Bestival [Festival Review]

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Jun 20, 2015

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.

The iconic 'I <3 BESTIVAL' sign, in the middle of the island.

The iconic ‘I <3 BESTIVAL’ sign, in the middle of the island.

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.

The entire weekend was full of good vibes in every direction.

The entire weekend was full of good vibes in every direction. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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 Bollywood stage.

The Bollywood stage. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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.


[Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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.


[Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


On the island, there is free reign as to how to spend your day. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


[Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


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’.

Robert Delong, singing as he performs on the main stage.

Robert Delong, singing as he performs on the main stage. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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.


SBTRKT performing his live DJ set in the Big Top. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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.


The Toronto skyline, as seen from the island. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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.


[Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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!”


Florence Welch, singing on the Main Stage. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


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.

Owen Pallett, playing the violin on the Main Stage.

Owen Pallett, playing the violin on the Main Stage. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


The Falun Dafa Waist Drum Team, as seen on Day 2. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


The costume party & parade is one of the highlights of Day 2. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


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.



Caribou, seen performing on the main stage. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


Caribou performs on Day 2, just before Nas. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


Dan Snaith performs with a live band for Caribou’s performance. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]


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’.


Nas, rockin’ the beat on the Main Stage. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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!


Bestival has to be one of the most beautifully decorated festivals Toronto has seen, including flags by Angus Watt. [Photo courtesy of Sydney Jones]

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