Rain can’t stop the dancing at Rifflandia finale

Yukon Blonde, RALPH and Busty and the Bass at Rifflandia Music Festival 9/17/17

Busty And The Brass @ Rifflandia
Photo by Erik Lyon

“I say this every time I’m here, but I was born on the island— love it, represent,” said Jeff Innes of Yukon Blonde on Sunday (Sept. 17th), the final day of Rifflandia, Victoria’s four-day all-you-can-dance music festival. The crowd whooped. The costume theme was “Under the Sea”; squid-heads, Poseidons, and big and little mermaids. “Yeah!” said Innes, “yeah, for the sun!” And, as the band launched into “Emotional Blackmail”, the sun shook off the last of the island rain. Somewhere there was bound to be a rainbow.

Saturday had featured blue bird skies and Bonobo headlining. Sunday morning shifted the mood, beginning with rain. Unfortunately for the bands performing first, most attendees seemed content to sleep in and mosey about neighbouring coffee shops. But the afternoon was full of too much talent (RALPH, Busty and the Bass, Yukon Blonde, Moby etc.) to spend all day nursing the aftershocks of the previous night.

Harrison, a Toronto producer in his early 20s, provided the gentle nudge the crowd needed. It’s true that more attendees were sipping coffee than beer and a lot of the crowd was standing far back, so as to continue chatting. But Harrison kept smiling, coaxing ever more dancers to the stage. One fantastic thing about a festival like Rifflandia (and about mellow mid-afternoon dance parties in general) is how kids will completely take over the dance floor. Harrison mumbled indecipherably. We can assume he was saying “Thanks”.

RALPH (Raffa Weyman), performed her synth and disco-inspired art in the Rifftop tent. The crowd bunched in to avoid the rain, giving the set a steamy intimacy entirely in keeping with RALPH’s confessional lyrics and powerful voice. She recounted tales of badly behaved lovers and deception— the music landing at the exact point where the heart grows tired of feeling sorry for itself and, so, decides to throw a dance party.

Fans braved the rain to see Busty and the Bass. Well, it was raining only a little and these guys would have been worth a full deluge. A nine-piece jazz-funk operation, the group met during their first week in McGill’s celebrated jazz program. Since then, they’ve been schooling the country in Advanced Funkonomics. They led with “Memories and Melodies”, a smorgasbord of Alistair Blu’s hip-hop delivery, Nick Ferraro’s vocals and the rest kicking it on the brass, guitar, and keyboard. For a band so big, it was a small miracle that all of the moving parts worked seamlessly and that the sound came out well-balanced. Blu’s delivery was clear and the saxophone hooks arrived right on time. The audience was divided into two distinct camps, the hard-dancers wearing ‘Under the Sea’ costumes and those sensibly wearing Gore-Tex raincoats, who mostly preferred to nod along. Both shared goofy smiles as Busy and the Bass busted out tunes from their aptly titled EP, Uncommon Good.

Yukon Blonde showed us why they’ve become a Canadian darling with a crowd-moving set that included singles like “Emotional Blackmail” and “Crazy” from their upcoming album. While the crowd loved it, Jeff clearly thought some of the newer songs needed fine-tuning. “We’re in the studio right now…five more days and then a new album,” Innes said. “I’m thinking this sucks, we suck.” They didn’t. They played great, despite some ear-splitting speaker feedback that caused Innes to apologize for cussing; so very, very Canadian. The group’s drive for perfection is admirable, even if public self-depreciation is somewhat less than rock & roll. In the meantime, the sun had come out. “Sing along”, Innes prompted on “Stairway,” the band’s finale. “We’re not looking for cadence, just tones.”

The festival, the 10th anniversary of Rifflandia, ‘Under the Sea’, Victoria—it all did feel like home, even for those of us who had a ferry to catch to the mainland. While Monday loomed, anyone fortunate enough to have attended Rifflandia was likely to carry the weekend’s music with them like a piece of perpetual summer, and dream of an island awash in music.