You’ve got to hand it to Toronto record label Arts & Crafts—they certainly know how to commemorate a milestone in style. Last weekend’s Field Trip festival brought the kind of summer music environment to downtown Toronto that would usually require a trek to Guelph for Hillside.
The day seemed as much a celebration of the city as it was a 10th anniversary party for Arts & Crafts. With two stages at Fort York and Garrison Common playing host to practically the label’s entire roster and a large assortment of vendors, all of the elements were in place for an unforgettable musical event.
The artists began performing shortly after noon on Saturday. The earlier set times provided a chance for people still trickling in to become acquainted with some of Arts & Crafts’ newer acts. Cold Specks proved yet again to be gaining comfort onstage with every show. The group’s singer, Al, has a soulful voice with a transfixing power that stood out in contrast to her diminutive frame. While propulsive bass and falsetto hooks made Ra Ra Riot one the bands whose sound was most ideally suited for the outdoor environment, Trust, a synth-heavy group, was one of the most intriguing. Adding to the driving beat and singer Robert Alfons’s dynamic presence was the addition of a lone back-up dancer, his identity expertly concealed by an elephant hat atop a panda mask.
By the time folk-rock icon Hayden took the stage in the late afternoon, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find a good spot within the growing crowd. His decision to dedicate the autobiographical song “Almost Everything” to those that had stuck with him over the years was the first of many moments of reflection to come over the course of the day. From there, England’s Bloc Party provided some much-needed energy, drawing the biggest cheers for older hits like the irresistibly catchy “Banquet.” Lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell traded off anchoring an earnest performance from Stars, one that saw members of other bands watching from the wings like proud family. Vancouver’s Dan Mangan closed out the Fort York stage’s day, shaking off the rust accumulated during five months of not playing shows with an extended singalong coda to “Robots.”
Though there was barely any time to rest thanks to the non-stop stellar lineup of musicians, there were other attractions. Where one stage had a nearby Food Truck Row offering options like smoked meat sandwiches and gyros, the other had an abundance of local eateries serving everything from burritos to cupcakes. There was even a small area between stages where kids could enjoy the pleasures of a bouncy castle or a Hula Hoop Zone, which happened to draw a surprising amount of adults, too. Perhaps they had been drinking cans of Amsterdam beer that were on sale throughout the concert grounds, or carafes of wine resembling guitars.
As night began to descend on the breezy, intermittently drizzling day, everyone settled in for the two headliners on the Garrison Common stage, Feist and Broken Social Scene. To watch Leslie Feist is to marvel at how effortlessly she’s able to contort her fragile and ethereal voice around the spare arrangements in songs like “Anti-Pioneer” and “The Limit to Your Love.” This cast a mesmerizing spell over the crowd, broken by her occasional exuberant yelps and dexterous attacks on her guitar. Wearing a long, white, fringed scarf over her dress, she bantered playfully with the crowd, engaging them at one point in a bit of New Kids On The Block-inspired arm waving. She gently ribbed A & C co-founder Kevin Drew for his inevitable theatrics. (“Hold your pulse to the sky!”)
When the army that is Broken Social Scene did eventually assemble, they made good on their earlier announcement that they would be playing their breakthrough 2002 album, You Forgot It in People, in its entirety. Some of the stand-out moments involved erstwhile BSS members Feist and Millan adding their signature voices to songs like “Lover’s Spit” and “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year Old Girl.” Drew was joined by a rotating band that included members of BSS both old and new, including, at one poignant moment, founding member and current Metric guitarist James Shaw, who had just flown in for the band’s finale. In the end, Drew somewhat lived up to Feist’s prophecy, appealing to the crowd as they were preparing to depart: “We gotta get this city back, it’s going to shit.” It was clear to everyone who he was referring to when he said, “That man does not belong in City Hall.”