New Traditions at The New Traditions Festival
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New Traditions at The New Traditions Festival

The first-ever New Traditions Music and Art Festival brought collaboration and creativity to the Island. And, hopefully, some new traditions that will stick around.

Outdoor music, corn on the cob and sausages on the grill, campfires, and trips to the Island. These are summer staples that will hardly, if ever, get old. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use an update every once in a while.

With Pride, Canada Day celebrations ramping up, and the general to-do around the city that comes with a sunny summer weekend, there wasn’t a lack of activities to entice Torontonians to stay in the mainland this past Saturday. Yet the inaugural New Traditions Music and Art Festival was sold out, as hundreds of city slickers snuck away to Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island for the promise of, obviously, music and art. But more importantly, something new.

A collaboration between three local arts organizations—Whippersnapper Gallery, Fedora Upside-Down, and Artscape Gibraltar Point—New Traditions was 12 hours of indie music, installations, dance workshops, performance art, facepainting, a “puppet slam,” fresh food, swimming, fireworks, and bonfires. From noon to midnight, attendees, dressed in sarongs, dresses, shorts, and towels, danced with their dogs and toddlers or sprawled on their blankets. Concerts on the Island aren’t new in themselves, but Virgin Festival this was not. Virgin Festival would hardly be interested in programming a puppet slam.

Not that that specific event would have saved V Fest from splashing into the summer event deadpool, but if there’s one direction that is making Toronto festivals continuously successful, it’s their ability to adapt, evolve, and grow to incorporate a blend of different art forms. Luminato, Fringe, SummerWorks, NXNE—every year they get bigger and better, creating more multi-disciplinary events rather than merely accumulating a list of shows. As impressive as The Wilderness of Manitoba, Olenka and the Autumn Lovers, The Elwins, and Doldrums are (especially against a backdrop of trees and beach), it’s the combination of the music and a good meal, or ducking out of the puppet slam to see fireworks bursting overtop a performance piece by Chandra Melting Tallow, or watching traditional folk dancers perform by firelight on the beach while others swim out to a floating art installation and a lightning storm lights up the sky across the water, that will ultimately stand out.

It was the first music festival for visual artists Zannie Doyon, Benjamin Verdicchio, Nicholas Robins, and Robin Clason who installed a visual art project called Theories of a Geodesic Framework. To Verdicchio and Doyon, who attended the festival, it was an opportunity to take the structure, which was originally made in India, and find their own use for it. That was a theme they noticed throughout the projects, from the dancing, to the music, to the puppet show, to the first ever concert by Maylee Todd and Dan Werb (of Woodhands) together as Ark Analog—taking old traditions or work, and putting a new spin on them.

But not all new traditions go over so smoothly. The lineup for food was unfortunately too long for those with must-see shows to catch, technical difficulties sometimes put a delay in the schedule, and a group of festival-goers with tickets for the late-night ferry got off the island two hours tardy when one of two of its engines broke down, causing it to travel at half the speed. It was a less-than-festive end to the festival.

That is, it would have been if The Lemon Bucket Orkestra hadn’t been on hand to deliver the Balkan tunes and have the frustrated, dirty, and exhausted crowd back on their feet and twirling around in front of a huge, dark red moon. We don’t recommend making a tradition out of that particular scenario, but it was a testament to the art of collaboration.

CORRECTION: July 4, 2012, 10:15 AM This post originally omitted the names of Nicholas Robins and Robin Clason, who are members of the group of visual artists who installed Theories of a Geodesic Framework. We apologize for this oversight.

CORRECTION: July 5, 2012, 1:25 PM Originally, we referred to the art installation as The Dome, when the full title of the piece is actually, Theories of a Geodesic Framework. The corrections have been made above.