Bestival might not be Toronto’s best festival, but overall, it’s pretty good. Now, I need to disclose that I didn’t attend last year’s inaugural edition of Bestival. I also only attended Sunday this year. But still, I think I came away with more than a strong sense of how the festival was run.
My Day 2 ticket was my Mother’s Day gift, a present that I picked out. But even though I was excited to attend the event, I had a couple of concerns. The first had to with its location. Last year Bestival was on Toronto Island and there were issues with the ferries. This year it moved to Woodbine Park. While I liked that it had moved to a location that was easy for me to reach (and leave), a new venue can bring growing pains.
Thankfully, if there were any kinks, they were worked out by Sunday. I breezed into the festival (and out when it was time to go), met minimal lineups for food, drinks and the bathroom and found things to be generally organized and clearly laid-out. The site felt and looked like Woodbine Park was a long established venue for Bestival.
My second concern was around the crowd. Because the event was dance music-heavy, I was worried that I’d be surrounded by mostly naked young people who would make me feel old, ugly and full of regret. I am told that Saturday, which was very hot and featured headliners Tame Impala, did see a lot of barely clad youths. However, on Sunday, a combination of cooler weather and having The Cure as the headliner led to most people wearing shirts as well as quite a few middle-age attendees. While most ticket buyers were under 25 and ready to groove the day away, I didn’t feel out of place, even when I was in the dance tent. For the most part, patrons were polite, relaxed and more into having fun than showing off.
Here are a few more things I liked, or didn’t like, about the festival.
- I loved that the lineup was dance-heavy but that there were also guitar-y acts like The Wombats and Daughter. I like dance music but I don’t have it in me to attend a purely dance festival (like Digital Dreams) so something like Bestival, which has a mix of genres and lots of DJs, is perfect for me.
- I also loved how smooth and hassle-free everything was. Lineups were almost non-existence and I strongly believe that the festival’s relaxed atmosphere was due in part to how organized it was.
- Another reason for that mellow vibe? All the fun and sometimes just silly activities like the costume parade and the inflatable church. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a festival that had so much non-music stuff going on.
- I’ve also never attended a festival with so much seating. I actually got to eat my dinner while seating in a real chair. Other forms of seating included hay bales, inflatable cushions and hills that lined up nicely with the stages.
- There was a nice variety of food vendors and a surprisingly diverse selection of hard alcohol, including some very tasty looking mixed drinks.
- The biggest issue of the festival was the soundbleed from the dance tent, aka the Big Top, which was located just too close to the main stage. The tent’s thumping bass turned the quieter tracks by indie-folk act Daughter into remixes. It also clearly annoyed The Cure, with frontman Robert Smith even commenting on it. If I could change just one thing about Bestival, it would be do whatever it took to solve this problem.
- I heard multiple people complain about how the two stages had you looking north-west, towards the setting sun. This really didn’t bother me as I had sunglasses and none of the performers had much in terms of visuals. But I can see how it could be annoying.
- The Cure played a two-and-a-half hour set, which was great if you were a diehard Cure fan. But most people there didn’t fall into that category. As a result, the crowd in front of the main stage on Sunday night was surprisingly small. Unless they’re Radiohead, no band should be headlining a festival with a two-and-a-half hour set. Personally, I would have like to have seen The Cure do a 90-minute set, with the extra hour going to another act or even to Grimes.
- The Big Top could have been a bit bigger. Maybe it was just because so few people were into The Cure but it was spilling out on Sunday night.
- There was no lemonade stand! How can you have a festival without a lemonade stand? Or something similar. Really, all I wanted was a non-alcoholic drink that wasn’t pop, water or coffee.
- Finally, I really wish that this festival had been around 10 years ago, when I was younger and had friends who would have been up for embracing the Bestival spirit, something that involves costumes, glitter and lots of dancing.