic Toronto venues Lee's Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern, as well as local promotion mecca Collective Concerts), he's quick to focus on the fan-oriented approach to the festival's design as what will make the TURF experience a singular one. Before owning the Horseshoe, Cohen used to sit on the Board of Directors for the legendary Mariposa Folk Festival, which held a temporary sojourn in Toronto city limits at Ontario Place from 1991-1995. That classic of Canadiana lore has paved the way for what is, surprisingly, the first two-day+ music festival in the city since Mariposa returned to its original home of Orillia.

But with the city of Toronto finally providing the needed support on a municipal level to stage these kinds of events in the city, Cohen hopes that TURF's grassroots approach will be the first of many to come. And the most important thing - the talent - is certainly present. Not to be confined by any of the words in their moniker, be it Toronto, urban, or roots, a look at the lineup presents an eclectic who's-who of folk, soul, and indie on a local, national, and international scale.

The Bands

Glasgow's ambassadors of twee, Belle & Sebastian, share a Sunday bill alongside Hoboken, NJ's finest Yo La Tengo, with Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet's collaborative Whitehorse sandwiched in between the two. Saturday night sees a more punk-influenced lineup at Fort York, with back-to-back sets from Frank Turner, the Lowest of the Low, the Hold Steady, and Flogging Molly. And if that's not enough diversity for you, Hamilton's beloved Arkells will be performing a special Motown cover set on Friday night, in addition to their originals (and we've got passes to give away! See below).

The More Multi-Day Music Festivals, the Better

Cohen took part in a 2011 study by Music Canada on Toronto's music scene, the findings of which showed, predictably, that the city suffered for lack of a multi-day music festival at the scale of Austin City Limits or Montreal's Osheaga. He mentions legislative changes at the provincial and municipal levels, concerning liquor and sound ordinance, as being significant in getting TURF off the ground, as well as a new wave of forward-thinking city councilors friendly to live music. With such unanimous support, now seemed like the right time for Cohen to launch his idea. "If you're going to sit and complain about what's wrong with the Toronto live music scene," he says, "you're eventually going to have to look the issue in the eye and ask 'well, what can I do to help?'"

The Food

The bulk of the festival's attractions will be held at Fort York over two full days (Saturday/Sunday) and two evenings (Thursday/Friday). In addition to the stacked music lineup, there will be a number of other attractions at Fort York, including local food truck offerings, including Caplansky's, Per Se Mobile, Feng's Dumplings, and Big Fat Burrito, to name but a few.

The Aftershows

There's a host of official TURF aftershows at both of Cohen's venues, with hogtown heavy-hitters like the Sadies and the Wooden Sky, as well as some excellent bands not playing the fest proper (Thursday night's Charles Walker/Atom & the Volumes show at the 'Shoe is sure to be a highlight).

Overall, the rigorous involvement of Cohen and the city should prove to set up the first year of TURF as one of the events of the summer in Toronto. He notes that as of late "there's a movement going on in City Hall, where they're finding reasons why these types of things can exist, instead of why they can't... this is just an evolution of that, and will hopefully be one of many in the years to come." With Toronto having the third-largest live music market in North America, it's alarming that this type of thing hasn't been staged more often - now, hopefully, it's here to stay, red tape be damned.

Tickets to each day of the festival are still available at local retailers, as well as online at http://torontourbanrootsfest.com/tickets/. If you'd like to win tickets to Friday night, featuring the Arkells, Fitz and the Tantrums, Justin Townes Earle, and JD McPherson, remember to check out our giveaway.

Photo of Belle and Sebastian by mehan on Flickr

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