The inclement weather showed up for the fourth and final day of the inaugural Toronto Urban Roots Festival, but that didn't do much to dampen the atmosphere.
My day out began with toddler in tow. Toronto folk-rockers The Wooden Sky opened things up. I haven't been kind to their records in the past, in fact I find them quite boring. In a live setting, however, things couldn't be more different. They had a rollicking, energetic set that took me by surprise.
Not at all surprising were The Sadies. When a band can blow out such engaging roots rock as consistently and effortlessly as these veterans, taking them for granted can become a real danger.
Austin's Alejandro Escovedo took the proceedings up another notch as he and his tight band played some masterful rock n' roll. The highlight of the set was a stellar sprawling cover of Neil Young's already sprawling "Like A Hurricane". The set left me wondering why Escovdeo never became a huge star.
After a stop to deposit the toddler at home we returned to TURF where Aussie Xavier Rudd was doing his job by providing the soundtrack for the hacky sack and juggling stick crowd. He gave an extremely well-received blissed-out set that should prompt the TURF organizers to add a couple more World music acts to the bill next year.
The skies opened up on the already muddy crowd as alt-country songstress Neko Case showcased material from her forthcoming album. She reveled in the atmosphere the rain created as she treated the hearty crowd to a career-spanning set that included favorites "People Got A Lot Of Nerve", "This Tornado Loves You", "Margaret Vs. Pauline", and "I Wish I Was The Moon" among many more. This was the fourth time I have seen Case, and she has never been more engaging and lively as she was on this day.
It was just like a day back home for Scottish twee superstars Belle & Sebastian. They joked about the weather more than once, including during the intro to "Another Sunny Day". In fact, the banter made for possibly the best connection with the audience of any performance of the weekend. Whether it was bringing dancers on stage for "The Boy With the Arab Strap" or (a slightly too lengthy) Scrabble game to set-up "The Model (complete with a fan who feigned showing her chest at the appropriate moment in the song),
The beginning with the set opener "I'm A Cuckoo", each song was greeted with joy from the crowd. The band treated them to "Judy & the Dream of Horses", "Legal Man", "Stars of Track & Field" (which was dedicated to Andy Murray), and "Piazza, New York Catcher" among others.
The time constraints of a festival meant the set was oh-too-short, forcing too many of my favorites to be left out ("She's Losing It", "The State I Am In", "The Wrong Girl"). You can't blame the band, or the festival for that matter, it's just the reality of this format.
Not only was the entire four day line-up strong, but the organization was incredible. We're already talking about our plans for next year's edition.