No Toronto festival is complete without an appearance at Yonge and Dundas Square. NXNE is one of the few festivals who makes good use of the square, scheduling a number of performances each day. The square has water fountains whose pools exist under the square, fountains that burst water into the air at intervals, and usually a grouping of tables and chairs. Most of time, when bands play here people gather and are able to spread out, maybe even sit down. However, when bands like The National play the entire city shows up, including everyone who has never even heard the music; it becomes spectacle, and everyone there becomes a willing participant.
“It’s so nice to perform in an intimate space without distractions,” says Berninger. “How are you Toronto?!” Then follows the whooping of umpteen million people. The homeless guy standing beside me smiles wide, a three year old girl on her father’s shoulders fist pumps, and seven miniature dogs of various varieties yip from their owners’ elbows. Like I said, the entire city is there.
The problem with Yonge and Dundas Square, in my opinion, is that it’s a terrible place to see music. You don’t really see anything unless you show up seven hours early or have binoculars. You stand in a sea of heads and look up to nothing except the billboards, all of that aggressive advertising breathing in your face. And because there’s so much concrete and human, the acoustics sound like muddled echoes. For a band like The National, this venue destroys their sound. All of tricky changes, all the musical genius that makes them so incredibly unique is lost and all we’re left with is a lot of bass and a lot of moaning. But that’s really not the point. Music at YDS is about the venue. The bands strive to headline just for the sheer size of it and people congregate there because that’s what you do as a citizen with an hour to spare.
Put simply, YDS is an amazing place to see people, not music. Being there means more than just being able to soak in the chords and the lyrics, it means participating in a musical journey with a horde of strangers. Free concerts in the middle of any city are so much more than the fans it attracts. It is a musical gift to the city that is offered to everyone, and everyone should take advantage of such a thing.