Bestival Toronto Strikes Back – A Look Back At The Festival’s Successful Sophomore Year

There was enough pot smoke in the air to ensure anyone within ten blocks had a contact high. There were enough lasers shooting into the sky to divert air traffic. Tame Impala was winding down their set with “Apocalypse Dreams” on night one of Bestival’s return to Toronto, and the crowd was entranced as frontman Kevin Parker sang:

Everything is changing.

For Bestival’s second foray outside the UK, everything was indeed changing — for the better. After settling on the Toronto Islands last year for their inaugural trip outside the UK, Bestival relocated to the landlocked Woodbine Park for 2016, and the new habitat proved to be a heaven for hedonists.

Not only were all the logistical logjams from last year eliminated, but Bestival organizers outdid themselves aesthetically, transforming a municipally-owned meadow to a forested wonderland. Bestival utilized Woodbine Park’s rolling hills and winding paths to create panoramic vistas of the festival site, which, when juxtaposed against the downtown Toronto skyline, was impossible not to enjoy. It certainly did not hurt that the festival gods granted Bestival TO with a weekend of very un-Bestival like weather — despite warnings of severe thunderstorms, both festival days were as picturesquely beautiful as a festival in Toronto could possibly be.


Bestival once again imported every bit of the award-winning charm its UK counterpart is known for, with everything on site either really beautiful, or really weird — just the way a festival should be. The crowd (a mix of Torontonians, and travellers from countries as far as Australia) deserve a shout-out for embracing the Bestival ethos, with the large majority donning wacky costumes, smiling faces and plenty of glitter. Bestival also scored major points for showcasing Toronto talent, from cosmic parades lead by the city’s infamous Silver Elvis, to local acrobats so flexible I’m convinced they have no bones.


Musically, Bestival’s lineup fought way above their weight class. Jamie XX, returning to Bestival TO with a step-up to the main stage, was the first massive draw of the weekend. Fighting through technical difficulties, Jamie left the stage defeated, before returning to finish a triumphant “Gosh” in front of an appreciative crowd.

As the sun began to set, Odesza took the stage, complete with a horn section and industrial-strength smoke machines. If there is a more perfect setting to enjoy Odesza’s serene soundscapes than a perfect day upon a lush field, it’s probably in the afterlife. For the undead, it doesn’t get any better.


Tame Impala concluded night one in commanding fashion, plying their wavy wares with way more energy than a band who played a late-night set at Bonnaroo the night before should ever have. Judging by the hypnotically-pleasured look on faces of those in the crowd, Tame Impala easily won the Golden Dose award for most psychedelic act of the weekend.

The acts kept delivering on day two, with Daughter taking the main stage to a crowd still feeling the effects of the night before. Singer Elena Tonra initially appeared stage-shy, but that gave way to a subtly concrete confidence, with the band’s stage presence growing more powerful and inviting as their set went on.

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Frenetic and bedazzled is a good way to describe both Grimes and her many fans. The crowd went crazy for every sweet coo, every primal scream and every spastic movement the shapeshifting popstar from BC emitted during her set.

The second night’s headliners, the Cure, had the odds stacked against them from the get-go. City noise ordinances meant that the Cure had to take the stage in broad daylight, where the notoriously dark band from Crawley would be exposed to the very elements they’re trying to hide from. Thankfully, Robert Smith & Co. did not melt, but rather triumphed with an energetic set full of hits and rarities. The band was plagued by tech issues and soundbleed from the neighboring Big Top stage, but soldiered on and delivered thirsty fans three encores, climaxing with fireworks, “Boy’s Don’t Cry” and a promise to return to Toronto soon.

Bestival organizers also promised a return to Toronto, telling fans they can look forward to the festival in summer 2017. Here’s hoping that with Woodbine Park, they’ve found their forever home.

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All photos by Stevie Gedge, courtesy of Bestival Toronto


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