On June 17, if you happen to be wandering around the west side of the city near Roncesvalles, you'll probably notice Sorauren Park has been overrun with indie bands, vendors selling locally produced snacks, spoken-word poetry, and hundreds of revellers dressed in costumes they made themselves. "Has Burning Man relocated to Toronto?" you may ask yourself in disbelief, moments before you notice that, wait, most of the crowd is made up of children.
The Little City Festival, formerly known as Totstock, hits the park tomorrow, rebranded this summer in order to expand its reach to tweens and early teens. While parents won't see the bouncy castles they're used to lining up for, or overheated adults dressed as corporate mascots, they will find an event that, for the fourth year running, promises something better – a celebration of DIY culture for kids. Perhaps more importantly, they'll find a summer family activity that they won't have to suffer through.
The festival, which this year takes the late Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are as its central theme – has literary roots. Chris Reed, who had been organizing the unconventional This Is Not a Reading Series for Pages Books before the store shut down, wanted to see if something similar could be done for the launch of childrens' books. "It worked well for hipsters," he recalled thinking. "Could it work for kids?" He asked musician and producer Don Kerr if he'd be able to round up some bands that could play to both old and young, and in the winter of 2008, Totsapalooza was born.
At the event, which was held at Revival Bar on College, parents could sip local brews while their kids built a miniature city out of blocks with the help of councillor Adam Vaughan and Spacing magazine editor Matthew Blackett. Meanwhile, local authors and musicians regaled all of them from the stage.
Totsapalooza was so successful – the 1,200 tickets quickly sold out – that Mr. Reed and Mr. Kerr decided to team up with The Little Paper's Vicki Bell in order to create an outdoor community event in Roncesvalles Village, which they dubbed Totstock. Fed by contributions from local artists and independent stores such as Scooter Girls and Mabel's Fables, the concept has grown over the past four years from a stage and one tent to a fourteen-tent event featuring readings from new childrens' books, craft-making, gourmet food, and even circus training for kids. This year, organizers expect that nearly 5,000 will attend.
"These are parents that grew up watching punk bands or indie bands," Mr. Reed says of the bulk of Little City attendees. "They're people in their 30s who value local creators, and things you can do yourself. When they had kids, they didn't want to give up those values. It's the anti-Disney, anti-commodified fun fair, where kids leave feeling empowered instead of just hyped-up on sugar."
Tom Carson, a theatre director who will be performing some poems at the festival this year, started out as just a parent looking for something fun to do with his family. "The thing that stood out in my five-year-old's mind the most [after Totstock 2008] was the bikes on the side of the stage," he said. "People had to ride the bikes to power the amplification. It pointed out that we sometimes take electricity and power for granted."
Emphasizing the appeal the fest holds for parents, Rebecca Mendoza, a dancer who brought her two kids to the last two Totstocks, recalls only the broad strokes of what her kids got up to on those days. She remembers the food very well, though. "There were these real fruit popsicles," she recalled. "Really, really delicious and special. Also, waffles with cream inside, freshly made."
On the mainstage this year, Mr. Kerr intends to take the "DIY for kids" concept to its natural conclusion – most of the bands he curated are composed of tween and teen musicians. "There's always been a lot of rock camps, but the one that's given us the most talent for this year is the one at the Tranzac that's just for girls aged eight to 16," he says. "It's tipped the scales and made it seem that there's just as many girls in rock bands as there are boys."
"We had Unfinished Business play at this year's Totsapalooza and they brought the house down," Mr. Reed says of a trio of 12-year-olds who'll perform again on Sunday. "They played Clash covers and their own songs. All 500 people in the Revival at the time stopped to watch these girls rock out. The guitars are about as tall as they are."
Weighing in on the other side of the age spectrum will be legendary Canadian singer and songwriter Andy Kim. Mr. Kim will headline with his hits Rock Me Gently and Sugar, Sugar, but the grand finale will be all about the kids. Armed with dried-pasta noisemakers created that day, and wearing monstrous masks and make-up, a wild rumpus parade held in tribute to Mr. Sendak's book will finish off the afternoon. If it rains, expect a few mudslides as well.
Special to The Globe and Mail