My Bestival Toronto Experience: Mismanagement, Food Waste, and Cultural Appropriation

Bestival Toronto 2015 - 1

Photo: Bestival Toronto Facebook Page

This past weekend the British festival outfit Bestival made its North American debut in Toronto where they spared no expense: from mismanaged ferry service to and from the Toronto islands, unnecessary food waste, to cultural appropriation, the event planners pulled out all the stops to make this one of the worst festivals Toronto has seen in years.

When Bestival announced that it was coming to Toronto back in February 2015, I was initially excited and was one of the first people to purchase a ticket. However, as time passed, the more I learned about the festival, and the less excited I became. I even tried to sell my ticket, to no avail, and I ended up attending both days of the festival. Here are some of the critical problems I encountered during the two-day event:

Disorganized Ferry Service

When planning a large event in Toronto, on the islands, it is crucial to factor in the number of people that will be going to and from the Island. One major crux to this festival was the inefficiency to ferry attendees from one point to another; ferry service was limited at best, many people were forced to wait hours on end in cages with very limited space to move, while some people were reporting boats leaving well under capacity. My own personal experience had myself almost being crushed at Jack Layton Ferry Terminal once the gates were opened to let attendees onto a long-awaited ferry.

Bestival sold over 15 000 tickets to the event and it seemed little was done to control the crowd which led to dangerous results:

Unnecessary Waste

In a world with increasingly limited resources, where nearly half of all food produced worldwide is wasted[1], unnecessary waste should be avoided at any costs. In Toronto alone single-family households throw away approximately 250 kilos of food waste every year[2] while hunger in the GTA is on the rise with Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto stating in their annual Who’s Hungry Report[3] that 41% of adults in the city of Toronto go hungry at least once a week, while 16% of children go hungry at least once per week.

What does this have to do with Bestival?

Before even entering the festival grounds attendees were told to throw out all food they had brought with them. This included anything from homemade sandwiches, packaged gum or candy, pre-packaged energy bars, to any food of any kind at all.

Essentially, festival-goers were forced to pay for over-priced food with few healthy options and smokers would have to purchase cigarettes at a premium from the booth: Lighters, Matches and more.

I witnessed people in front of me in line at security being told to throw away a whole backpack filled with pre-packaged and homemade food. Which resulted in full garbage bags by the entrance that were filled with perfectly good food and other items, which were assumedly thrown away afterwards.

The festival does have a list posted on their website of what is and is not allowed onto the grounds, however judging by the amount of waste that was seen it would have been more appropriate to e-mail all ticketholders this information a couple days before the festival to reduce waste being brought to the island.

Cultural Appropriation

The amazing Bollywood stage at #BestivalTO

A post shared by Bestival Toronto (@bestivaltoronto) on

The appropriation of Desi culture for the entertainment of festival-goers was one of the most upsetting, nausea-inducing components of this festival. I do not claim to be an expert on the issue of cultural appropriation, but no experts were needed to bear witness to the “exoticism” of several elements of a minority’s culture for the entertainment of the majority.

The festivals website outlines its use of appropriation perfectly for you by first highlighting “The Mystical Eclipse Clan, holding court at the Bollywood stage,” where they describe the “chakra-o-matic” bindis and acrobatic, “Acro Buddhas.”

Bestival describes Desi culture in its own words:

“Check out The Mini-Bindi Adventure-Box featuring a bindi-distributing mermaid princess who may just bless you with one of her extra-special aquatic & chakra-o-matic lucky bindi charms.“ – Bestival Toronto,

“..,our fantastic Day of the Dead Cocktail Bus, some really incredible Day Of The Dead Body Painting, all serenaded by incredible mariachi band Mexico De Noche, acrobatics and yoga from Acro Buddhas…” – Bestival Toronto,

Appropriation of Hindu gods was also proudly on display:

What really puts the final nail in the coffin is the lack of any visible attempt from the festival planners to invite and incorporate any artists from the Desi community to participate in the planning of the event or even appearing on the bill:

And this did not go unnoticed:

In fact, you can also read a conversation one other Twitter user had with the festival’s co-organiser on the problematic issue of brining the Bollywood tent from Britain to Canada in this Storify article.

In the end, I wished I had done more research before buying a ticket and giving my money over to an organization that seemed to care so little for others despite proclamations of their will to “Increase the Peace,” which were ironically plastered in big letters atop the main stage.

