A sun-drenched Friday afternoon greeted the opening day of the second annual Toronto Urban Roots Festival (or by it's moniker TURF) on the grounds of historical Old Fort York. To get a certain amount of irony out of the way, the festival was fortunate enough to have some great artists from the United States performing on their stages on what was the 4th of July. Fort York is a defensive fort that was built by the British and was the site of a few battles between British (Canadian) soldiers and American soldiers in the War of 1812. An invasion of American artists and musicians ... that kind we'll happily take! Anyhow, enough history for today ...
The festival kicked off mid-afternoon with folk/Americana singer-songwriter Tift Merritt taking the South Stage and later joining Andrew Bird over on the West Stage. Andrew Bird was the first artist I was able to catch yesterday ... a little thing called my paying job pre-empted my earlier arrival. Admittedly, I was not familiar with Andrew Bird's music, but I walked away a fan. An unbelievably gifted musician and vocalist, Andrew Bird has the ability to captivate an audience from the moment you first hear him. What this gentleman can do with a violin is eye-opening. At one point I thought I could hear a mandolin on stage, but there was none to be found ... it was Andrew Bird strumming the violin that gave that sound. On the road to support his latest release "Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of ... ", Bird is worthy of your attention. And he's getting attention to be sure, as his song "Pulaski At Night", is featured in the Season 2 premiere of Orange is the New Black. I will be watching out for Andrew Bird to catch a future performance.
As the afternoon wore on to the evening, another act I was not familiar with performed on the festival's South Stage. Deer Tick is a roots-rock outfit from Providence, Rhode Island, and they have acquired quite a following over the years. The large crowd gathered at the stage was a youthful and exhuberant bunch, dancing the night away. Several tunes prompted a sing-along with the crowd, including a great cover of the Richie Valens' classic, "La Bamba." This group put on a great, energetic performance with a sound reminiscent of another great roots-rock, alt-country act, The Bottle Rockets. Veterans of the road, they are on tour to support their new album Negativity, and more than set the table for the nights closing act on the South Stage.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Black Joe Lewis is from the musical breadbasket of North America. An outstanding guitar player, he brought his unique style of super-charged blues to the opening night of TURF 2014. Performing with a stellar back up band, complete with horn section, Black Joe tore up the stage playing new tracks off his latest release Electric Slave, including "Come To My Party" and "Skulldiggin." "Black Sin" and "Booty City" were popular cuts with the crowd, who by this time must have been feeling like they've been put through the ringer with so many high energy performances by this time, but in a good way.
For the first day and night of TURF 2014, the show of the day surely had to be the performance of Gary Clark, Jr. Performing earlier in the evening, Gary Clark, Jr. set a fairly high bar early in the festival for those to follow. It would not be a stretch to say that this gentleman is one of the best guitar players in the world today. One can tell he is a pure, natural, musician and artist. The large crowd that was gathered for the show was treated to a masterful performance. Watching and listening to Gary Clark, Jr. perform such tunes as "Next Door Neighbour Blues", "Bright Lights" and the title track to his latest release "Blak and Blu", it's not a long stretch to say that he has completed the impossible task of melding elements of Muddy Waters with the guitar prowess of Jimi Hendrix. He manages to mix in elements of Motown with his GRAMMY winning hit "Please Come Home." The fact that he's only 30 years old is even more astounding when you consider the talent level. Mr. Clark will be around for a very long time, and the sky is the limit as to where this young man's talent will take him.
What adventures will day 2 bring? Find out tomorrow, or better still, join me and the many thousands at Old Fort York in downtown Toronto, Ontario!