It's a massive, annual public festival that draws international attention and boldface names. And no, it's not TIFF.
There’s a feeling of excitement in the air in Toronto this week, as another chapter begins in the storied history of one of our city’s biggest annual events, a massive public festival that, despite the international attention it receives and the distracting presence of big stars, really is an event for the fans.
I speak, of course, of Ford Fest, the yearly barbecue that the Ford family throws as a way of giving back to the community, which this year goes head-to-head against the other big festival in town, what those in Ford Nation would call “the TIFF.”
The two festivals could not be more different: TIFF is aimed at downtown elites who don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars to either binge-watch a bunch of foreign films or stand for hours behind a set of stanchions just to get a glimpse of George Clooney getting out of a limo; whereas Ford Fest, billed as “Canada’s largest backyard BBQ,” is a more down-to-earth affair, held in Etobicoke on the sprawling property of family matriarch Diane Ford. It’s a chance for hard-working, everyday average folks to get together and enjoy free burgers, live music, and even a little politics. For the first-time Ford Fest attendee, it may all seem too overwhelming, but that’s where this handy survival guide comes in, to help you get the most of your festival experience.
What’s New This Year?
TIFF is known for its annual presentation of the People’s Choice Award, the movie voted on by attendees as the best movie of the festival, a distinction that more often than not vaults the winner into the catbird seat for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Not to be outdone, former mayoral candidate Doug Ford is promising to announce the winner of Ford Fest’s own version of the People’s Choice Award: which lucky people will Doug choose to serve as their elected representative? Will he run municipally, in a rematch against John “What’s The Story, Mr.” Tory? Or will he join Patrick Brown’s team of Ontario Progressive Conservatives and try to win the provincial riding of Etobicoke North, a Ford Nation stronghold? And what will he be wearing?
A hint as to what Doug’s final decision might be can be gleaned from the promotional posters for Ford Fest 2017. Not unlike TIFF, Ford Fest appears to be making a concerted effort to appeal to millennials this year, with the insistent messaging that the festival’s iconic burgers will be “(veggie burgers!).” Is this just because Doug is a self-described vegetarian, or is this an example of his political strategy to reach out @norm-style to the city’s younger demographic, appealing to their generational concern for more ethical consumer choices? It is not clear whether standard beef burgers, the preferred no-nonsense choice of the hard-working taxpayer and signature food item offered during the Rob Ford-hosted years of the festival, will still be available.
What Should I Wear?
There is no hard-and-fast “dress code” for attending a Ford Fest: dress as you would for a conventional backyard barbecue. Bear in mind, the first 500 attendees will receive a free commemorative “Ford Nation” T-shirt.
At any festival, lineups are a fact of life, so be prepared to stand in line for a while at Ford Fest if you have a hankering for the free food and drinks available. A festival lineup doesn’t have to be a chore: it can be a great opportunity to meet like-minded Ford fans and to talk about your mutual love of burgers, and how you’re both glad you’re not on the 504 streetcar right now, what with TIFF closing down King Street and tying up traffic just so Mayor Tory and his buddies can rub shoulders with these Hollywood elites.
It wouldn’t be a festival without a little star power (and I don’t mean the Toronto Star). Some local stars expected to attend this year’s Ford Fest include author and veteran Toronto Sun scribe Joe “Night Scrawler” Warmington, City Councillor Michael Ford, and former Ontario PC leadership candidate Monte McNaughton. You can expect a Patrick Brown appearance if indeed Doug is planning a Queen’s Park bid, which would crush rumours in the liberal fake news media that Doug will announce a mayoral bid because the Ontario PCs are discouraging him to run provincially.
In terms of filmmakers expected to attend the festival, there may very well be camera crews on the premises hard at work on their next project; Ford Fests have long captured the imagination of local documentary filmmakers, most notably Reg Hartt, whose immersive 2015 film Ford Fest Scarborough 3-D remains the definitive cinematic document of the Rob Ford era.
Two stars who definitely won’t be attending include Mayor John Tory, who apparently expects an engraved invitation to a free public barbecue (he says he “wasn’t invited”), and Kevin Spacey, who famously crossed Doug Ford backstage at the Jimmy Kimmel show back when Rob went down to Hollywood to promote the Toronto film industry. Uppity stars who refuse to pose for photos with fans will want to avoid the selfie-friendly atmosphere of this festival.
But of course, the biggest and most important stars expected at Ford Fest are…Folks! The hardworking taxpayer who plays by the rules trying to make ends meet and wants nothing else but for someone to come along and either Drain The Swamp at Queen’s Park or Make Toronto Great Again, depending on what Doug ultimately announces.
Enjoy the People’s Festival!