It’s Friday morning of Bestival’s debut in Toronto, and the daily forecast has jumped back and forth between rain and sunshine three times already for the past few hours.
Despite the ferry ride being windy and chilly, that doesn’t cool any of our kindled spirits as we’re whisked away from all the concrete, steel and responsibilities associated with the city, to a land of colours, sounds and expression – hopefully with as little mud as possible.
Arriving first thing in the morning has its advantages – the few hundred people currently on the island use the opportunity to scope out the island and decide what to go to first.
Bestival, the award-winning UK festival of music, fun and good vibes, brought the party to Toronto Island in its first overseas venture. As the afternoon rolls around, the island is in full bloom – all the music stages and attractions are packed, and bringing the best that each has to offer.
There’s the massive main stage, playing host to bands, singers and rappers alike; the Big Top tent, featuring electronica of all sorts; and the Bollywood stage, belching flames to the deeper side of electronic beats.
The Perrier Greenhouse is of particular interest here in Toronto, focusing on the talent of the GTA and its booming music scene. It’s a locally driven stage, with talent such as HRMXNY, RYME and Smalltown DJs dropping some fresh beats for the crowd while sipping on Perrier-based cocktails and chilling on the lawn-covered benches. It’s a fan favourite, especially due to everything being green and surreal, in spite of its small size.
Bestival makes sure that the entire island is covered and celebrated, with no attraction, feature or stage left unattended. There’s no time for anyone nor anything to feel left out, especially when your entire world can only be described as party.
It’s hard not to spot the costumed revellers scattered throughout the island. Dressing up is encouraged by organizers and owners alike, including Bestival’s curator Rob Da Bank. Not as many people dressed up on Day 1, given the nature of wandering into the unknown for the first time – but some people took such a leap of faith, including a guy walking around with a sign that reads ‘FREE SHRUGS’.
For some, dressing up is part of the norm – such as for SBTRKT and his trademark mask, giving a live DJ set to the crowd under the Big Top.
Shortly after comes Flosstradamus, clad in all-white – on the stage, they’re flanked by two giant blunt replicas, billowing smoke across the stage. The crowd cranks the party up from 0 to 11 in a matter of seconds, and at one point as high as 420.
They start and end with their song Mosh Pit, which causes the crowd to do the exact same. As fun as such hype can be, it’s really refreshing to step outside into the cool evening air, with summer just around the corner.
At nighttime, the Bollywood stage is easily the most visually impressive stage on the island. It’s impressive as it is during the day, with its multitude of colours, being flanked by elephants, heavy smoke machinery and flamethrowers – but at night, the LED lights really give the castle its bedazzling flair.
As the fog machines simmer down, Nicole Moudaber is seen bobbing along to the deep beat she’s playing for the crowd. There’s a perfect view of the Toronto skyline, which goes perfect with Flume dropping his remix of Hermitude’s ‘HyperParadise’ in the Big Top.
The main stage has its own sense of magic – a familiar childlike wonder, as everyone sings along to Florence and the Machine. Florence Welch is a captivating figure, as she prances and dances across the stage, singing in unison with the crowd, rather than to us.
She takes a moment to show her appreciation to everyone, and how she loves Toronto. She gleefully points out something she discovers in the crowd.
“Oh, look! It’s a sign that says FREE SHRUGS!”
Day two is never as easy to get up for as Day 1, but we eventually get to the festival after a ferry mix-up.
I’m wearing my Santa hat and bright orange lei, thus earning the title ‘Hawaiian Santa’ by a few fellow festival-goers. In fact, more people are open to the concept of dressing up, especially with the sun shining so brightly – from a Scooby-Doo onesie, to a (banned?) native headdress, a couple of African dashikis, and some islanders covered in copious amounts of glitter.
Some guys take the parasols from outside and bring them into the Big Top for Keys n Krates, twirling them rapidly over the heads of other dancers throughout the crowd.
Dinner that evening consists of the ‘ball so hard combo’ – a taco and rice balls – courtesy of the ME.N.U food truck on the island. Jamie Jones can be heard playing nearby at the Bollywood stage, as we sit on the grass and eat.
Still sore from the day before, we make our way to the main stage to see the fabled Nas.
I have a confession: I’m one of the few people who didn’t listen to Nas, back in the day. However, from the bits I’ve picked up over the years, I know enough lyrics to sing along with the legendary rapper, and it’s electrifying to see the response to the pounding rhythms of ‘The Don’.
On our way to the ferries, we walk by the Big Top – Robin Schulz is raising the roof with his all-time popular hit, ‘Prayer in C’.
Yesterday’s 30-minute wait ends up being a monotonous two-hour drag. About halfway through the wait, one person dashed through the crowd Juggernaut-style, easily upsetting those who were in his path of rampage.
The ferry ride feels longer than on Day 1, but it’s not of any concern to anybody on board – those of us who don’t get seats sit on the floor, relieved to make it back to the mainland after such a magical weekend.
Although Toronto’s version of Bestival is only 2 days long, half the duration of its English counterpart, it’s easily made its way to being one of the top events I’ve attended so far this year. It feels nice to host a festival which is equal parts concert and carnival, in such an eclectic city.
Having just recently announced that it will make a 2016 return to Toronto, you can bet that I’ll be there to live it up for round 2 on the island next year!