A NEW TURN: Frank Turner checks out The Theatre at Toronto’s Great Canadian Casino Resort, April 16, where he’ll be bringing his Lost Evenings VII Sept. 19-22. (Photo provided)

UK folk and punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner brings his award-winning Lost Evenings festival to Canada for the first time, Sept. 19-22, at Toronto’s The Theatre. Like his previous six festivals, it is well on its way to selling out months in advance.

But, instead of putting the four-day fest into a downtown venue, Lost Evenings VII will be in the northwest, a one-hour drive from the heart of the city, in the new 5,000-capacity venue at the Great Canadian Casino Resort Toronto, about 10 minutes from Pearson International Airport. The Theatre is a new build at the $1 billion renovated and expanded grounds of the former Casino Woodbine. 

In addition to the main stage, there will be a second stage, named after Nick Alexander, Turner’s merchandise manager, who was killed in the 2015 terrorist attack at Paris’ Bataclan theater. There will also be panels, workshops, open-mics and pop-ups, and a Xtra Mile Recordings daytime showcase, under the catch-all banner of Last Minutes.

The main stage line up features Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls headlining all four nights, in addition to support acts:

(Thurs) Acoustic Duo Set with Matt Nasir & Friends, with a spoken word set by Henry Rollins, and a set by Martha Wainwright
(Fri.): Losing Days – songs from the first five albums, with openers Nobro, and Northcote
(Sat.) Hard Core – new album, Undefeated, and punk rock, with openers The Dirty Nil, and OBGMS
(Sun.) Greatest Hits, with openers Bedouin Soundclash, and Murder By Death

Turner was in Toronto this week to promote his self-produced 10th album, Undefeated, which comes out May 3 on Xtra Mile.

Turner who tours non-stop — and in 2022 became one of those gluttons for punishment by playing 50 States in 50 Days with the Sleeping Souls — just announced that he would attempt to set a world record to play the most shows in the most cities in 24 hours – there will be 15 shows in the UK on May 4-5. Meanwhile, he is currently touring the U.S.

Just before heading to the Toronto airport, Turner went up to the Great Canadian Casino Resort to check out The Theatre. He called VenuesNow from the venue to discuss what he saw and what his vision is for Lost Evenings.

(Photo provided)

VenuesNow:At your Indie88 “on the record” chat and performance last night (April 15) at Dine Alone Records, you told a great story about how Lost Evenings came to be and the last minute wristbands. Can you re-tell it?

Frank Turner: Most people were encouraging me to have my own thing, which is a cool idea. But all the ideas being thrown at me were copies of things that other people were already doing, like Flogging Molly’s cruise. I don’t want to step on other people’s toes. My friends in the band Wolf Alice did a three-night stand at the Forum in London, instead of doing one big arena show, because it was their first record. They didn’t want to go up to that size venue just yet. I stole that idea from them. 

The first year was an experiment. We’ve all played and worked a million festivals; we’ve not run one before. There were an awful lot of Hail Mary logistics going on. The first Lost Evenings, about an hour before doors, somebody was just like, “What about wristbands?” Some poor intern got sent off to a party supply store to buy 12,000 different colored wristbands. But we made it work, and then we did the second year. We fine tune the lessons we’ve learned and now it’s become the beast that it is. 

Did you have any concern about picking a venue so far from downtown, where Toronto music fans are used to going to shows?

Not especially. The choice of venue for Lost Evenings is a complicated thing because you’ve got to have a certain number of spaces that are modular, because it’s not just a normal show. We have a second stage; we have panel and discussion groups; we have an open mic section; we have a charity area. There’s a lot of different stuff going on. There’s a lot of people coming to Toronto for the show; there’s a lot of people traveling as well. There are tons of hotels around here, so for out of towners, that makes life easier. For the people in Toronto, it’s a little bit of a drive, so I’m hoping it’ll be alright to make the journey. I’ll meet them 99% of the way there.

One of the things I’m doing today is a walkthrough from the audience point of view, which is really important to me.  I want to know what it’s like. Where do you come in? Where do you stand? Where’s the second stage? How do you get there? Where’s the bar? All that kind of thing. I think it’s a great space. It doesn’t necessarily have the 19th century vaudevillian character, in the way that some of the places that we’ve done these Lost Evenings have, but it’s functional. The sound is amazing. The sightlines are great. 

I have seen the space top to bottom. Where’s the second stage going to be?

Second stage is going to be down the right-hand side of the room as you look at the stage. It’s going to hold 500 people. We stagger the stages, so you have a main stage at the back, while prepping the second stage and vice versa. The second stage is much smaller than the main stage. It’s generally newer, up and coming bands. We’re going to build a PA in there. It’s going to be great.

Casinos used to have a bad rap, right?  But the last 10 years, that stereotype has gone.  Have you played casinos before?

I know what you’re talking about. The thing is, at a certain age, the idea of just staying in one place while you play and people coming to you doesn’t sound terrible to me. I’m not sure if personally I want to do that in Las Vegas. Maybe Reno. I am just kidding because traveling around is one of my favorite things about touring. The fact that you get to see the world. But, I’m a diehard Elvis fan, and the Vegas years of Elvis have been colored by the end of them. But at the beginning, the Vegas residency was one of the coolest, most innovative shows in rock and roll history. So, I’m going to stick with that stereotype. 

Where else would you like to take Lost Evenings and what’s the criteria? 

It’s fun moving it around the world. Last year, we did California; this year, Toronto. Everybody’s now screaming at me about the fact we’ve done two North America in a row. And I hear you, the world (laughs). We have the next one booked. The tradition has become that I announced the city for the next year on stage on the last night. So we have got it prepped and ready to go. I’m not going to tell you what it is because I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but I will say it’s going to be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

You wouldn’t ever want to have it as a touring festival in multiple cities each year?

I don’t think so, partly because I’m trying to fit Lost Evenings into my existing tour schedule around bigger shows. The guys in my band refer to Lost Evenings as the annual exam because we play 9 million songs that we don’t usually play all year. It’s a ton of work. No one is allowed to say the words “Lost Evenings” for one month after we finish our Lost Evenings. I love the idea of being able to do normal tours and then also have Lost Evenings as this special annual gathering. 

This is your first time here in Canada. Talk about the lineup.

Loads of my favorite bands are Canadian. That’s gonna sound like I’m pandering. Growing up in the UK, before the internet, as I did, North American music is pretty undifferentiated. I got a bit older and realized that so many of my favorite bands, Propagandhi, the Weakerthans, Godspeed You!, Black Emperor, Broken Social Scene, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young — all these people are Canadian. I wanted to have an all-Canadian bill, basically. We’ve got a couple of exceptions. One of them is Henry Rollins, which is just like, come on, it’s Henry Rollins. 

He can be an exception to the rule My friends in Murder by Death are a dear old friend of mine. They are from Indiana, so not quite Canadian, but everybody else, like the Dirty Nil, Nobro, OBGMS, and Northcote. There’s loads of Canadian bands that I’ve toured with, like Pup, Arkells, Billy Talent; where I’m hoping they’ll come down and hang out, maybe play a song. I’m in their hometown. 

Then you guys can play at the casino. Don’t lose all the money you’re getting paid for the shows.

Yeah, all the merch money goes on black 13 at the end of the night. I’m fortunate that there have been many addictions that have plagued my life, and gambling is not one of them. It just does nothing to me.