Newer and more-er, though, do not necessarily mean better.
Last year’s Field Trip was Canadian indie label Arts & Crafts’ 10th anniversary bash, and it featured a reunited Broken Social Scene playing their fan-favourite album, You Forgot It in People. And it achieved brilliance on its first try: the food, the music, the lineups—it was all pretty much perfect. This year, though, American company LiveNation took the helm and spread everything out over two days, which gave more people a chance to buy a ticket, buy food, drinks, and merchandise, and run into old friends they hadn’t talked to in ages.
As it turns out (even at $125 for a two-day pass), Toronto’s frosty exterior melts pretty quickly, provided there’s a hot spot in which to enjoy the sun and one another’s good looks. While there were some shining moments, though, by the end of each day, the good vibes had mellowed out and produced something of a lull.
The musical acts themselves were all on point, from weekend-openers Maylee Todd and The Darcys showcasing their Toronto-bred creative spirits, to closers Broken Social Scene providing their reliable love-fuelled romp, this time light on nostalgia and heavy on guest stars (Gord Downie played on, and forgot the words to, “Texico Bitches,” and Andy Kim joined in for “Sweetest Kill”).
Hosted on two stages at Fort York, the music festival was easy to get to and from—maybe too much so. Many of the early acts played to sparse crowds, and even big draws like Guelph rockers the Constantines proved that this was not Hillside, blasting a stack of tracks off their upbeat album Shine a Light with only a sparse gathering of screaming fans to sing along. American acts were all over the setlist, which drew questions from some, but the intention of the organizers was clear: they wanted people to have a good, relaxed time. The two stages were so staggered at times, though, and the food so delicious and plentiful, that some people stayed put in one stage area, never hearing the sounds of the other.
Day one of Field Trip brought out all of the sun-soaked hippies (how did they all seem to have tans already?) and good vibes abounded as teenagers, parents with toddlers, and a good cross-section of the Indie 88 audience took in the heat and tried to be cool. Day two brought harder-hitting acts like Chvrches and Fucked Up, but also rain, which meant that beach bodies were traded for bodies-in-ponchos, and the venue never got all that busy.
Broken Social Scene seemed awfully un-broken—minus a few favourites like Emily Haines, you could find members of the band and their various offshoots everywhere you looked.
Jason Collett showed up by bike, as usual. Charles Spearin, bassist for Broken Social Scene, brought his backburnered prog-rock project, Do Make Say Think, to the stage, and barely left over the course of the two days—but he did have the time to visit his wife’s booth, which was selling Kevin Drew’s actual tequila lime “Body Butter,” inspired by the eponymous song. Drew’s set was heartfelt and struck all the right chords with the audience, which was clearly there to see him, despite his remark that he was used to having 19 people onstage beside him.
Much to everyone’s delight, the lovely Leslie Feist showed up in a big way, too, backing Kevin Drew and BSS’s sets and fronting a new band, Hydra. Initially a collaboration between her, Ariel Engel of AroarA, and Daniela Gesundheit of Snowblink for Feist’s Polaris 2012 “Metals” performance, Hydra is now seemingly an ongoing project for the three musicians. Though they have yet to announce plans for original music, one can only hope—as all of Feist’s songs, including “The Bad in Each Other,” were amplified by the complex vocal harmonies. Closing with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” the three-headed Hydra seems poised to parlay its wailing perfection into Canadian supergroup status.
Experimental jazz band BadBadNotGood—like bigger acts Shad and Interpol—played a head-boppin’ set to their dedicated fan base, but that was the problem: with about 20 bands lined up over two days, there were few that were crucial for everyone to see. Even BSS’s set, according to Kevin Drew, was “for the hardcore fans.”
The thing that seemed to be missing was intimacy. Last year’s event felt like a unique celebration of time and life—who could believe Arts and Crafts had been around 10 years? But this time around, Field Trip felt like just another yearly thing, and Kevin Drew was starting to show some greys, and you realized why it is that Gord Downie shaves his head and then wondered about what the traffic will be like getting home. That said, Field Trip 2014 kicked off a season full of the festivals this city has always craved, and everyone loves having somewhere to go—so if the love is spread out over more days and places, that’s fair enough. Toronto could always use more festival love, even if it can take a little time to get it right.