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Imagining the Biggest Concert in Toronto History

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Torontoist has learned that plans are afoot for a massive two-day festival at Downsview Park that aims to combine the biggest concert the city has ever seen—expected attendance is 350,000 people each day, with 300 million watching around the world—with an effort to let G20 leaders know they need to try harder to change the world for the better.
It’s been seven years since Toronto had something of a new millennium Summer of Love, with decriminalized pot fumes floating through the air and hundreds of thousands pouring into Downsview Park (or Parc Downsview Park, if you prefer) for the SARstock show. The city hadn’t seen anything like it before, but we might just see something like it again with the Earthship Summit and Imagine Concert planned for July 10 and 11, which one of its organizers told Torontoist “will be the largest event in the forty years since Woodstock.” They should know.


We were tipped off to news of a possible event shortly after the New Year, but we had no clue just how big of an event organizers Artie Kornfeld and David Kam were planning.
The Imagine Concert aims to bring a little bit of Woodstock to town (“for the green generation”), not coincidentally shortly after the leaders of the world’s most prosperous nations depart. The initial plan was to hold the event during the G8/G20 summit (June 25 to 27), but organizers soon realized there weren’t enough cops to both protect the world leaders and secure their concert site, and pushed it back.
Artie Kornfeld, the man behind the musical side of the effort was (also not coincidentally) one of the organizers of the original Woodstock Aquarian Exposition—the one Limp Bizkit fans didn’t burn down—and he is adamant that despite a dormant period, the “Woodstock Spirit” is very much alive.
Woodstock may have defined a generation, but Imagine has the potential to stretch across three or four, and on Twitter, Kornfeld wrote that “Toronto [is] more important than Woodstock,” no mean claim for the man whose recently released autobiography dubs him the “Pied Piper of Woodstock.”
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“He was more of the idealist,” Kam says of Kornfeld’s role in launching that festival. “He saw it as a gathering for peace, freedom, and to help stop the war…that’s why he was the only one who didn’t do Woodstock [1994 and 1999].”
It’s a bit of a twist, since this time around Kam is the dreamer, and Kornfeld is the one doing much of the grunt work, at least on the musical side of things.
At a fourtieth anniversary Woodstock celebration last summer Kornfeld told a crowd: “Woodstock nation, get off your asses!” and he hopes Imagine will get both that generation and the current one up and at ‘em.
“As soon as I tell people what it’s about, it will sell out,” Kornfeld says. “It’s going to be a wonderful experience. I’m really into the rebirth of the experience of Woodstock.” (One difference: no on-site camping; organizers are recommending Glen Rouge Park for those hoping to recapture some of that festival spirit.)
What a Woodstock rebirth means for Kornfeld is good vibes and kick-ass musical acts. This early in the game, he can’t say just who’ll be there (Foo Fighters, Nickelback, and Lady Gaga have been contacted, he divulges), though on top of the big names expected, there’ll also be a talent search for would-be performers. Kornfeld doesn’t doubt the show will come off. “I love music and I love people, and it’s great they just come together,” he says.
Imagine is just the tip of the iceberg. The concert is part of the larger Earthship Summit Festival, Kam’s brainchild. The Montreal artist had the idea three years ago and he has much bigger goals in mind than cool music.
“My hope is to plant the seed, to create the momentum for world change,” he says: the festival’s themes will include poverty, peace, and sustainability.
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Technology will take the festival well beyond the borders of North York with closed-circuit broadcasts in two hundred theatres across the continent, and Kam hopes to exploit the Internet and mobile technology to their utmost. International interactivity will be the name of the game, with plans for a green-oriented, Facebook-style network. Locally, the festival will be looking for volunteers
Kam has partnered with a wide array of charities—Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Save the Children, for starters—and pledged half of the profits to them. Kam also hopes to have ongoing charity efforts after the event.
Earthship aims to bring in big-name speakers (some live, some on video) such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bono (naturally). Helping make the big connections is lawyer Paul Marshall, who has represented everyone from the Kennedy family to Whitney Houston, and who helped Michael Jackson acquire the Beatles publishing catalogue.
The size of the names isn’t as important to Kam as the messages they’ll bring; John Lennon’s utopian ballad “Imagine” was his inspiration and Kam hopes to put out three re-recordings of it, an act which apparently has Yoko Ono’s blessing. Guitars played on an all-star version will be autographed and designed by well-known artists before being auctioned off.
The organizers hope to formally launch the event, with many more details, by mid-March.
Photos of Downsview Park (much of it currently under construction) and the surrounding area by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.

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