Setting foot in the park grounds of Toronto’s Field Trip Music and Arts Festival, I knew little to nothing about the performers listed on the two-day lineup. I had heard a few songs from a handful and recognized the names of a couple more, but, for the most part, I was incredibly uninformed.
Needless to day, Wikipedia got a plethora of queries from my phone throughout the weekend. Still, I gained far more from in-person observation than I could ever find in a web page. Here are some of my observations and experiences.
1. The longer I watched Thundercat, the less I wanted to leave.
I would actually still be there if he was still playing. Halfway through the first chaotic funk jazz instrumental I really didn’t think I was going to make it more than a song or two, but I made a pact with myself to stay at least until the Feist set started. Let’s just say, I ended up being very late to the Feist set. Gradually my focus shifted toward the onstage interactions and with that I was smitten. Thundercat was joined by two incredible musicians — a pianist and a drummer. The three collided and clashed, then complemented and harmonized. At various moments I wondered if they had planned anything that was being played at all. Thundercat reassured me there was some sense of order with spurious sections of starkly hilarious and brutally honest lyrics. Toward the middle of the set he momentarily opted for more traditionally catchy beats and melodies, but the funk and jazz improvisational influences were ever present. I strongly stand by the statement that his was the best set of the weekend.
2. NYC-based duo Overcoats reached into my feminist electropop soul.
Anyone who can pull off an oversized suit jacket, wide-leg palazzo pants and sunglasses that cover half their face is a hero in my book. The two 20-somethings (Wikipedia didn’t know their exact ages) played song after song of minimalist beat backed pop. They struck harmonies so stunning it was hard to imagine a world where these voices never met. Their lazy, semi-coordinated choreography presented them as a united force of two starkly unique people. I added their debut album Young to my Apple Music account immediately after they bid farewell.
3. LP. (as in Laura Pergolizzi, not “long play”) has a bigger vocal range than you do.
The highly accomplished songwriter (Rihanna, Cher, Christina Aguilera) made transitions from a raspy alto to “Phantom of the Opera” high notes seem natural. I caught myself with a slightly gaping mouth more than I care to admit.
4. If you want to drink at festivals in Canada, bring your passport.
Apparently USA driver’s licenses don’t cut it (not bitter or anything).
5. Phoenix knows how to put on a live show.
I kept somewhat rough shorthand notes throughout the entirety of the festival. The only note I have from this set is “synth guy slay.” The rest of the time I was busy dancing like hell. A more accurate observation would have been “synth guys slay” because there were a total of three synths on the stage, all of which got significant use in pursuit of the bright indie pop rock sound Phoenix in known for. One of the perks of being a headliner at a festival is that you generally get to incorporate a more intricate set design. Phoenix made good use of this liberty. A forward tilted wall of mirrors stood as the backdrop and reflected a light animated stage. The mirrors functioned as an artistic tool, but also as a jumbotron, allowing the musicians to be visible above the stage’s surface. Phoenix found a delicate balance between playing the hits, the deep cuts and the new material. They ramped up the visual effects on lesser known songs and tracks with longer instrumentals to keep the crowd engaged, whereas for popular songs such as “1901” and “Lisztomania” they relied solely on frontman Thomas Mars wildly dancing around the stage. I don’t think it was possible to leave that set without a smile on your face.
6. I am not worthy to exist in the world of Feist.
“On the pie chart of all emotions, how many of them are you feeling?” The crowd accurately replied, “all of them.” Running to her stage from the Thundercat set, I didn’t have the best crowd position, but she had the whole field feeling. Her actual performance was relatively understated; she let her exceptional songwriting and ethereal voice do all the work.
7. I saw Portugal. The Man live almost exactly a year ago and all the songs still sound the same to me.
That’s all I’m going to say on that.
8. Canadian musicians held their own against stiff American competition.
Feist is the prime example. The Nova Scotian native played a late-in-the-day set on both nights of the festival — one with her band, Broken Social Scene, and the other as a solo artist — each of which had the crowd metaphorically on their knees. Her Sunday solo performance prompted Phoenix’s Mars to question why his band was given the headlining time slot over her. Additionally, Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Hannah Georgas and Ottawan DJ-trio A Tribe Called Red both put forth captivating sets. The second, which combined indigenous dance with electronic hip-hop beats, made a very strong case for the innovation Canadian artists are contributing to the music industry.
Along with generally fantastic music, Field Trip Festival provided a diverse food selection from a multitude of local food truck vendors, a marketplace for emerging designers and a well-curated exhibition of music photography from (mainly) Canadian venues. Perhaps most enjoyable of all was the relaxed atmosphere and a wonderfully friendly audience. Field Trip Festival 2017 gave me something I don’t need right now: another reason to move to Canada.