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Imagining the Biggest Concert in Toronto History

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.”
“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.
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.


  • Darren

    Sure, just make sure the TTC doesnt give away free rides like it did on the Pope’s event and the SARs event and just yesterday to GO transit users.
    The TTC is a charity case as is

  • http://undefined Jeff

    Sounds great I’m excited…oh….wait…Nickelback?

  • http://undefined Tlönista

    I’d totally schlep up to North York to see Lady Gaga, but…Foo Fighters? Nickelback? It isn’t the ’90′s, guys. Hope we end up with a decent line-up.

  • http://undefined Brett MacLean

    Awesome idea, but one that could be easily ruined by the involvement of Nickelback
    If the organizers really want this thing to succeed, they need to pull the Nickelback invite ASAP!
    Fact: the sounds emitted by Nickelback are 100 times worse for the environment than all the open-pit coal mines combined

  • http://undefined Christopher Merlot

    You’ll be thrilled to know that, according to the Globe & Mail, they’ve also contacted Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. Perhaps Third Eye Blind isn’t far behind.

  • tapesonthefloor

    I hope Kornfeld and Kam clue in that a “rebirth of the experience of Woodstock” can never happen on the backs of performers such as Nickelback. Have a peek at this chart of Woodstock performers from ’69 and ’94:
    Once is a (perhaps self-consciously) counter-culture happening. The other is a pop concert. (Yes, there are exceptions.)
    If K & K go the mainstream route and plan this as yet another big name pop concert, it will deaden any impact they hope to have as a “cause”. If they are as convinced as they sound that “Toronto [is] more important than Woodstock,” then they should go out on a long, green limb and only support and promote acts that share their dream of an ecologically sustainable Western world. The moment this turns into a music industry circle-jerk the battle is lost.
    I would be happy to help put together a concert of intelligent, forward-thinking musicians who can still draw half a million Torontonians. As anyone who understands the fractured but extraordinarily rich state of music in 2010 knows, it wouldn’t be that hard.
    Artie, Michael: Please take the high road on this one. Anyone can put together a gigantic pop concert. Give the people of Toronto and the world something more. Might I suggest as a template All Tomorrow’s Parties, or even Bonnaroo.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    If any of the land required still belongs to the Feds, PMO will squash it like a bug.

  • qviri

    Needs moar Celine Dion

  • http://undefined Green Sulfur

    Not that I like Nickelback or anything but if the point is to get the mainstream talking about the world’s ills, putting a bunch of Top 40s on stage as the hook isn’t a bad idea.

  • http://undefined bfq

    Seeing as Radiohead is one of the biggest bands in the world to be super green I would hope they have been contacted and decide to perform. I hope there are some huge bands but also a good mix of up and comers like all the major festivals.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    What they could do is like the Vancouver Olympics venues in the city – make the ticket a TTC daypass. Since their transit within the 416 is paid for, there’s less incentive for attendees to take the car.

  • rek

    No on-site camping means it won’t compare to Woodstock or Coachella or Bonneroo. It’s the partying and barbecuing and meet-the-neighboursing before and after someone takes the main stage that makes all the difference.

  • http://undefined tapesonthefloor

    They’ve also suggested a commute by car as the best way to get from Rouge Park to the concert site. It’s Woodstock of Suburbia!
    (Yes. I realize every other Woodstock was far less accessible by anything but a car.)

  • http://undefined Svend

    Will Bread Not Circuses be protesting this?

  • http://undefined rek

    Driving is the greenest!
    Two days isn’t really enough time for proper camping anyway.
    They should have put it the same weekend at the G20 summit and hired a local bike gang to provide security. Just like they did for Woodstock.

  • http://undefined Darren

    Sounds like it would work. Will the ticket cost more with the inbedded fare? And who’s pocketing the revenue? The TTC?

  • http://undefined spacejack

    Yeaahh, as if the net eco footprint of this event will ever be negative. If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.

  • http://undefined Darren

    How about just living life with the least minimum impact on the globe possible, and not going totally granola because its the latest trend.

  • http://undefined spacejack

    Speaking of trends, Naomi Klein owes me a HUGE carbon debt. Somehow I doubt I’ll ever collect though.

  • http://undefined Greg Smith

    Sounds not unlike the convention pass.

  • http://undefined Earthshipers

    Since my husband is both an excellent Canadian award winning musician, and a person who has actually built an earthship, I believe he would be someone who could be invited to play there.
    If they are looking for people who are living and working in a green lifestyle, he is one of those guys. Currently he writes, engineers, produces music for the healing arts, it is all done from a solar powered studio in the earthship.
    He has only just applied to play at the event, it might be too late, however maybe the fact that he has bulit an earthship will have interest to the person who reads the applications … guess we will wait and see.

  • qviri

    If said earthship takes off from stage, I will support featuring this act in place of Celine Dion.
    Bonus points if Nickelback are on board.

  • http://undefined pattio

    Saars had the Stones & ACDC. My idea of a great concert includes acts like;
    Santana, Van Morrison, Simon and Garfunkle, (Canadians) Blue Rodeo, The Guess Who…….A concert for peace, not mosh pits and throngs of kids going out of control. Invite Veterans of the Industry who inspire, and cause people to sit back, relax and make ” love not war”. Isn’t that what the original Woodstock intended to do?? If you are not going to repeat the same message, then call it something else.

  • http://undefined Jonah An Earthship is a radically sustainable home made of recycled materials.

  • http://undefined rich1299

    Its not a very green or sustainable method of getting across the message, if its anything like SARSstock was the vast amount of plastic water bottles needed to hydrate that many people will be staggering, I’ll never forget the sound of crunching water bottles from SARSstock or the way they were used to define seating areas. Events of this size create mountains of garbage and waste, if the idea is to spread the green philosophy they’ll need to come up with a way to keep the piles of garbage to a minimum, I suspect despite the idealism that its just a money making venture for the promoters and they’re using the idealism as a marketing ploy.

  • Kevin Bracken

    These people seem pretty awesome. They must be, if nothing else, very persuasive to get all the groups on board that they already have.

  • http://undefined Chris Orbz

    Someone saying that Toronto is more important than Woodstock ought to take at least an internet half-moment to familiarize themselves with the local culture. Nickelback? This isn’t Calgary. Toronto’s musicophiles pride themselves on the alternative and diverse. Are you just trying to get a whole bunch of wankers from the 905+ to clog highways driving in and back out or what?
    I’m not gonna throw out any suggestions because my personal top tastes are mostly too eclectic for such an intended turnout, but for the love of god, try a bit harder than just checking which waste of airtime won the most Junos and phoning them up.
    Oh, and do bring Rage. Also, pattio, you’re listening to too much Q.

  • dcooper

    Hey Artie–
    In response to your question,
    You can find Edwin tending bar at Tattoo Rock Parlour.

  • http://undefined turnsleftlooksright

    hahaha agreed.

  • http://undefined turnsleftlooksright

    Sounds a little heaven’s gatey. I nominate Starship for the role of necessary one hit wonder.

  • http://undefined AAstrella

    I can’t imagine 350,000 people a day leaving at night. If its going to have any feel of Woodstock, there must be on-site camping. I think the traffic gridlock is going to keep me away.

  • http://undefined jamewalker

    is this really happenning? when?

  • David Fleischer

    It’s been rescheduled for Labour Day weekend. Watch Torontoist for an update that should be online in the next day or two.