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Wherever you go lately, you see more adults enjoying all that Toronto has to offer, and bringing their kids along too. Nowhere is this more apparent than at music events — from semi-secret alleyway parties to free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square to the all-ages Junction Music Festival.

So I’m here to tell you about Toronto’s best kept secret for music-loving kids and grown-ups: TURF — the Toronto Urban Roots Festival. There are tickets still available and here’s why you should go:

First of all — it’s FREE for kids 10 and under (with an adult ticket)

Second — the line-up is amazing. Insanely amazing: Neutral Milk Hotel, Gogol Bordello, Beirut, Jeff Tweedy, Jenny Lewis, Man Man, Violent Femmes, Black Joe Lewis, Tift Merritt, Hey Rosetta! and so many more it’s indecent.

Third — it’s right downtown

Trekking to Harbourfront during construction can try the patience of a saint. Cramming yourself and kids into Dundas Square during a popular show can seem scary at times. I didn’t know what to expect from the first TURF last summer — but a leisurely walk across the Strachan bridge into a relaxed, green oasis was not what I imagined when I heard “outdoor rock festival.” As it happens, the setting alone makes it a music-loving kid’s paradise.

JEFF ROSS

JEFF ROSS

TURF_2013_06_Credit_Jeff_Ross

JEFF ROSS

The Fort York Garrison Common grounds are ideal for outdoor festivals. It’s a well-designed large green space that’s tucked away in the middle of the city. A 15 minute walk from Trinity Bellwoods Park. A 12 minute walk from King and Bathurst. The 509 Harbourfront streetcar, the 511 from Bathurst Station and the 63 bus from Ossington Station get you within a five minutes of the entrance gates.

So why haven’t we been having festivals here forever?

I asked TURF founder (and co-owner of Collective Concerts) Jeff Cohen if he felt that outdoor rock shows have evolved. “First of all, Toronto wasn’t having any outdoor shows for a long time. It was deeply entrenched at city hall that we as a city didn’t want this — staff didn’t want it, councillors weren’t encouraging it.

“There was this notion that summer rock concerts are something that annoys residents. It wasn’t seen as being for families. But we were always aiming to program this festival with the idea that 50% of the patrons will have kids.”

Design with Kids in Mind

One of the most appealing parts of the festival is its size — it’s not physically far from one stage to the other. (This year they’ve added a third stage.) In between the East Stage and West Stage there’s an area where food trucks are located, and right around the corner from there, a wonderfully shady kids area set up by Jeff’s wife, Tara King-Cohen. It’s well-designed for kids, from toddlers up to about age 10.

“Even though we’re childless, having a good kids area was a priority,” explains Jeff. There are no subsidies or sponsorship for the play area, though TURF put several thousand dollars into making sure it’s a good one. It’s set off by LED lights — fun for festival patrons of all ages to goof around with.

“Tara designed the whole thing,” says Jeff. “Anywhere we go in Canada and the U.S. we pick up good ideas. We just wanted there to be a place to go in the trees, to get a break and not (have to) be in the sun all the time,” he adds.

TURFkids-1

HELEN SPITZER

Oh, and there’s a giant Jenga game. It’s more for the bigger kids.

Toronto Urban Roots Fest

JEFF ROSS

Tickets for TURF T.O. are still available at the door — and if you don’t want to commit to the whole weekend, a one-day Saturday or Sunday pass is $67.50 and, as mentioned earlier, kids under 10 are free. (Note: no-one will be carding your kid at the gates.)

“We had long discussions about it, and we realized that we had to make this free for kids so that families would actually attend,” says Cohen. “We asked ourselves, how are we going to encourage parents who love live music, but can’t bring kids to most shows? Can we put on a festival and say, ‘Bring as many kids as you want?’

“I saw half the music industry here last year, and the larger music community, people who weren’t playing at the festival. They were here and they brought their kids with them.”

Getting There

Because logistics are important when you’re hauling your family and your stuff: Try to arrive by TTC or bike or on foot. The main entrance is at Fort York Blvd. You can enter either by going down the stairs from Strachan Ave. (from the west side of the fest) or walk up Garrison Road via Fleet St. Be careful along Strachan, as there is no proper sidewalk on the east side for a portion of the road from East Liberty St. until about Douro/Wellington St.

* due to festival logistics, you can’t enter via the stairs at Strachan or access Garrison Rd.

If you’re arriving from the east side, walk alongside the Fort York grounds via Fort York Blvd — the East gate of Fort York at Bathurst won’t be open for logistical reasons. The 509 streetcar west, the 511 streetcar south from Bathurst Stn. or the 63 bus from Ossington Stn. all get you within a 5-7 minute walk of the entrance. 

Survival Guide

Hats and water, hats and water: The forecast is sun all weekend. The path to the South Stage is a little rocky/dusty, so err in favour of sturdy shoes. Don’t forget — Bunch has already put together a smart guide for surviving and thriving at summer music festivals. Take a gander here — and see you this weekend at TURF.

Here’s a taste of last year’s Toronto Urban Roots Festival.

 Helen Spitzer is formerly the senior editor of Bunch Family. She has always rocked.

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