Photographs by Sarah Rix.
The inaugural Toronto edition of fabled UK fest Bestival made its debut yesterday at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.
Billed a festival not like any other, Bestival definitely did not throw up a bunch of stages on a field. A feast for the eyes and belly in addition to the ears, Bestival joins a particularly rammed Toronto festival season, but its presentation definitely makes it stand out from the rest. Clearly with how the park was decorated, organizers spent a lot of time making a beautiful experience. There’s bound to be some issues on the first day of the first year, but some over eager security (I feel this is a Toronto thing) and all out anarchy at the end of the night trying to get home, really tried the patience of the regular concert goer just looking to have a good time, but hopefully these issues will be ironed out for Day 2.
I was greeted on the island by a wall of security that should have paid me for the feel they copped, confiscating everything other than phones and wallets, including sunblock and gum. Torrential rain was the reward for clearing said security making the absorption of the site futile as one sought solace from the downpour. My poor umbrella might has well have been a square of toilet paper and was soon abandoned in favor of a free poncho.
Local food trucks provided an impressive array of food that would satisfy most tastes, although if you were looking for a traditional poutine, you were out of luck. Largely a dance experience, in addition to music you could play bingo to, get dressed up or get married. While quickly exploring the park in the rain, I was lured into an inflatable church by an interesting preacher and found myself witnessing a wedding like I’ve never witnessed before, truly one of the highlights of the day that combined wedding, dance party, evangelical preaching (but not like you think) and a huge love in with all that made it in to witness.
Featuring live music on the main stage, the park also had four different areas across the park with dance acts/DJs. The rain turned the main stage area into one giant mud pit, resulting in most main stage bands playing to dramatically reduced crowds. The rain also made it impossible for me to check out my schedule for the first couple of hours.
Over at the impressively elaborate Bollywood setting, organizer Rob da Bank got the crowd dancing in preparation for one of the bigger draws of the day, Jamie xx, who just released his awesome debut album, In Colour. The masses gathered, shook out the damp cobwebs and seemingly the rain for the remainder of the day.
Inside the Big Top, a giant tent that had the consistently largest crowds of the day, Grandtheft combined thumping beats and some equally thumping LED projections, propelling me back to my regular-dancing days. I could do little to resist and given all the shaking going on during that set, I’m surprised the island didn’t start bouncing.
Indie-rockers Wavves seemed to be the odd one out in the park that day, but made the most of it, plowing through a set that focused on their most recent couple of albums. Front-man Nathan Williams celebrating a birthday declared the day the best Burning Man yet.
The Sunday Best Balearic Beach Club, a little private beach oasis removed from the rest of the experience was all sandy dancing and a nice respite to give the eyes a break. Martin Davies ensured sand caked up my soaked shoes and legs.
Clean Bandit put on an incredibly fun live set on the main stage just. They claimed Bestival Toronto was just as fun as the times they performed at the UK version of the festival. Fans approved.
The star of the day, aside from the park was Florence Welch and her Machine plugging their almost-two-week old How Big How Blue How Beautiful. There was less concern for the mud as Florence fans packed the main stage area and she delivered an energetic set bookended by “What the Water Gave Me” and a rousing “Dog Days Are Over”. The handful of songs from the new album went over well with “What Kind of Man” being particularly intense, but one of the most appreciated songs was a version of “Sweet Nothing” her collaboration with Calvin Harris.
The end of the night was not so hot with security unable to provide any information and opting to be more aggressive than helpful as people tried to leave the island. Any festival on the island has challenges getting everyone back to the mainland, but last night seemed to be an utter surprise for event organizers. VIP pass holders who shelled out much extra cash didn’t seem to get much bang for their buck.
Get security in tow and some sunshine and Bestival will be a beautiful addition to a Toronto summer. It was easily the most fun I’ve had at a Toronto festival, enjoying some great music, meeting new and interesting people and dancing like I haven’t in years.