Done right, the Toronto Island Concert is a drunken good time, one of the most memorable shows you’ve ever been to, fantastic moments with fantastic friends, and an orgiastic day-long love-in for the city of Toronto. Back and better than ever this year (with the exception of the beer tents. Geez, guys.) the island concert brought together some great bands from near and far, delicious local vendors, and that unstoppable skyline, for one hell of an afternoon.
The truly sneaky know the best plan of attack when it comes to getting to Olympic Island is to avoid the crowds and take the Ward’s Island ferry. After a breezy ride, disembark and ramble your way slowly to Centre, with tall cans in hand. Stop to drink on a bench in the sun and watch the baby swans and kite surfers from the boardwalk. Maybe climb a tree. The world is your oyster. Then, make your way into the concert.
We arrived just in time for Beach House, and to lament the already inexplicable beer line. A seperate tickets-then-bar system, cups poured from pitchers poured from taps, and a demand that you abandon your water bottle before entering the caged-in drinkin’ zone to wait in line in the hot sun for two hours led me to believe the beer tents were run by a ship of fools, or that they didn’t, in fact, want me to get drunk. I showed them. Whiskey in hand (sneaky times, see?), I abandoned the beer line for Band of Horses, who played a fantastic set of mostly old favourites.
As the sun began to set, Broken Social Scene took the stage. Swigging some drinks by the lake to prepare, we made our way into the crowd while Kevin Drew and the gang (and oh, it was a mighty gang.) got excited. “We always get such a big band when we play in Toronto!” Drew declared. The definition of hometown proud, he had the crowd cheering for Toronto, booing the G20, and giving it up for the local vendors like Big Fat Burrito and Feng’s Dumplings, which he was obviously pretty pleased about. Smug and sleeveless in the setting sun, he led BSS through songs old and new, bringing out Feist and Emily Haines to shake percussion instruments and croon along. “I just want to see Obama at Weber’s!” he declared, before the band played a Brendan Canning-penned tune in protest of the G20. For any alums of Island Concerts past, you know the experience of seeing Broken Social Scene play in the sunset while the city towers reach up across the lake is one you won’t soon forget. “When I first met my girlfriend, we saw them play at Harbourfront,” said my concert buddy. “Now coming up on our one year anniversary, I’m seeing them on the other side of the lake.” If there’s one band that sounds like hot, sweaty Toronto summers, its Broken Social Scene.
The sun went down, and Pavement came on to the last strains of daylight. If you were looking for a time to hit up the beer tent, now would be it. And so we did, watching the band and the crowd from a picnic table strewn with keg cups. As the set carried on into the darkness, friends began to filter in, and the vendors began to close their doors. Beers were sloshed more liberally, and Caplansky’s left a stack of bread loaves on their table, which make for fine frisbees if you’re in the mood for a beer-tent bread fight. WE ARE! You’re welcome, seagulls one and all. We shoved our way off Olympic Island and back to Ward’s, frolicking in fountains and tossing bread all the way. After a quick nap on the ferry, we finished the night off with pitchers (upon pitchers, upon pitchers) of Long Island Iced Tea at Bistro 422, and pizza from Massimo’s. Toronto 101.