TORONTO — Summer in Toronto means bustling outdoor patios and busy weekends teeming with back-to-back street festivals, parades and concerts. It’s when the city’s art, culture and music scenes come to life, and there was no better place to get Toronto’s full summer experience than the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival at Port Lands this past weekend.
This year’s “revamped” festival announced a major expansion this year, promising more immersive activities, diverse and unique entertainment, and of course, even cooler big-name performances. There’s also been a ton of excitement around the festival’s scenic new venue in Toronto’s signature lakeside district. Now that NXNE 2017 is officially behind us, it’s safe to say that it lived up to the hype.
Stepping onto the Port Lands grounds from the main entrance, the fun, new additions to this year’s festival are hard to miss. Festival-goers made their way to the main stages to get a good spot in the crowd, stopping by the colorful lineup of amusement rides and carnival games. The giant ferris wheel was definitely a favorite for its sweeping views of Toronto’s skyline. Another main attraction was the impressive selection of carnival-inspired eats from some of the city’s best food trucks. And finally, it wouldn’t truly be NXNE without art — colorful projects and installations by local artists were showcased all over the festival grounds. The big setup of NXNE signage made for some great photo ops too.
“I’ve been coming to North by Northeast for years and this is by far the best one,” one festival-goer tells me, “I love that they’ve turned it into like, a real festival — it just makes it a lot more fun.”
As fun as it was to win carnival prizes and eat delicious food, we were there for the music. All three days delivered a different set of performers and a main headliner — Passion Pit, Post Malone or Tyler the Creator. But, Tyler caused major disappointment by dropping out of the show on short notice. Luckily, festival organizers were quick to find a good replacement — the iHeartRadio MMVA-winning Canadian DJ and producer, Kaytranada.
The weekend ended on a high note with unreal performances by Yukon Blonde, The Soul Rebels featuring Talib Kweli, Lizzo and Passion Pit. Yukon Blonde put on a great show on the Canal stage, playing a mix of favorites from the “On Blonde” album, as well as a few singles including “My Girl” and “Saturday Night.” Their set started at the peak of the evening sunshine, making it the perfect summer soundtrack.
The Soul Rebels brass ensemble switched things up with a soulful, eclectic blend of funk, jazz and hip-hop — Talib Kweli gave the set some fresh energy, and the collab seemed like a natural fit. At 8:30, Lizzo blessed the crowd with her unbelievable voice and eloquent words of wisdom. Before performing “Good As Hell” she said, “I want you to leave with a message of self-love, self-positivity, self-care.” Lizzo’s set was backed by a live band, and she even mixed in some choreography with two backup dancers in black leotards à la “Single Ladies.”
Look for my full Passion Pit performance review next week!