Going forward… If the Brit Festival is to continue in North America, I encourage Bestival organizers to consider the safety of festival-goers attending the event, I hope they will re-think how they handled food waste and move forward with a more eco-friendly, and socially-responsible way to reduce waste at the gates, and that they will not only take time to listen to members of the Desi community but also invite them to participate in the organization of a future event.

As humans, I truly believe that we all are better when we’re working together and hopefully my shared experience at this festival can serve as a jumping-off point for any future festivals in Toronto.


[1] David Suzuki Organization:

[2] David Suzuki Organization:

[3] Daily Bread Annual ‘Who’s Hungry Report 2014’,


10 thoughts on “My Bestival Toronto Experience: Mismanagement, Food Waste, and Cultural Appropriation

  1. U mad? I went both days and had an amazing time. Of course there is going to be a bottleneck with 15,000 people trying to leave the island at the same time. I planned to leave a few minutes early each day and never experienced any major issues with the ferries. As for cigarettes and food being thrown away at the gates, try ~*~checking the website~*~. It was clearly stated that unsealed cigarettes and food were not permitted, so plan accordingly next time. Finally, try proofreading before publishing. It hurt me to read this shit.

    TL;DR – Comment above mine nailed it ^


  2. Did you even go to a single stage to see an act? Every single performance was brilliant. The diverse lineup of artists catered to everyone, and they strayed away from mainstream house artists that plague Veld and DD. The ferry line sucked, yes, but there were rules posted about bringing food in. Compared to other festivals, the drinks and food inside were actually cheaper.

    Having been to many over the years, the was by far the best festival Toronto has even seen. I’m surprised you didn’t blame Bestival for the rain.


    • Of course, for the most part the lineup was not diverse but I agree it did have something for everyone. They also had an amazing set up, I liked that they had lounge areas set up where you could still see the stage so people could chill or party and still have the same experience. They did a great job!


  3. Sorry. Going to have to call you out on some of your points.

    1. There is *always* a line to enter and exit any festival, especially right at the beginning and especially at the end. Yes, this was exacerbated by the need to take a ferry, but everyone was informed that this festival was on an ISLAND and that there would be a ferry. Plan accordingly.

    Now, more could and should have been done with regard to crowd control at the end of the first night but I think that can be chalked up to this being the first time this event has been staged on these grounds and I felt that steps were being taken to address this concern, and an extra ferry was commissioned for the second night.

    2. Food waste, again this was clearly addressed and there are few, if any, major music festivals that allow anyone to bring in their own food and drinks. This isn’t entirely as cash grab, it is a liability issue. Food and drinks could easily be used to smuggle things like drugs and alcohol into the festival. There have been many reports of overdoses, leading to serious medical emergencies and even death. This puts the safety of the festival and its attendees in danger.

    The festival did, in fact, allow unopened packages of gum and cigarettes to go through security. This information was available on the website and marked very clearly. It seems like you are upset that you or other attendees didn’t “educate” and inform yourself about the rules of the festival. Again, food waste is on you.

    3. For someone that seems to have such a problem reading or informing oneself of rules and logistics, you sure are calling this festival out for the same behaviour. But, I didn’t actually see any gods or religious symbols being appropriated at the Bollywood stage. Yes, there were flourishes of Indian architecture and mainstream Indian styling. Sure, we can throw a bit of side-eye at the”extra-special aquatic & chakra-o-matic lucky bindi charms.“ ” but even bindis are largely considered mainstream jewelry in India. Sure, the stage and bindis have been removed from their traditional context, however, mainstream, mass market culture is often imported across boarders.

    The Bollywood stage is not on the same level as wearing a First Nations headdress or displaying Hindu Gods for fashion. There are rules and protocols surrounding those and those rules and protocols are significant and to be respected. However, there are no such protocols surrounding mass market culture and styling.

    Of course there are issues with cultural appropriation and there is a very fine line that Bestival tread uncomfortably close to, perhaps slightly crossing it at times, but it was not as offensive or inappropriate as you are stating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1. It’s not about personal planning it’s about the festival planning for our safety. I agree with you people need to plan and I did that, hence why I was only stuck waiting for a ferry to go to the island. I wasn’t crazy enough to wait until the end! lol

      2. Cigarettes and some other items are not on their list. That being said who cares about cigarettes because they aren’t needed anyway… It sucks seeing things thrown out for no reason! Also, they were making people throw out sealed packages of gum. And c’mon, you really want to defend wasting food? The amount could have been reduced with proper planning. And saying “oh well it’s posted somewhere on the website, why didn’t you go look for it?” isn’t an excuse.

