The Virgin Music Festival 2008 – Toronto Day 1

Photos by Alex Ramon

Every music festival seems to have the same problem, garbage. With music put aside for just a minute, I want to talk about the cons of these large outdoor festivals that bring thousands and thousands of people into a cramped environment, where food and water (or beer) is incredibly over priced, and the aftermath of all this consumption leads to an ecological disaster. I saw it at Pemberton, where after the first day water bottles and empty beer cans lay rampant across the field and the staff they employed to collect all this, well let’s just say there weren’t enough of them. That’s one of the reasons why Pemberton might not happen again next year, and it’s a real shame because it was a great festival and everyone I talked to, despite the horrible line ups, really enjoyed the entire weekend.

Now with Pemberton put aside, how would Virgin Fest be any different? Well first things first, this isn’t their inaugural year. It’s actually their third so they have most of the kinks worked out and it was actually surprisingly well organized. Not only was the line-up great, with a sort of UK type invasion of Canada, but the organizers had a calling to be more “green.” They expected about 20,000 people on both days respectively, and with this in mind, the people at Virgin set up recycling bins everywhere and promoted the idea of re-using a water jug that they so happily provided. For crying out loud, even billionaire world record holder Richard Branson came out to the event. He was promoting his charity “Virgin Unite,” that was expected to raise $100,000 from ticket sales and donations, that had a special focus on youth-related issues and HIV. It all seemed very corporate, I know, but at least he’s trying to make a difference in the world. But what do yah’ say we put all of this aside and focus on the music for a change?

Mardeen

Jon Pearo from Mardeen This Halifax based indie pop-powerhouse brought their energy onto the second stage and kicked off the entire festival, a huge feat and a welcomed surprise. It seems like a lot of great Canadian acts are coming from over there, with Wintersleep and Hey Rosetta! not far off. I guess talent does pay off sometimes and the saying “be in the right place at the right time” doesn’t apply to this band. Mardeen is comprised of Matt Ellis on bass, Travis Ellis and Jon Pearo on guitar, and Jason Burns on drums. What impressed me the most about this quartet was that all members had the capability to show off their vocal chops. Most bands have one lead singer, and if they were lucky enough, they would have one other member sing a word or two, but not Mardeen. They changed singer so many times, I stopped trying to pinpoint who was the front man and just relaxed and enjoyed their set, and I think everyone who was watching felt the same way too.

The Midway State

Nathan Ferraro from The Midway State I had no idea who this band was at the time, but I know for a fact that I won’t be forgetting them anytime soon. The Midway State (TMS) hail from a small town known as Collingwood, Ontario and I’ll give the first person, who doesn’t live in Ontario, $5 paid in Monopoly money if they can pinpoint Collingwood on a map. Apparently it’s 2 hours north of Toronto, but if talent like this brews in small towns than I think I might have to move to a place like Dawson Creek (not the TV show but the small town in BC). TMS consists of singer/songwriter Nathan Ferraro, drummer Daenan Bramburger (possibly related to the Hamburglar?), guitarist Mike Wise, and bassist Mike Kirsh. The only real genre I can classify them in (and this really isn’t a genre, I sort of made it up…) would be EPIC. Their piano driven stadium rock is reminiscent of such bands as “Something Corporate” and “Coldplay,” with their slow build-ups and their ability to capture the audience with their emotional lyrics. If I wasn’t sitting on a bench with a pretty girl, I probably would have cried like a little baby. When they started playing “Change For You” I could honestly picture it being in one of those teen TV shows, like Smallville, where Clark Kent walks away slowly from Lana, with various sad montages of people dying (what…so I like Smallville…com’on, it’s about SUPERMAN). “Never Again” was one out of the many songs that stood out for me. It had a great piano interlude, accompanied by an up-tempo melodic chorus that showed off the amazing vocal range of Nathan. And speaking of the front man, I know this has nothing to do with their music, but Nathan has the most awesomeist white man afro I have ever seen. It was perfectly proportioned and every curl was perfectly placed on his head.

