Festival Review: Field Trip 2015 (including My Morning Jacket, Alabama Shakes, Arkells, + more)

Field Trip 2015
Photo by Rick Clifford

Toronto’s sweetheart record-label Arts&Crafts ran the 3rd annual Field Trip Arts and Music Festival at the Fort York Garrison Commons this weekend. Tucked neatly beneath the beloved Gardiner Expressway, thousands of music supporters, artisans, and foodies came out to dance, laugh, play and collaborate on a number of projects happening on site. What I love most about this festival is that it is a source of community. The musicians, vendors, and artisans all have something in common, and that is their love for Toronto. With headliners Arkells and Alabama Shakes on Saturday and My Morning Jacket on Sunday, it was certainly a show to marvel at. It wasn’t just Toronto commoners that made it out to the festival; what I loved so much was bumping into Toronto musicians who weren’t on the bill this year but still showed up for a good time: Lowell, The Darcys, Shad, K-OS, members of Hollerado, were all wandering the Fort.

On Saturday, many made sure to arrive early – children’s songmasters Sharon & Bram were booked on one of the main stages at 3:10pm. While the duo attracted droves of grown-adults with their children, it also attracted many without, and we all adorned the grassy field with snacks and picnic blankets and revisited some of the major songs and voices of our childhood. What is worth noting is that the duo had a 40 min set on the ‘adult’ stage and only a 15 min set on the children’s stage, proving that we can all grow old, but we’ll never outlive our childhood. My favorite numbers included the snazzy “Chugga-Chugga” and “Peanut Butter” featuring Kevin Drew. An honorable mention goes out to when they dedicated “Side by Side” to the late, great, Lois Lillenstein, and then morphed into “Skinnamarink”.

Max Kerman of Arkells
Photo by Kayla Baker

That wasn’t the only element geared toward the children. FIELD TRIP allowed free admission for all children under 12 and had a Day Camp set up for them with activities, food contests in the Mess Hall, bouncy castles and children’s sets by various artists (including Max Kerman of Arkells who did a banger of a rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen). If that wasn’t cute enough, there was a full free-range Hula-Hooping zone with an automatic Bubble Machine running 24/7, my personal favourite.

While sauntering between stages, these kid-friendly zones were a definite way to infuse some extra-joy into the obvious bliss everyone was experiencing.

Saturday continued with an incredible set by De La Soul. They were straight up vibin’ and put a hold on things until even the security guards had their hands up in the air (like the just don’t care). The energy and sunshine, and chilling-on-the-blanket-eating-a-grapefruit experience was just what we needed, and I was able to make some new friends. After that throwback set, we caught Young Empire smashing their set while in line for Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Experience. Yes, you read that correctly. FIELD TRIP had some brand spanking new technology never seen before in Canada! It was a virtual reality experience of Fort York itself. Featuring a music video by Kevin Drew and Andy Kim called Who Came First. The song was a little outside my expectations of the collaboration, probably leaning more towards Andy Kim’s persona, but so was the technological experience itself. Sensory overload! What a treat! It literally felt like an out-of-body experience as we had the VR goggles on and looked down, and all of a sudden we were hundreds of feet in the air. That’s the only way I can describe that, really.

Before we knew it, I was feeling quite hungry and the FIELD TRIP food trucks were something I’ve been dreaming about before they even announced the official Line-Up. I grabbed some delicious Korean Short-Ribs with Grilled Pineapple from Deava’s Feed Your Soul and my boyfriend grabbed some Pulled Pork Taco’s from Rancho Relaxo and I truly believe those were the best bests of the fest (especially mine, since I got it again on Sunday).

What I loved also was the specially designed drinks for the festival. The Garrison Common Cocktail was my pick of the weekend. It was so delicious I described it as heaven in a lush grassy field. Strawberry infused ABSOLUT Vodka, Lemongrass Chili Syrup, Lemon Juice, Cucumber Juice and Ice. Yum!

After some delicious food and an exceptional drink, we were ready for Arkells to rock our socks off (which they did). Even though these guys weren’t the headliners, they sure felt like it. These steeltown boys never fail to impress me. Max Kerman is a FIRECRACKER on lead vocals, shaking and shouting all over that stage. My favourite was Oh! The Boss Is Coming!, not only because the name of the song is absurd when you take a step back, but because all of us can relate to Punching-In and Punching-Out , which is what we were instructed to do. We sang along with such passion and intensity, the extended song became the sundown anthem. We were on such a high that I had to keep pinching myself because what was coming next was EVEN better: Alabama Shakes!

Alabama Shakes
Photo by Kayla Baker

Brittany Howard has a voice like no other. Loving their songs on the radio simply isn’t enough… one has to absolutely MARVEL at the sound of her voice; the tone and caliber and fullness and Power that each syllable demands is unworthy of such casual language. I admit that many of the songs were new to me, but their performance was just so beautiful, I had a moment like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “this didn’t feel like Kansas anymore”. That night as I was leaving Fort York Garrison Commons, I felt like I was floating on a cloud, despite my joyful exhaustion. Day 2 was coming after a quick rest and shower.

Day 2 of FIELD TRIP brought cloudy grey skies and a bit of scattered rainshowers, and I arrived shortly after 5pm, just in time to see Andy Kim and Kevin Drew close out the Garrison stage with their single Who Came First. Although Kevin is co-founder of Arts & Crafts, he did not play a solo set this year, instead he collaborated with the legendary Andy Kim (it was SO great to see him performing) and Sharon & Bram the day before.

I also caught Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, who tugged at our heart strings with a full-on sing-along. People around me who had certainly never heard him before were cheering on their knees in adoration. I had the pleasure of meeting him last summer and although he is a Vancouver Native, Toronto has adopted him as our own simply because he is so kind, encouraging and adaptable. Another kind soul that performed was Hayden. These two acts, in sequence with one another, were my favorite acts of the day. The first time I saw Hayden perform was at the Dakota Tavern and he announced an impromptu set. This weekend, his soft vocals and melancholy vibe were perfect for the grey skies that day and his friendly demeanor and sweet stories about his daughter tied in with the Family theme the whole weekend brought. He noted that his biggest applause was when he covered Chris Isaac’s tune, Wicked Games (excellent choice of cover song, everyone was stoked!), but as a true fan of his, I appreciated all the songs equally.

After a short dinner break and listening to Marina and the Diamonds finish their set, we were ready for Sunday’s headliner, My Morning Jacket.

I have to be honest, I’ve never heard them before, but the reactions of my ticket-less friends was priceless. Everyone expressed sheer jealousy when they heard that these guys were performing at Field Trip and so without any expectation, (just sheer trust that Jeffrey Remedios and Kevin Drew know what they are doing), I got ready to have my mind blown…. and boy did I ever. Hayden declared that My Morning Jacket changed the way he looked at the world, and transformed the way he did things as an artist. What a testament! With absolutely shredded guitar solos, and a technicolor lightshow (and several wardrobe changes), Jim James, Tom Blankenship, Patrick Hallahan, Bo Koster, and Carl Broemel made it rain (literally). The rain was coming down on us during that set, but it was sporadic. I’m certain that it was the intensity of the guitar solos and impressive vocals that invoked the temporary downpours.

FIELD TRIP has come and gone, but its spirit of summer has been ignited in our hearts.

Review by Stefanie Romano | @stefaloves

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