A new twist on the music festival scene hits the local circuit this summer: you can groove out and eat healthy and haute cuisine at the same time. And you can bring the kids. And there is camping. An import from the U.K. — and the brainchild of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver — The Big Feastival is a weekend of food “experiences” and live music.
The three-day event will run Aug. 18 to 20 on the grounds of Burl’s Creek in Oro Medonte with a capacity of around 20,000. Confirmed headliners include: Weezer, Ben Harper, The Strumbellas, the rollicking singalong phenomenon Choir! Choir! Choir!, Dwayne Gretzky and for the littlest music fans, Fred Penner.
Toronto and the surrounding area will see more than 40 music festivals, of varying sizes and ambitions, this year. The past few years have seen the entertainment industry rush to provide unique (and photographable) live experiences of our music feeds come to life. We see the romantic and nostalgic Instafeed images of beautiful people frolicking in the English mud of Glastonbury or the desert heat of Coachella, and we get the message: the answer to our digital isolation is to join in to big, loud experiences. But to stand out on these crowded fields, event organizers need something fresh.
For The Big Feastival, the fresh parts are the food and family elements. The idea is to push the farm-to-table concept. This is a concert site with fresh food and without added sugars and prepackaged items. There will be a main music stage, and a main food stage, featuring demonstrations by celebrity chefs, according to Judy Merry, director of IMG’s food events in Canada.
“These celebrity chefs get tonnes of asks for their time and participation,” says Merry. “But this is about bringing your family for the weekend. It’s an organic ask, I’m saying, come, do storytime in the Big Top, introduce musicians, give a cooking class for children, plant a garden.”
Meals are pay as you go, but Merry promises lots of samples, “no garbage, no cotton candy, no sodas. But there will be plenty of craft beer!”
Oliver, the chipper British TV chef whose brand is a firm proponent of farm-to-table and getting kids interested in good food, had launched the concept in 2011 in East London. A few years in, the show moved to the rural Cotswolds to merge with a similar festival by former bassist for the Britpop group Blur, Alex James, who went on to become a noted artisanal cheesemaker. The U.K. concept was purchased by IMG, the international events company that once owned Toronto Fashion Week and now owns Taste of Toronto festival. The Toronto Big Feastival is the first brand extension of an intended international rollout.
Is this too big a bet on the back of Jamie Oliver’s name? It seems right now that he has his name all over this city, from cookware, jugs and frozen entrees at Sobey’s to his first North American location for his restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian at Yorkdale to ubiquitous play of his namesake shows on the new Gusto lifestyle channel. He is not involved in the Toronto version of the festival, beyond lending his credibility as the event creator.
Cheesemaker James, however, will be on hand at the event launch in Toronto on March 1. James is well-known in Britain also as a writer who has penned memoirs, and has a regular newspaper column and radio show about his new family life on the farm, so the Feastival is a bang-on fit for his own brand. His award-winning cheeses have whimsical and nostalgic names, including “Blue Monday” and “Fairley Wallop.”
Canadian celebrity chef Chuck Hughes has his own brand explosion going on: Le Bremner and Garde Manger are his hot spots in Montreal; his Food Network Canada shows include Chuck’s Day Off and he just launched has his own line of oils, vinegars and basics called My Kitchen Staples. As for his music festival cred, Hughes has previously brought sustenance to Montreal’s EDM festival Osheaga.
Hughes has invited chefs from across the country to participate at The Big Feastival, from Vancouver’s Vikram Vij (of the beloved Vij’s restaurant empire) to his TV co-host (and Le Bremner chef) Smiles and Toronto’s Rob Gentile (Buca) and Victor Barry (Piano Piano). Part of the draw for Hughes was the chance to share the festival’s ethos of fresh, not processed, low-sugar foods.
He also jumped at the chance to work and hang out with his own family (he has two young children).
“Beyond the great food and no-car camping under the stars, there will be a chance for kids to see where their food is from — milk some cows, feed some chickens, harvest some vegetables and take some cooking classes as well. They will have a Big Top with kid’s music and circus performances and as well as old-school rides. My 3-year-old is going to go nuts.”
If the idea of bringing your kids to a rock concert seems dodgy to you, The Big Feastival has you covered. Says Merry: “We want it to be very Disney-like, perfect for a family, very safe and not overcrowded ... there are washrooms and showers, an upmarket glamping area with beds, rugs and concierges, as well as a VIP area with deluxe washrooms and a bar with shade and drinks.”
Tickets are $80 for a single day and $150 for the weekend. Go to thebigfeastival.ca for more information.
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