Field Trip’s joyous return

Family-friendly festival makes solid return bringing all the good stuff from before.

Who: Field Trip Festival
Where: Garrison Common, Toronto
When: Sat., July 9
Vibe: A wonderfully diverse crowd of all ages enjoying summer and live music to the fullest.
Highlight: Valley singer Rob Laska hopping from the stage into the audience for a call-and-response moment as the midday sun shone down.

As I’m walking past Stackt Market’s fresh-flower shops and crossing the Bathurst Street Bridge, the sound of crashing symbols and ethereal vocals carry toward me with the breeze. It’s a gorgeous sunny Saturday, and I’m making my way to Garrison Common for the return of Field Trip festival. Known as Toronto’s best family-friendly fest, I’m excited for what awaits as a first-time attendee.

Often when you approach a concert venue or festival ground, you can pick out the fans from the regular folk going about their day, but Field Trip draws a uniquely diverse crowd. What appear to be families out for a stroll or friends going for a bike ride turn out to be festival-goers. The fenced-in grounds are filled with children in wagons pulled by their parents, students in sundresses and bucket hats, and older couples on picnic blankets in the shade.

Though the audience looks varied, there’s a shared sense of serenity from everyone. I feel blissfully content as I sit in the grass in front of one of two stages for my first performance of the day. The set times are well-staggered, giving us the opportunity to walk from one end of the site to the other to catch a glimpse of every performer. The curation is packed with Canadian talent, and although there’s a heavy presence of indie rock, other genres are well-incorporated.

Sitting under a cloudless sky, we’re treated to the effortless musical gifts of Georgia Harmer, whose debut album Stay In Touch released this past April. Her dreamy vocals and careful guitar playing captivate everyone, from the cushioned VIP couches to the line of food trucks along the park’s perimeter.

Beloved American singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus brings a similar vibe, rocking on guitar as she excitedly shares this is her first stop on a North American tour. There’s a group of dedicated fans at the barricade singing along to every word who no doubt have tickets to her headlining show at the Danforth Music Hall the following night.

Kurt Vile brings an expert level of musicianship, asking his front-of-house sound team for slight adjustments between songs to ensure everything sounds perfect. For an open-air concert next to a highway, I’m blown away by every artist’s audio quality.

On a stage between historic Fort York buildings, Brampton’s Haviah Mighty picks up the pace with her poignant raps and catchy beats. Young pop band Valley are some of the festival’s best-dressed, with cow-print pants and mint-green cardigans (although, as singer Rob Laska points out, perhaps too many layers for the warm weather). This dynamic group swaps instruments between songs and jumps into the crowd for a wonderfully energetic set. Indigenous electronic duo The Halluci Nation kick it up a notch with their live remixes, smoke machines and multiple dancers, including dancer Miss Chief Rocka.

The festival also comes with a few fun surprises. Ultimutts, a stunt dog show, draws just as many adults as it does children, all oohing and ahhing at a group of unbelievably skilled dogs (and two cats!) performing tricks. These rescued and trained animals have starred in Steven King films and countless commercials and can do everything from ride a skateboard to walk a tightrope.

A field of hula hoops keep many amused throughout the day, and the kids in attendance have their own mini stage of child entertainers and a string of rainbow slinky toys to play with. Framed concert photography is on display in one of the buildings, including images of past Field Trip performers Metric and Broken Social Scene.

As the sun starts to set, we all grab our final snacks of the night (tacos, popsicles, fresh lemonade — we’re spoiled for choices!) and prepare for headliner Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Rateliff’s rousing mix of Americana and R&B gets the crowd moving and shaking, even the kids up past their bedtime. His raspy vocals pair perfectly with the horn section, and there are several impressive guitar solos. The stage is awash with colourful lights, complemented by the CN Tower in the background.

As I head home for the evening, I’m grateful for the return of summer nights like these in the city and look forward to doing it all again next year.