Journalists aren’t normally showered with positive attention.
So you can imagine my feeling of appreciation and gratitude when I arrived at the media entrance of the festival and was greeted with a “nice to meet you” and sent on my way with a “if you need anything, we’re here and oh, and have a good time!”. Of course after the whole ordeal of actually getting to the venue, seeing so much as a slight smile would have been enough to make my day.
For those unfamiliar with the Virgin Festival and its history in Toronto, one needs to only look back a year ago. The festival was on Toronto Island, shrouded by beer tents and littered with vegetation. The organizers this year tried to up that motif one step higher by moving the whole “shebang” up north near Burl’s Creek Park (somewhere near Orillia). Taking a cue from British festivals such as Reading/Leeds and Glastonbury, the event was to be a weekend-long camping trip. That seemed like a good idea until they got major complaints. People were outraged and in a last ditch effort to save the festival, the organizers brought it back to Toronto and to the Molson Amphitheatre. Good place to see Kenny Chesney? Yes. Good place for a festival? Time will tell.
Once inside, I dragged my feet to the media filing room where I met our media contact. She provided me with food and drink tickets (wait, what?) and showed me where the unlimited juice, pop, water and snacks were (what what what?). Had I died and gone to rock reviewer heaven? Is Alan Cross really sitting next to me? Yes, it was all true. That Alan Cross of 102.1 The Edge indeed was.
As far as performances go, Virgin Festival delivered. On the first day, the event opened with Paolo Nutini’s raspy voice that was undeniably soothing while Toronto’s The Superstitions swooned the crowd with fierce vocals and swagger. Despite the empty spaces in the crowd, Franz Ferdinand was easily the most energetic and enticing act as their set provoked hypnotic trances and gliding dance moves. Even The Pixies, which everyone seemed to long for throughout the night, made their mark. But scheduled acts such as Ben Harper and The Relentless 7 questioned the festival’s decision-making as aging alternative rock fans couldn’t bare to stick around that late.
Saturdays at festivals are usually littered with intoxicated individuals with Sunday being the hangover. But by Sunday morning, everyone seemed to be refreshed by simply acknowledging who was on the bill for the day. After being awe-struck by the members of Our Lady Peace during an interview (singer Raine Maida is an intimidating Canadian figure), it was only right to witness the acts who came to entertain.
At the Radio 999 Stage, the dance rock troupe Fritz Helder & The Phantoms shook hips with their ironic 80s’ garb and cross-dressing frontman while Silver Starling emitted dream pop and shoegaze at another setup. The Von Bondies shocked the crowd as well and even convinced on-lookers to remove their clothes. Despite being criticized for their previous work, Our Lady Peace reinvented fans with their pure rock set that included them pounding out new material and getting personal with fans.
But no one knew what they were waiting for with the last set. Was this Nine Inch Nails performance going to be a piece of history? The atmosphere sure was as the music and light show illuminated the Toronto Skyline creating an intimate moment where not a single soul could save their breath from being taken. Their hushed performance of “Hurt” and adrenaline-filled ending note “Head Like A Hole” left satisfying emotional and physical scars on fans, the venue and the festival.
A lot of critics question what a festival is. The truth is it doesn’t matter what is incorporated into an event. Festivals are meant to showcase music and shower individuals with a sense of ecstatic joy they will remember for years to come. Although it sounds a bit “hippy-ish”, it’s the truth.
A festival is an everlasting memory.