The Garrison at Fort York has become the go-to festival grounds in Toronto this summer, and with good reason. Avoiding the annoyance of getting to either Downsview Park or the ferry to Toronto Island, Arts&Crafts’ inaugural Field Trip provided a great showcase for the label’s roster and the treat of seeing You Forgot It in People performed in its entirety by Broken Social Scene. Add the multitude of food options, great beer provided by Amsterdam Brewery, and other events, and it proved the grounds could be used with great success. The Toronto Urban Roots Festival was a different beast, stretched over four days, but it managed to weather a torrential downpour on the final day, ending with a triumphant set by Belle & Sebastian. So when the Grove Music Festival was forced to evacuate its original location in Niagara-on-the-Lake (while losing acts like Bob Mould and Macklemore), it seemed the infrastructure for a successful day was already in place.
However, the Grove Music Festival proved to be a poor facsimile of previous events, suffering from several disappointing developments. The set times for Palma Violets and Wavves were swapped with zero notice. Drinks were available for the ridiculous price of $11 a can, while the only water available was some sort of strange brand of “sport water.” The Jagermeister tent in the middle of the crowd served to block sightlines, and was complete with staff obnoxiously squirting passersby with super soakers on a rather mild day. There was a lack of merch from any of the headliners, to the point where the tent was selling discounted Edgefest shirts from a few days before. The forty minute set times for the likes of Hot Chip, Girl Talk and the Gaslight Anthem were ludicrously short. Earl Sweatshirt’s 20 minute set was its own joke. But most damning of all was the atrocious sound mix. The vocals were muffled and at times inaudible, particularly during Hot Chip’s otherwise stellar set. These issues seemed to be fixed by the time Phoenix hit the stage, but it cast a pall over the day. The other gripes could have been forgiven had the sound not been an issue.
However, the day wasn’t a complete loss, as Girl Talk managed to rouse the crowd with mashups and confetti. Getting several thousand people to sing the chorus from the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” was an instant pick-me-up. When I could manage to hear Hot Chip, they were rolling through their hits, along with the mid-set performance of “Flutes.” Phoenix managed to impress with a compressed 55 minute set, highlighted by “Love Like a Sunset” and “1901” from 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
It’s disappointing that a festival with the pedrigree of being run by Coachella’s Goldenvoice and Arts&Crafts turned out the way it did, but if the Grove Fest is going to become more than a one-off event, it will have to learn from its shortcomings. Hopefully Riot Fest at the end of the month will run more smoothly. $11 beers at a Replacements concert just might incite a riot.