Rifflandia Music Festival Ends Summer in Style

Serena Ryder - photo by Erik Lyon
Serena Ryder – photo by Erik Lyon

I really wanted to catch Reuben and the Dark on Friday afternoon but wasn’t able to get away from work in time. There are so many amazing bands that play Rifflandia, it shouldn’t be such a big deal to me that I have to miss a few of them. But each one I have to miss is painful nonetheless. However, the band that I most wanted to see at Rifflandia this year, Born Ruffians, was playing onstage when I got to the park! I was already planning to see them that night at Alix Goolden Hall (they were one of the few bands playing two shows during the festival), so this was a bonus performance. Win! After that was Airborne, which I have to say I wasn’t really too excited about, but it turns out they put on a pretty fantastic show. I didn’t observe this myself, but I am told one of the band members pressed a full beer can against his own head until the beer exploded… That seems like a real commitment to a raucous performance.

After that, Dragonette! Another one I was very excited for. That frontwoman gets her exercise onstage! Between the music and her own physical enthusiasm, the crowd became a dancing mass of happiness in no time. After Dragonette, we all migrated over to the main stage for the sweet musical stylings of Serena Ryder. She started with her smash hit “Stompa“ and then proceeded to blow everyone away with her powerful compositions, complete with soulful lyrics and her signature killer vocals. Then it was on to the night venues. As much as it broke my heart to miss both Del the Funky Homosapien at Phillips Backyard and Jon and Roy at the Victoria Public Market, I had to make a night of it at Alix Goolden Hall. Playing there that night were three bands I could not miss: Horse Feathers, Born Ruffians, and Pickwick. I sat in the upper seating area, from which one can have a full view of the stage. Horse Feathers was just… beautiful, beautiful music. Stringed instruments, lovely vocals – yes, please.

Born Ruffians were just as good the second time in one day. Another high energy show driving the crowd wild. Next up was Pickwick. What I love about Pickwick the most are the beautiful, soulful vocals, so I suppose I had hoped for a set with that energy. What they delivered was a high energy yet soulful rock show, which, all right, it was pretty good, but I couldn’t help but feel a little sad for it not to have been a more mellow, vocal-driven performance.

Saturday was the last night of night venues, which was fine, because starting the festival day at 1:15 PM and going until 2 AM can really take it out of you. I started Saturday with Head of the Herd, whom I knew were going to be great because I’ve seen them before. Head of the Herd are a classy band. A classy hard rock band, that is. They were all in formal black pants (and one skirt) and white shirts. It was a good contrast, all of them looking so pulled-together while they completely rocked out, climbing on speakers and even shoving each other around. They put on a super engaging show and had the entire audience go from standing to sitting to lying down on the ground and back up again. They had attitude, not only encouraging everyone to participate, but even taunting, “If you’re too cool why’d you show up?” Excellent question, sir.

Next up at the main stage were Le Butcherettes. The Rifflandia magazine described them as “Mexican garage punk rock.” I was intrigued. They were an absolute highlight of the festival for me. Again, here is a group that puts on a amazing live show. They wore cute dresses with aprons over them that appeared to have been covered in blood. The frontwoman seemed a little overtaken when she was performing, as if the songs were just being pent up inside of her, and then they were finally bursting out of her in frustration. She got down off of the stage and danced with the crowd, crowd-surfed a little, and essentially just woke us all up, sending us off into the festival feeling energized and alive.

I needed food to sustain myself, so hit the Tacofino food truck for one of their amazingly delicious fish tacos before heading back to the main stage for Death Cab for Cutie. I heard my favourite songs and was satisfied. A stopover at the side stage for Rusko (who plays some quality dance music, it turns out), and it was back to the main stage for New Pornographers. There was a huge crowd for them, and I was pretty far from the stage, but they definitely got the energy of the crowd going, just in time to send us all off to the Saturday night venues.