Constantines

Bryan Webb from Constantines All throughout the first two sets, the weather really wasn’t cooperating but it turned around just in time for the Constantines set, who rocked out on the main stage. They’ve been nominated for a Juno and have released various albums, but to be honest, I never really noticed them until I heard “Islands In The Stream” featuring Feist. That’s when I realized how talented they were and looked at them in another light. With Bryan Webb on vocals and guitar, Steve Lambke on guitar, Dough MacGregor on drums, and Will Kidman on keyboards, this quartet is bringing it back to the 90’s. When I picture a man singing, I now have Bryan’s face burned into my retina. He is the quintessential manly man of all vocalists, with the rough and raw nature that he exudes on stage that is reminiscent of Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam and Michael Stipe from R.E.M. They even used the entire stage, in the literal sense, because their boots were made for stomping and stomping is what they did (you see what I did there!). There was definitely a larger crowd on the main stage and even stilt man (actually a man wearing stilts…) was rocking out to this controlled melodic jam band. After they finished their set, I think they made a few more fans, including myself.

Lets Go To War

Lets Go To War I’m going to keep this section of the review pretty short. I don’t really know how to review a DJ’s set, but there’s always a first for everything right? At first, the only reason I wanted to check out this trio, which is made up of Jet Brown aka Peter-John, Sonny G, and DJ Cirkut, was because during their set they were going to be collaborating with The Mustangs Marching Band. When they started spinning Kanye West’s “Stronger” the band came marching in and drummed along. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty awesome. With a white tuba player and all, they continued onto M.I.A’s “Paper Planes” and during the chorus where the gun shots go off, the marching band were perfectly timed to smash their snares and bass lines. They then proceeded to march out in unison after their timely performance and that was when I left as well. Following the band outside, I couldn’t help but over hear their enthusiasm. I bet none of them ever thought that joining a marching band would get them laid, aside from Nick Cannon and his “Drumline” role.

Lights

Valerie Poxleitner from Lights First things first, I have to get this off my chest. I have a crush on her. I mean com’on! Look at her for crying out loud, she’s the cutest thing to grace the stage at V-Fest. But with her beauty put aside, and when I say beauty I mean totally outrageously hot (unprofessional of me I know but I’m my own boss so I’ll discipline myself later), you actually might have heard her songs and not even know it! Valerie Poxleitner, the brains behind all the song writing, claims to write all her songs in her own bedroom for the happiness of everyone who listens, was featured on the Old Navy commercials with her song “February Air.” She is a mellow electronica pop artist who does everything imaginable with her keyboard. But she isn’t just talented with her fingers, those precious little fingers, but she has the voice of an angel (I’m pretty sure angel’s model themselves after her). She was pitch perfect and her vocal range blew me away. Her voice was sweet, tender, and serene, and the list goes on. I should take out my thesaurus and list all the words, but I’ll save that for later. She played on the Oh Henry! Stage, which is basically for all the up and comers, and there is no doubt that if she continues on this path she’s going to be on that main stage in no time.

The Fratellis

Fratellis So at this point of the festival, I was pretty tired and wanting to just sleep. It also didn’t help that they were running about 40 minutes late, but I could tell from the size of the crowd that there was much anticipation for The Fratellis to come out. So when these boys from Glasgow rocked the stage with their up-beat danceable melodies, the crowd gave a thunderous cheer and finally became a little rowdy. I have to say that this was probably the most well behaved audience I have ever seen, but that’s probably because of the mellow line-up. It was more dance than mosh pit oriented, but when The Fratellis came out, it was a straight up rock ‘n’ roll show. In the crowd, I witnessed something I probably shouldn’t have. A man was perched up on another man’s shoulder. But who am I to judge? They were both most likely huge Fratellis fans, and I soon became a huge fan as well. They are professional rock stars and they even had a guitar switch during a song (Say it with me now… just sound it out. PPPPPRRRROOOO).

Bloc Party

Bloc Party I have two words for this band. Holy. Shit. I didn’t realize how many people were at this festival until I saw Bloc Party up on stage. From where I was standing, all I saw were heads swaying back and forth. I’m glad I was perched up on a platform otherwise my small Chinese frame would not have been able to peer through all those tall folks. With the audience patiently waiting for BP (no I’m not referring to Boston Pizza…), I couldn’t help but admire the picture perfect setting this band was going to play in, with the sun setting on one side and a half moon shining through on the other. These UK dance rockers finally came out to screaming fans and they produced heavy melodic riffs that left the crowd wanting more. And who is that I see in the back? Why it’s none other than a Chinese drummer, representing all us Asians who rock out with our c*ck out, that goes by the name of Matt Tong. While he was not so quietly sitting in the back and hitting those skins, Kele Okereke, guitarist and vocalist, played with the crowd, despite his guitar malfunctions. It was the most crowd interaction I saw all day and it sure did pay off as I finally saw my first crowd surfer get lifted up and out of the audience. This was just the beginning of the British invasion and was a sure indication of what was to come in Day 2.