Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew on Field Trip: Fate of the Festival Is Up to the People

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Matt Forsythe
Field Trip

Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew is “somewhere in Barcelona,” wrapping up a stint in the UK and Europe at the Primavera Sound Festival, before hopping on a plane back home to Toronto to headline Field Trip on Saturday.

Founded in 2013 as a one-day event to celebrate the 10-year-anniversary of Arts & Crafts, the label he co-founded with Jeffrey Remedios (now president of Universal Music Canada), Field Trip is now a two-day, family-friendly community-driven festival full of music, comedy, art, good food and a children’s “day camp,” complete with performers, clown and bouncy castle.

The setting, which can accommodate 10,000 people a day, is down at the historic Fort York and Garrison Common, against a backdrop of the city skyline — including the iconic CN Tower. And there are other perks: kids under 12 get in free, and there are in-and-out privileges.

This year’s line up includes Broken Social Scene, A Tribe Called Red, The Pharcyde, Portugal. The Man, Cloud Nothings and Matt Mays on Saturday; and Phoenix, Feist, James Vincent Morrow, BADBADNOTGOOD, Thundercat and Timber Timbre on Sunday.

Drew spoke with Billboard about where Field Trip fits in the international festival scene, the difficulties of putting on such an extravaganza and the possible future of Field Trip.

Field Trip started as a 10th anniversary celebration of your label, Arts & Crafts.  What made you decide to keep doing it?

I know that Jeffrey’s goal was to make something that we all wanted, to design something that bands would love to play and people would love to come to.

You’ve played many of the big festivals around the world.  How is Field Trip different?

Well it’s not that different from something that’s quite close to us — Hillside [in Guelph, Ontario]. It’s catered towards communities, catered towards families, catered towards Toronto. It’s very Toronto-centric. Having 12 years and under for free. It’s just designed for people to come down in their town and have a great time. This is really based on [Collective Concerts promoter/owner] Amy Hersenhoren doing the island shows [Toronto Island Festival] that we were such a part of.  We just took that and ran with that in Fort York.

Great setting. Very family friendly.  As you mentioned, kids under 12 in for free. You have a bouncy castle and great food.  It’s a huge undertaking to put on a two-day festival like this to add to the busy summer “festival season.” What were the biggest challenges for you?

Value. Value is the biggest challenge right now. 100 percent. Try to convince people to spend money to come out and spend money on music is not an easy task these days. And Live Nation has been such a fantastic partner on this, because they believed in it the whole time. Everything is a struggle, and doing five years of this festival has always been about the people, to try to bring this show to the people. There is such a huge team behind it every year. It’s very hard to try to attract people to the festival. And it’s one of those things where you see things closing down left, right and center, and that’s just because this is the nature of the times that we live in.

The Canadian dollar is low too, compared to when you started.

It’s just we live in different times. We live in times where the difficultly across the board is what attracts people to come out and spend their money and buy tickets and attend shows, and there’s just so much at all times. There’s just so much going on. But we’ve always relied on our friends and our community and the bands, and just the idea of what the festival is -- regardless of the bands; just the two days, the environment it creates. That’s what we’ve always marketed and sold.

Do you have any perspective on what happened with Pemberton Music Festival?  The reason behind Fyre Festival failure is fairly obvious.

I don’t. I don’t. I don’t. I don’t know why some people attend some events and not others. It’s not where my mind decides to take me, but I do know that the value in music has decreased so rapidly that it’s just a difficult task to get people to spend money on music.

Within that  — and I believe this 100 percent — live music is where you go to feel alive. Live music is where you go to feel others, the energy of everyone. I think attending live shows is therapeutically one of the most important things in today’s day and age, now more than ever, in this time of anxiety disorders. We live in a time of people consuming way too much information, and what live music is supposed to make you do is feel free. It’s supposed to make you raise your hand in the air, scream and take that moment in, whether it’s [Toronto venue] the Rivoli or Field Trip or some tent in the middle of the black forest two hours outside of Berlin, where the deejay is playing Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” What live music is supposed to do is bring people together and that is what is the most important thing.

And Field Trip, every festival that you’re looking at right now is “Hmm, sheesh, I don’t know.” As I book a Broken Social Scene tour; “Oh, geez, we hope people come out. There’s so much going on.” But what we’ve tried to do -- with this incredible team that puts this together -- is to bring an environment together for people to just have an incredible experience for two days. Enjoy some wine; enjoy some food; enjoy some bands; have fun with your children. You’re able to take your kids home, get the babysitter, come back -- it’s all designed for people to have a really good time.

Are there any new security considerations now for the festival?

You should ask Aaron Miller [Field Trip co-director and manager, events and programming at Arts & Crafts] because I’m currently in Barcelona, hoping I’m going to catch my flight Friday morning. In terms of the security increase, in terms of the numbers, in terms of what’s happening, that’s not my department. My department is to go there, come with my band [Broken] Social Scene, play the 5th year anniversary and high-five the people I’ve grown up with in the last 40 years in the city that I live in. That’s what my job is.

[Miller told Billboard in an email, “We are increasing security measures but there are no changes to what is allowed or our allowance of ins-and-outs.” Asked what those increased measures are and he, understandably, responds, “We actually can't publicize that for obvious reasons.”]

Was there ever a consideration like what The Tragically Hip did many years ago with their Another Roadside Attraction, or Our Lady Peace with Summersault and — even though you’ve talked about it being very Toronto community-based -- take the festival on tour across Canada?

I don’t believe so.  No. I never had that conversation, but for people to find me a lot of the times it’s quite difficult, especially if I’m focused -- as I am right now, in releasing the [Broken] Social Scene record [Hug of Thunder July 7].

So what is the future fate of Field Trip?

The fate is up to the people. It’s always up to the people. 

So you are not ruling out a 2018 Field Trip?

I’m not ruling out anything. You know, the way that I do it is, "I’m touring Europe and this might be it," and Field Trip I’ve always attended it thinking maybe "This is the last one," because it’s such a struggle to do this -- to run a label, to be in a band. There’s no middle anymore. It really comes down to that.

Does it need to be two days?

There’s logistical reasons as to why it’s beneficial. There’s just reasons why it would make more sense to do that. Obviously we’ve all sat around and had that conversation.  Does it need to be two days? Does it need to be this? Does it need to be that? It’s up to the people.  It’s up to the people if they want to come out and attend and they’ll decide whether we’ll live or die. Regardless of that question, it’s been an incredible [experience] to be a part of; it’s been such an incredible festival to attend.

And lastly, with your new album, Hug of Thunder, out July 7, how many new songs will you be including in the set?

There’s going to be a bunch. It will be rocking with the golden oldies that people know, and we’re going to [both] embrace the muscle memory and create new memories, because all this is is a memory-making business. You’re out here to make memories.