The first music festival of the season is one of my favourite things in life. I wait all year for these one or two or three-day festivals to come around, and the first one always feels a little bit special. The air feels electric, hours and hours of music makes my heart feel full, the craft markets and art instillations are my favourite things to peruse, and freshly squeezed lemonade and food truck lobster rolls are perfect things to sip and snack on on hot summer days. There’s something indescribable about festivals that you can’t really put into words, but what I can tell you is that thousands of people flocking to one event grounds to immerse themselves in culture is something special.
Me standing in a crowd watching The National play a set right in front of me has been a long time coming. I’ve missed them multiple times, and when they were announced for Field Trip this year I made a vow to myself that that wouldn’t happen again. And obviously it didn’t. I somehow managed to win tickets for the event and that helped warm my little student-on-a-budget heart, so it was really a no-brainer. I got my dad to tag along and that was that.
This band is something else. Something triumphant and passionate, full of emotion to the point where you feel deeply affected just by being in the crowd. Matt Berninger’s vocals are raw, strong and weak at the same time and quite often full of pain. I felt captivated the entire time. I was on the verge of tears on more than one occasion, I felt empowered and free and full of life. It was the kind of show that makes your heart swell and hurt at the same time, it makes you feel pain and joy all at once and it really just reminds you what it feels like to be alive.
The National’s set made me feel renewed. The set list was out of this world, to the point where I felt like I had dreamed it up myself and they had played my favourite songs one by one without hesitation. It felt like it was made for me, and those little moments at concerts always feel like things you should revel in for as long as possible. The band started off strong and didn’t really stop until they were all off the stage. Kevin Drew introduced them and they graced us with their presence and immediately began playing “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and I was in awe straight away. I still am.
After the first song, the band transitioned into “I Should Live in Salt,” and the incredible song choices just kept coming. “Afraid of Everyone” hit me to the very core and I yelled the lyrics as if it was the last thing I would do on this earth. Berninger is honest in his words and actions and delivery, and you can’t help but feel that honesty bubble up in yourself. I felt awash with emotion for the entire set. The band brought Hayden out to play “I Need My Girl,” and those five minutes felt like something historic, something that belonged in Toronto and to Toronto. I think half the crowd felt like it was floating. The band went on to play three incredible new songs as well as more old favourites. From “This Is The Last Time” to “Pink Rabbits” to “Fake Empire” to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” The National captivated each audience member. I don’t think I could have taken my eyes off the stage even if I wanted to.
What broke me was “England.” Coincidentally, I had returned from the magical country only a week earlier, and their performance of one of my favourite tracks nearly made me lose my mind. I felt at home and at peace, but I was also ready to wade through the crowd and head to the airport to get on a plane heading East. It was something out of a movie, and I can’t thank the band enough for those small moments of my life that made me feel so full of everything good.
The end of the set was the killer. The show had been phenomenal thus far, but those last two tracks sealed the deal. “Terrible Love” was a dream. “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” was a Kodak moment. We all watched as the set came to an end and the band put so much passion and energy into the performance that they could have gone up in flames at any moment. I felt everything in those last minutes. I felt electric, like only the best shows make you feel. I nearly cried as voices mingled and strained to sing along for the last song. I closed my eyes and willed myself to capture that moment and keep it forever. We’ll have to wait and see if that worked.
I’ve watched dozens of live videos of The National. Dozens. And to be in the thick of things felt surreal. Everything they do is raw and a thousand different things seep into their shows that it’s hard to even pinpoint how I felt throughout the whole thing. I was inspired, I felt vulnerable, I felt so in love with the songs and the band that I would have adored anything they did on stage. Anything. And I’m so grateful I got the chance to see them play right in front of me. I’m so grateful that they reminded me that pain is okay and a fact of life and that hard times breed beautiful things and that good always comes out of the hardest things you go through. And that’s so important.