Review: TURF, July 2013


I love going to festivals, but, too often for my own sake, I tend to be unduly critical and to let the lack of signage – or any other event planning flaws – come in the way of my enjoyment. It’s called déformation professionnelle in French, and it (i.e. I) can get very annoying.

That’s why I’m so happy to report that I have thoroughly enjoyed the latest festival I attended, TURF.


Let’s start with the name, with the help of the website Fest FAQ section:

Q – What does TURF stand for?
A – Toronto Urban Roots Festival

Q – Are you guys aware that not every band on TURF is specifically Americana/Canadiana Roots?
A – Really, well that’s why the word ‘Urban’ is in the title
A – It’s just not your grandma’s, or father’s roots music festival, we’re hoping it’s 2013 specific

Or maybe someone in the festival team can’t resist a bad pun – in any case, that should make the festival name rather memorable.

The early bird 4-day tickets were $125, and I got mine at the normal $150 price – not bad for nearly 30 bands, and highlights including Camera Obscura, Frank Turner, Yo La Tengo and Belle and Sebastian (which I missed because of the torrential rain, though the show went on). The tickets are “all-in”, inclusive of all charges, fees, processing… which is noted in the FAQs as being innovative (and should definitely be the norm).

The venue is the Garrison Common, basically a nice grassy field with trees (and shade) adjacent to the historical Fort York, and here’s the pretty site map that you get handed on arrival (with the line-up on the other side):

TURF Site Map

(This is also where Toronto-based label Arts & Crafts held their 10-year celebration 1-day festival, Field Trip, earlier in June).

It’s an “urban” festival, so easily accessible by public transport, and there was ample bike parking provided, with lots of cattle gates lined up just outside the festival fence.

Wristband collection

On the way to the box office / wristband exchange, there was a free coat-check tent, which was storing dozens of umbrellas and where I could leave my bike pannier. The wristband itself was a nice fabric ribbon with a plastic one-way sliding ring – so much more comfortable than vinyl for prolonged wear. As this is Canada and you must be over 19 to drink alcohol, I also got a flashy 19+ wristband, to renew every day.

On the beverage and food front, the two bars were staffed by Lee’s Palace, a local live music venue, wit beer and cider provided by Molson. There was also a free water refill station courtesy of Event Water Solutions. Rotating food trucks, in true Toronto fashion, included Australian meat pies, poutine, Greek and Persian cuisine, wood fired oven pizza, fish and chips and a mobile espresso bar.

There were quite a few kids around, and even a few new-born babies. The festival policy is to let under-10 go free – which is bound to create a family-friendly atmosphere, and they also provided an unsuervised kids’ area in a quiet shaded corner of the field, fenced by colourful ribbons, with a few low-tech activities for all ages – blackboard and chalk, low table for drawing… a very nice touch to give kids some respite and attention if it gets a bit much in the main “adult” area.

To finish with the housekeeping section, there were plenty of portaloos, one set for each stage, and the picnic tables were a big plus to have a rest in the shade and eat messy street food in a dignified manner.

Sets were alternating between the two stages in a perfectly smooth and timely manner, and it felt really resting to the eye to be able to see bands without any logo whatsoever in the background.

Contact details on the website are limited to general and media enquiries, but with a bit of digging I found this pre-festival interview by a Guelph University student magazine with TURF’s founder, Jeff Cohen, owner of indie promoter Collective Concerts and of Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern. The line-up and the beer tent logos suddenly made a lot of sense, and he makes interesting claims about the festival value – namely “the tax base generated from the newly created jobs and ticket sales revenues”, “easy access to live entertainment” and bringing commercial revenue and a new audience to Fort York (to which $3 per festival ticket is donated). On the job creation front, there was a small army of security staff, and even the uniform-wearing cleaning staff was duly employed – no signs of volunteers anywhere.

West Stage

West Stage: Frank Turner getting the crowd to sit down (before he gets them to star jump)

East Stage

East Stage: waiting for She & Him, watching the cars go by on the flyover.

And for this inaugural festival review, here are the very first Art of Festivals awards: 

Signage: “Restrooms” sign (special mention for the bike parking)


Bicycle Parking Sign

Free bike parking comes with a

Food & Drink Vendor: Manual Labour Coffee for pretty much everything, from their cutesy vintage pod-like caravan to their COFFEE star-studded sign and other sweet touches.

IMG_5100 COFFEE sign Liquid Sugar Bear

Performance: Frank Turner who mentioned Toronto a record numer of times and clearly played for the crowd (and got the love back) (special mention to Whitehorse who sounded amazing, but it started raining heavily so I left to shelter my camera).

What do you think?

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