Toronto’s city-spanning bicycle-powered music festival

Toronto Bicycle Music Festival director James Davis with Tune Your Ride and TBMF performer Dana Sipos and their sweet rides

The fourth annual Toronto Bicycle Music Festival is being held on September 7

By Matthew Talsma

After visiting the Bicycle Music Festival in San Francisco back in 2009, James Davis was eager to bring a similar experience back to Toronto. That festival, organized by Gabe Domingas of Oakland-based band SHAKE YOUR PEACE!, was in its third year at the time, and consisted of up to 20 power-generating bicycles electrifying the festival's sound system. Blown away by the spectacular fusion of two of his favourite things - bikes and music - James set to work organizing a similar event for his home city.

After overcoming some technical obstacles with the pedal-powered sound system (a scaled-down,  three-bicycle arrangement), and getting a few local musicians on board, the first annual Toronto Bicycle Music Festival (TBMF) was ready to roll in the summer of 2010.

The free outdoor event, billed as a "pedal-powered music festival," takes place at various Toronto parks, and is completely human powered. Instruments and sound system are hauled and powered by cyclists. Both performers and audience participants cycle to and between venues. Performances happen at each venue and on the way to each venue, during the group ride. (Audience participants this year can look forward to a solo set by James, from the songs, as well as a troupe of dozens of members from Choir Choir Choir performing while pedalling through the city streets).

Initially, the festival was more of a niche event, attracting mostly downtown cycling enthusiasts and members of the local arts community. Now in its fourth year, James hopes to see audience participants continue to diversify. Love for both music and bikes is common across age, gender, ethnic and cultural differences and the festival aims to unite communities through mutual enjoyment of cycling and great tunes. As James puts it, "any time you bring people together around music and bikes, those are really important commonalities for people from many different cultures." Diverse communities and people new to Toronto "can relate to a new context by seeing these common themes."

In the past, the TBMF held venues at various downtown west-end parks, but this year the festival will be venturing east of Yonge. At the invitation of arts-based community organization Jamii, the event will begin at David Crombie park. From there the festival will cruise to Grange Park, and the party will wrap up at Trinity Bellwoods. The mobile portion of the festival is guided through the city streets critical mass-style, with experienced bike marshals ensuring a smooth and safe ride for performers and participants.

Asked if the mobile music fest ever encounters irritation from other road users, James tells us that the musical ride is always greeted with waves and smiles from those in cars and on foot. It's hard to be bothered by a gaggle of cyclists festively riding through a beautiful city to the sweet tunes of our talented local performers.

The TBMF is a volunteer-run event, with funding from the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils helping to cover costs. This year's festival is sponsored by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), co-presented with the Community Bicycle Network (CBN) and will take place on September 7. The Toronto Bicycle Music Festival is pleased to welcome back the energetic and crowd-moving, Juno-nominated act The Strumbellas for their third year with the festival. Check out the website for the full line-up and additional info here.


Companion pedal-powered event Tune Your Ride is currently underway after a tour kick-off performance last Sunday August 11 at Dufferin Grove Park. TBMF director James Davis and three bike-enthused musicians are pedalling tunes on an epic 500 kilometer tour. The tour began in Toronto and is cycle-powering its way through the eastern part of the province ending in Ottawa, with eight other performances along the way. Details and tour dates on their website.


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