TURF Day 1: Beirut, Local Natives, Born Ruffians & More

Friday, July 4, 2014

In just its second year, the Toronto Urban Roots Festival has become one of our favourite weekends of the summer. Once again, Jeff Cohen and Co. at Collective Concerts compiled an extensive lineup that defied the typical boundaries of roots and folk. Taking advantage of one of the hills on location, a third stage was added to allow for a greater number of smaller acts to be enjoyed. Stretching out on the grass in this natural amphitheatre offered comfortable respite from standing in the sun at the main stages. Beyond the music, there was a refreshing sense of community that one doesn’t find in every festival, from the local food trucks to the crowds who all seemed to be there to see the bands rather than “be seen.”

Over the course of the weekend, Cohen expressed the importance of communicating to city councillors that they “say yes” to outdoor music in downtown Toronto. It’s kind of amazing that we are able to have this calibre of a festival right in our backyard, in the heart of the city. It’s something that will hopefully continue in the coming years.


The Weeks (West Stage, 3PM)

We arrived in time to first check out Mississippi-based The Weeks. Their gritty yet swinging Southern blues-rock was enough to get your blood pumping, quickly making you want to get up and dance. It helped that singer Cyle Barnes had great dance moves and effortless energy to last dare I say, weeks on end. Guitarist Samuel Williams’ backup vocals were surprisingly harmonic, adding extra depth to their sound. They threw some new songs into the mix, alongside tracks from Dear Bo Jackson, released earlier this year.

Wishing the crowds a happy Fourth of July, the band set the tone for the rest of the day and weekend to come, urging everyone to “enjoy the rest of the day, get drunk, and see some music.”

TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Weeks @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Born Ruffians (East Stage, 4PM)

Born Ruffians don’t necessarily come to mind when you think of the “roots” and “folk” categories, but the Toronto band was introduced as “one of most important local bands” by Cohen. Under the pounding late afternoon sun, the bouncy and infectious summer vibes of “Oh Cecilia” and “6-5000” exuded the jubilancy of the last day of school and the young girls in attendance were only too eager to sing along. It’s only a matter of time before these guys really do “set the world on fire.”

They really hit the mark though with their banter about staying protected from the sun, leading to bottles of sunscreen being thrown up on stage for them. Taking it one step further, the band’s sound technician came out on stage to apply lotion to bassist Mitch Derosier. Hilarious!

TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Born Ruffians @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Andrew Bird (West Stage, 5:10PM)

Master multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird is capable of stopping people in their tracks with just his violin, not to mention that stunner of a deep-throated whistle we were treated to throughout his set. Taking the stage solo with a spinning horn speaker reverberating tones behind him, Bird began with a plucking instrumental first track before switching over to guitar for the swayingly hypnotic “Plasticities.”

Bird’s new backing band “The Hands of Glory” then came out. Now buoyed by upright bass and pedal steel, Bird’s melodies swelled into something truly magical. The Hands of Glory offered a rootsy, old timey charm and Fleetwood Mac-esque vibe, especially when the group belted out vocals all huddled around the old-fashioned microphone.

TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Andrew Bird @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Gary Clark Jr. (East Stage, 6:30PM)

Deeply rooted in southern blues, Gary Clark Jr. was full of soul and a force to be reckoned with. Blazing through an epically electrifying set, it was difficult just to keep up, watching Clark’s fingers finesse the guitar strings. If the tingling I felt right down to my toes during “Ain’t Messin’ Round” was any indication, this performance confirmed that the heart of classic blues seems to have found a new home, living on within Gary Clark Jr.

TURF: Gary Clark Jr. @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Gary Clark Jr. @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Gary Clark Jr. @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Gary Clark Jr. @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Gary Clark Jr. @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Gary Clark Jr. @ Fort York, 04-07-14


The Waco Brothers (South Stage, 7:20PM)

Playing the first of four sets over the course of the weekend, we jumped at the opportunity to catch The Waco Brothers. Having been Cohen’s wedding band, this performance was dedicated to his wife in the audience. Playing raucous country-tinged party music, complete with full band choreographed high kicks and a total lack of pretension, the band proved to be a ton of fun to watch and even had members of the crowd getting in on the high kick action.

TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: The Waco Brothers @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Local Natives (West Stage, 8PM)

The anticipation in the air was palpable as LA’s Local Natives took the stage to close out music on the West Stage as the sun began to lower in the sky. In contrast to the other bands of the day, Local Natives offered something a little more filmy and atmospheric with their keys- and percussion-heavy tunes. Their set kicked off with “Breakers” and even included a rhythmic cover of Talking Heads’ “Warning Sign.” Unfortunately we had to cut out early to head to the next set and therefore weren’t able to witness it with our own eyes, but word has it that Taylor Rice (vocals, guitar) crowd surfed, and that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Local Natives @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Deer Tick (South Stage, 8:40PM)

Unable to let the opportunity to see Deer Tick play under the Gardiner on the small South Stage pass us by, we made the trek across the grounds. Set highlights included “The Curtain,” and “The Dream’s in the Ditch” from last year’s Negativity as well as “These Old Shoes” from 2008’s War Elephant. After a lengthy guitar solo, frontman and guitarist John McCauley joked that it was his best Gary Clark Jr. impression, commenting on how “refreshing” it was to see that man play in a climate filled with auto-tune and electronica. I would argue that Deer Tick’s unserious attitudes, crunchy alt-country riffs and what I can only call “trucker folk rock” – right down to the beer holder McCauley had attached to his mic stand – was also most invigorating for the soul.

TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Deer Tick @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Beirut (East Stage, 9:30PM)

New Mexico’s Beirut didn’t put on the most engaging or exciting live performance one would hope for from a headlining set. It was however nice to simply sit back and bask in the uplifting worldly beauty of the lushly expansive orchestral sound of brass and accordion as the lyrical lilt to Zach Condon’s voice floated out into the night, adrift on warm breezes, bringing the first night of the festival to a close. –CD

TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Beirut @ Fort York, 04-07-14


Black Joe Lewis (South Stage, 10PM)

While Beirut closed things out on the main stage, many folks snuck away to catch Black Joe Lewis and those who did were treated to some serious rock and roll. With Joe Lewis as an electric frontman, fuzzy guitars and a booming brass section, this set was one of the best of the entire festival. –CL

TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14 TURF: Black Joe Lewis @ Fort York, 04-07-14

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Categories: Live Music, Toronto Urban Roots Festival 2014

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