When you walk into the lands of Woodbine Park on the east side of Toronto, it was transformed into this wonderland of amusement and sound for the second year of Bestival Toronto. Now running for 13 years in the United Kingdom lead by festival founder Rob Da Bank, Toronto was Bestival's first venture in North America when it debuted last year. The festival, which was marred by some issues in 2015 with the ferry transportation when it was held on the island, felt much more at home with a logical move to the main land and the surroundings were beautiful.
From the moment you walk in, you are just hit with a refreshing dose of positive stimulation, and it gives you an outlet to just check out from the everyday world for a couple days and try to find something uplifting. "We've held up as a festival where you can go and have fun and escape from reality," says Rob Da Bank about how Bestival stays relevant and branching off into Toronto. "I want this to have the same feeling. I want people to forget about normal life. So much bad shit going on in the world, it's like you can come here and you can escape for the day and go home maybe feeling a bit more positive about things."
There's all these moveable parts of Bestival, from the marching band parade, the flash mob, to this crazy traveling unicorn dance party. When asked what sets Bestival apart from other festivals, Rob Da Bank talked about something that I noticed from the moment I walked in, "It's the attention to detail really. If you look around, the flags are handmade by artist in Spain. The bunting is handmade in England. All of our signs are hand painted. The bus over there is hand painted. Everything is really attention to detail."
It's the details that make this festival a great experience. While big names like The Cure, Grimes, or Tame Impala sell the tickets, it's the smaller things that make all the time there worth it. It's the free water tents that shows an air of concern and responsibility for their attendees. It's the Balearics stage set up in the trees with a DJ playing where people can just chill out and vibe to the music. It's the inflatable wedding church that people have actually gotten married in that brings whimsy to it all.
With all these great parts of Bestival that are like gears in a clock, it's the music that is the center of it all. The way the three general stages are situated, you could have a completely different experience on day one then you have on day two. The Big Top stage, which looks just like a big circus tent, was home to more of the EDM style, while the Bollywood stage, which had the most extravagant of presentations, housed more of the techno artists. The Main stage is where the bands played, with Tame Impala headlining the first night and The Cure headlining the second.
Day one was much more of the EDM and techno experience for me with my day going back and forth from the Bollywood and Big Top stages. DJs likes Porter Robinson and Thugli shined in the Big Top stage, a place where people could get same shade from the hot, sunny weather but be entertained by bass-driven dance music all set to an amazing light and visual stage set up. At the Bollywood stage, Rob Da Bank took to his DJ duties running the gamut of dance music, even dropping a little Detroit flavor with Inner City's "Big Fun". Maya Jane Coles headlined the stage with a great showing, but it was the set from Grand Rapids, Michigan born, now transplanted to Berlin Jon Gaiser that really stole the show on day one.
On day two was more of Main stage band day for me, with excitement brewing to not only see legends like The Cure, but to finally get to see Grimes perform live. The big surprise for me of the whole festival was the performance from Daughter though, the three piece band from North London, England. Their music is just has emotive and beautiful live as it is on record.
Musically, my experience at Bestival was different on each of the days with mostly enjoying the dance music the first day and the bands the second day. It's great that there was this organized variety with the lineups because it just makes this two day festival fresh throughout. When talking with Rob Da Bank after his set about organizing Bestival, he said that curating the lineups is a collaborative effort and feels because of that, they can stay on the pulse of what matters these days. Plus, he even hinted for next year doing a "legends of techno" lineup citing some of his favorites from Detroit include Juan Atkins, Rhythm Is Rhythm, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Inner City, and Underground Resistance.
Between the big name headliners and the up and coming artists, along with all the smaller details of Bestival, when paired together, makes this festival truly a fun experience while making it special for the attendees. As Rob Da Bank expresses, "There's plenty of other great festivals out there but I think hopefully people come away thinking those guys went the extra mile to look after us."
(Photo Credits: Kelly Frazier)
For more information on Bestival Toronto, visit bestival.ca.