Shoeclack’s Guide to Toronto Urban Roots Fest
In its fourth year, Toronto Urban Roots Fest has blossomed into one of the best niche festivals in Toronto. With a stacked lineup of indie, folk, and blues bands, TURF is the unofficial end to the Toronto summer festival circuit. This year’s edition of the festival featured James Bay, Ween, and Death Cab for Cutie headlining with a massive undercard including The Sheepdogs, The Barenaked Ladies, and Dropkick Murphys.
A Breakdown of the TURF Experience:
Beyond the standard 1-day or 3-day wristband and VIP wristband setup, TURF also offers a 3-Day Master Pass. This includes VIP access to the festival at Fort York, as well as guaranteed admission to their club shows after each day of the festival concludes. VIP passes offer exclusive access to the VIP area and bar at the three large stages and a reserved barricade area right in front of each stage. If being close to the stage for each set is a priority, the VIP or Master Pass is a must.
This year’s edition of the festival included four stages. The East Stage acted as the main stage, showcasing the headlining acts with a beautiful view of the CN Tower and Toronto skyline in the background. The West Stage was located on the opposite side of the grounds and included the pre-headlining sets with a sunset view. As well, beside the East Stage was the small Battle of York Stage, which allowed for the stages to be set up while a band was playing on the opposite stage, creating a seamless transition between shows. Lastly, there was the Rebellion Stage on the far side of the venue. Located in a small area and without a VIP barricade, this stage offered intimate sets with up-and-coming bands.
The grounds were set up so there was virtually no sound-bleed from stage to stage. However, because of the packed schedule, it was tough to move from stage to stage to see every set and also get a spot close to the stage. To ensure you get a close spot in the GA area, head to the stage about 20 minutes before the set starts.
Since the Toronto noise bylaws usually cut off outdoor shows by 11 PM, after-parties in the city are a must. The club shows for TURF offer the chance to see some amazing bands in showcases at local venues after festival hours. The 2016 venues included both Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern – two of Toronto’s best. With most showcases including 2-4 bands, these shows are an opportunity to check out these bands in an intimate venue – not to mention, keep the party going after the festival ends. This year’s Club Series featured The Sheepdogs, Matt Mays, The New Pornographers, and many more. Tickets are available from the venues, and the TURF Master Passes include entrance to all shows in the Club Series.
With a beautiful location on the west side of the city near the Ex, Fort York venue is an excellent location for a festival. Nestled in a small park, the festival grounds offer an atmosphere that feels completely separate from the city. The Harbourfront area is just minutes away, which has an excellent biking and pedestrian system set up on Lake Ontario. As well, downtown Toronto is just a short streetcar ride away from the festival, making it easy to hit a bar or club after the festival ends. However, since the festival begins in the early afternoon every day, afternoon activities in the city difficult if you don’t want to miss a few sets.
The food selection at TURF is second to none. Although most large music festivals have moved towards major corporate chains as sponsors, TURF focuses on showcasing the best food trucks in Toronto. From classic poutine and burgers to Brazilian steak and Mexican food, the food is excellent and affordable, and offers much more variety than other festivals. Make sure you budget for at least one meal a day from a food truck. Even at around $10 for a full meal, you won’t regret it.
Tips from a TURF Veteran:
1. Don’t skip out on Friday
One of the best things about TURF is its 3-Day format. However, just from my experience, a ton of people decided not to take the day off work and didn’t show up until late Friday night for the headliners. For the people that did show up (as The Hives lead singer said “the best unemployed or self-employed people in Toronto), Friday afternoon at TURF was excellent. The crowds were small, so it was easy to grab a drink or get close to the stage for every set. Do yourself a favour and get there early.
2. Check out a Club Show
A unique feature about TURF is the Club Series. With 2016 showcases at Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe Tavern, these club shows offered a great chance to check out some TURF bands at small, intimate venues. With some heavy-hitting sets from the Sheepdogs and Okkerville River and a 2-set night from Dwayne Gretzky (including a full Tragically Hip set), these late-night club shows are a great way to keep the party going after the festival ends for the day. Plus, having the opportunity to see a band at a small venue later really helps solve lineup conflicts during the festival. Just be sure to buy tickets early (for those that do not have an all-access TURF Master Pass) because they sell out fast.
3. Prepare for all kinds of weather
Fortunately, the festival grounds at Fort York are remarkably resilient when it comes to rain and mud. Despite a full day of rain on Saturday, the grounds were relatively easy to navigate. TURF also did an excellent job covering the muddy areas with plywood. Once again, this weekend was a perfect example of how you can experience every kind of weather during a weekend festival. Make sure you keep an eye on the weather forecast — be prepared for rain with ponchos and boots, and make sure to bring hats, sunscreen, bandannas, and sunglasses for when the clouds part and the sun comes out.
4. Plan your route to and from the festival
The only inconvenient aspect of TURF (and just about every festival in downtown Toronto) is travelling to and from the festival. Parking can be tough to find, so public transportation is usually the best option. The 509 Streetcar from Union is usually smooth and offers a nice view of the Harbourfront, but streetcar maintenance and conflicts with TFC soccer games can make the route quite difficult on some days. Be sure to plan your route in advance on the TTC website, or be prepared to take an Uber or taxi if an unexpected delay occurs. There’s nothing worse than missing a must-see set because you’re stuck in traffic, so plan to get there early.