Virgin Festival Toronto Day 1 2009Photos by Alex Ramon
With the end of summer comes a ritual for us here at Ronatron. We make that long journey to the far east (of Canada) and capture our experience out in the wilderness of the cityscape known as Toronto. Last year, Alex and I had the opportunity to cover Vfest on the lovely and serene Toronto Island. We were so impressed by not only the musical line-up, but of the “green” experience those lovely Virgins stowed upon the festival. They incorporated ideas that were helpful for the environment, and left us with a sense of pride for having attended such a wonderful musical experience. This year was no different, and not only did the Virgins make their way to Toronto, but they also journeyed across our fair country and stopped in five wonderful cities. As you know, we were able to cover Halifax and Vancouver, but they also made stops in Montreal and Calgary. Their Canadian tour finally ended in the center of the universe and brought out 29,000 fans to a packed Molson Amphitheatre, and left concert goers with a lasting memory of summer.
First up and kicking off Virgin Fest was electro duo known as Mates of State. Formed in 1997, this husband and wife team brought their happy go lucky tunes to the small, but increasing, crowd. Like many married bands I’ve covered, Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel had a very dynamic and intimate stage presence that could only be present in a relationship so tight knit as theirs.
The crowd undoubtedly felt the music and without hesitation, got on their feet to support such a vibrant group (can two people be described as a group?). The mood (and weather) lightened up while the smoke machines blasted out the haze, and this twosome put on a performance that was worthy of a full size band. It’s hard to imagine such a tiny package packing such a big punch, but they certainly got the fans to put on their dancing shoes.
Last year, I saw a little known artist by the name of Lights on the small tiny Oh! Henry Stage. A year is 12 months. A year is 52 weeks. A year is 365 days. A year is 8766 hours. In one year, who can say they’ve won a Juno, travelled with the Warped Tour, and opened up for Keane. To see an artist mature in such a short time is wonderfully heart warming, and very inspiring for all those indie bands out there.
With keytar in hand, Lights brought her brand of synth-rock to the main stage. There’s no denying her star quality, as she displayed her vocal chops during “February Air” and in between songs, she wasn’t shy one bit. Conversing with fans and acting like a pro, she was ever grateful for all the support she’s gotten this past year. The future is bright for this tiny girl, but one thing hasn’t changed from last year. I still have a crush on her.
Formed in 2004, Brooklyn based Grizzly Bear is comprised of Daniel Rossen, Ed Droste, Chris Taylor, and Christopher Bear. They’ve been categorized as psychedelic pop and experimental, but in my mind they’re more like an organized jam band. They probably had the most interesting sound at the festival and their great harmonies would be accompanied every so often by some electro elements.
Grizzly Bear is very experimental to say the least, even with their vocals, and they are definitely a sound that differs from the mainstream, but at the same time they had a very nostalgic and melancholy sound that really connected with the audience. People in the stands seemed to really embrace them and that truly shows the diversity of the Virgin community.
Even with a broken collar bone, Chris Murphy and fellow Canadian indie rockers Sloan lit up the Virgin Fest stage to an ever growing crowd. The vocals were crisp and clear, and they had a really happy go lucky sound that not only brought out the sunshine, but also resonated to the audience. They transitioned from song to song with ease, and their maturity as musicians really shined through.
Unlike other indie bands, Sloan have been together for years and are still doing what they love, so if there is anyone to look up to, these seasoned rockers are it. They’ve been doing it their way for a long time, and if being dropped from Geffen Records didn’t stop them, I don’t see them ever stopping.
Paolo Nutini is something special. At a tender age of 22, this Scotsman was a joy to watch, and to have so much talent at such a young age, the sky is the limit for this youthful musician. He has a voice older than his body and he provided a rustic, old school vibe that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. His energy on stage transferred over to the Toronto crowd, as they jumped along to his passionate and soulful music.
At one point during his set, he pulled out the ukulele, which presented a tribal reggae-ish feel with some big band incorporated. To be honest, he was just fun to watch, even though he was slouched over for most of his set.
The floor was finally packed, including the stands, as the anticipation boiled to its breaking point for these Scottish rockers. As Franz Ferdinand stepped out on stage, the crowd bellowed their applause and got warmed up by putting their dancing shoes on. I must say, lead singer Alex Kapranos had some very tight jeans that gave him a nice wedgy, but that didn’t stop him from being his energetic self.
They played their radio hits such as “Take Me Out” and “This Fire” that got the crowd so amped up that I thought the non-existent roof was going to blow up. They were definitely a crowd pleaser and a pleasure to watch. It may have been their consistent drum beat that drew me in, but my legs were doing all the reviewing during their set.
All in all, Day 1 of Virgin Fest Toronto was a success. The weather turned from murky grey, to a wonderful tint of yellow sunshine, all in time to remind everyone in attendance that summer was coming to an end. The music was great, and the people were lovely, but would the clouds role back in for Day 2? Stay tuned for part 2 of Virgin Fest Toronto to find out what the Ronatron crew got up to.