      3. They are in the photos in this article. Read the comments on the photos too. People were clearly offended by it. I’m not sure what you mean but saying Desi culture isn’t on the same level as Native culture… to me all cultures have value and we shouldn’t rank one higher than the other. I also think there may have been some sort of cultural misunderstanding, as I am aware that Desi culture was very “mainstream” in the late 60s and into the 70s, so maybe people in England don’t see it as appropriation because they grew up with it – but it still is appropriation.

      It’s only offensive to people who care and I totally get that. You want to have innocent fun and ignore the bad going on around you and I don’t blame you for that.

      Don’t get me wrong it was a great festival! I had lot’s of fun seeing Florence, Shamir, catching a bit of Flume, and I loved how they really transformed the island!

      I hope they come back next year and I hope they learn from their mistakes.


      • It feels as though you may be choosing what you do and do not want to read.
        “Allowed Items

        • Sealed: cigarette packages, tampons, packs of gum, and chapstick/lip gloss”

        I’m not defending wasting food, I am saying that the blame for the wasted food in your post is *misplaced*.

        And regarding cultural appropriation, being offended doesn’t mean you are right.
        “I’m not sure what you mean but saying Desi culture isn’t on the same level as Native culture”, I am not sure where you are reading that? I pretty much said that there are parts of *any* culture that are sacred and hold meaning that cannot and should not be divorced from the proper context and displayed without proper reverence. However, there are parts of culture that are shared, ie: mainstream or pop culture.

        Example, wearing moccasins is not the same as wearing a headdress. Use of architecture and styling is not the same as displaying gods and sacred symbols.

        And yeah, I get it, no one wants to feel like their culture is a trend. We should not be exploiting other cultures, however, there is space for a respectful sharing of ideas and art. I think that is what Bestival was trying to do. And yeah, there were definitely a few points where I wondered if the theme in places was going a tad too far, it did make me think a lot about culture and how to respect an honor other cultures while still enjoying them out of their own context. It was pretty though provoking actually and caused me to go back and learn a bit more and isn’t that what great art is supposed to do?


      • There was no mention of cigarettes on the list that I saw yesterday. Maybe I missed it. Again… don’t really care about cigarettes.

        I’ll have to agree to disagree on your argument of appropriation.

        Definitely agree with you for respectful sharing of ideas and art, it’s just a shame Bestival doesn’t agree with us! Maybe next year they will. I don’t think Bestival should pack up and leave. It’s a learning experience. I hope they become more involved with the community next time and show more respect to the environment.

        And doesn’t this blog and these comments prove your point? We are all talking about it now. So I guess they did do something right! I think there is definitely a way to positively engage communities, keep people safe, be good to the environment, and still have fun. If you disagree with me, that is perfectly okay with me too!

        I appreciate your comment! Thank you 🙂


  4. you wrote a review of a music festival and did not mention the music at all…that’s a little weird.

    Ok, the ferry situation was not ideal, but then again what did you expect when roughly 20k people try to leave the island all at once and there is no municipally ran ferry service that readily handles that amount of people? They added signage the 2nd night and definitely took steps to make the system safer. Was it fast? Hell no, but the same long waits are issues at all island based festivals around the world (see the original bestival, and governors ball for other examples).

    the bollywood stage…ahhh where to start….did you see the inflatable church? no comments about that….Any comments about the number of raves that have been held in churches looking for some extra money recently? and the claim that a minority is being exploited….last i checked there were over 1 billion hindus around the world…so not exactly the little man being picked on here. but that gets away from the point…it’s bollywood…it’s not a temple, it’s not a sacred zone….it’s bollywood. it’s meant to be an over the top exotic celebration of life and dance and spectacle….just like the actual bollywood. Do you get as bent out of shape when you see a chinese party with a Hollywood theme?

    and the food waste….yea it sucks. no way around that. but there are rules that need to be abided by. Sealed packages of gum/cigarettes/water were allowed. I didn’t like seeing people have to throw out sunscreen (that really sucked) but a lot of these issues are due to insurance companies that are covering the event. Can’t really blame these promoters in particular for dealing with the same issues every other event deals with in a similar fashion. When was the last time you were able to bring a sandwich into the molson ampitheatre?


Leave a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s