Variety Is the Name of the Game at Squamish Festival

photo by Jonathan Evans Photography (Jonathan Evans and Ryan Rose)

Though the day started off a bit overcast and cool, by the time the first chords were struck by Yukon Blonde on the Stawamus stage, the sun was back in full force. No one was wishing they could be home right now instead of lying on the grass listening to the Kelowna rockers at Squamish Valley Music Festival.

Bath, England’s The Heavy were up next and threw some real soul into the mix. “Sounds like you’ve got the devil in you,” frontman Kelvin Swaby informed us. He was right, but these were not devils of the evil, vicious sort; these were party devils of the carefree, mischievous kind. The little beasts made their way throughout the crowd and it wasn’t long before most of the blanket loungers were up and swaying their hips to tunes like “Short Change Hero”.

First on my chronological list of must-see acts today was The Ballantynes from Vancouver. If you haven’t seen these purveyors of rhtyhm’n’soul and rock’n’roll, do yourself and your ears a favour and catch them on Friday, September the 13th with Brooklyn’s The Jay Vons at The Biltmore Cabaret (then stick around for East Van Soul Club, of course). The band kicked things off on the Market Square stage with a newer song (“Velvet”) off their new EP due out this fall on La-Ti-Da Records, and quickly followed it up with “No Love”, “Misery” and “Faith”.

photo by Jonathan Evans Photography (Jonathan Evans and Ryan Rose)

The devils first felt at the Stawamus stage with The Heavy made their way right into The Ballantynes’ frontman Jarrod Odell, inciting the dashing bandleader to jump and flail and wail on the organ, anything to exorcise the mischievous musical rascals. Vivacious co-lead vocalist Vanessa Dandurand was in charge whenever Odell wasn’t, and somehow enlisted the magical help of Gumby to help fix the Hammond which just couldn’t take the heat. I’m not sure what he did to fix the problem, but it worked, and the seven-piece got right back on track with a rocking rendition of “Stay”.

It was then time to catch the infamous band of gypsy punks from Manhattahan, Gogol Bordello. The colourful, ragtag group treated the committed and the curious to a number of songs of peace, unity and hope, such as “Wonderlust King”, “Dig Deep Enough” (off the new album Pura Vida Conspiracy), “My Companjera”, and the balls-out punk anthem “Immigraniada (We Comin’ Rougher)”. Though bandleader Eugene Hütz (sporting his A Tribe Called Red shirt) missed catching his mic as it came down from a dramatic toss, it didn’t matter a bit. Gogol Bordello are not about perfect execution and rock posturing – they’re about fighting for freedom, and raising a sweaty fist against oppression. Somehow, they manage to do this in an unmatched spirit of frenzied fun. While encouraging us all to “Break The Spell”, they cast their own happy hex and sparked the party on this fine Saturday afternoon.

By the end of Gogol’s set, the party was in full swing throughout the grounds as the sun teased its slow descent and sun-baked Squamishers buzzed from stage to stage and beer garden to beer garden. With our taste for rock sated for the time being, we decided to make our way to The Woodshed where electronic/dance music is king and the beat never stops. Calgary’s Smalltown DJs provided the soundtrack this evening as the body-painted mingled with the onesie-wearing party animals, and the bikini-clad moved through dust clouds kicked up by dancing devils. Smiles were free and given out in abundance. A number of baby bassheads with earplugs were even spotted grooving with their merrymaking mommies.

Now thoroughly danced out, we headed back once again to Stawamus to catch Seattle’s Band of Horses, who have a real knack for creating dense, triumphant rock tunes with driving rhythms, such as “Knock Knock” – “Knocking on the door / Hey, look what’s coming your way / It’s everything I want / It’s everything I need.”

Meanwhile at the Garibaldi stage, Childish Gambino got the majority of Squamishers bopping and grinding down to his clever words and hyperbolic rap proclamations. Gambino could do no wrong. “Are there any black girls here?… There’s two?” he commented, never afraid of injecting some colourful humour into his show. “How about the white girls – are there any white girls here?” This was quickly followed by a high-pitched “woo” that rang as sharp as the sting of a wasp. He didn’t forget his Asian girls either. If Gambino knows how to do anything, it’s please his ladies; that, and get a party going. Following a sample of Adele’s “We Could Have Had It All”, the hip hop hype-man instructed, “Squamish, when this beat drops, I don’t wanna see anybody in the crowd standing still. When this shit drops, I wanna see everybody bouncing. You feel me Squamish?! Give it up! One! Two!! Three!!!”, at which point the mass lost its collective proverbial shit as Gambino continued spitting his ego-soaked rhymes.

I made sure I was back at Stawamus well before Queens of the Stone Age started so I could stake out a good spot, close enough to catch the action on the stage but far back enough from the sardine section so I could rock out freely. Whether you were buzzed on beer, glazed on a joint, spaced on psilocybin, partying with Molly and her friends, or simply high on life and palpable festival energy, the Vibe was electric and contagious.

In my experience, Queens aren’t much for easing into a set. Saturday was no different, as they kicked things off with the pedal-to-the-metal “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” and rock radio staple “No One Knows”. Homme then strayed from Songs for the Deaf, tossing in the bopping march of “Burn The Witch” as the big screens sucked us into a mysterious adventure through dark, eerie woods.

photo by Jonathan Evans Photography (Jonathan Evans and Ryan Rose)

Queens released …Like Clockwork just a few months ago and, as expected, we were treated to a number of cuts from the album, such as the too-cool, bombastic beat of “If I Had A Tail”, the dirty razor-rock of “My God Is The Sun” (an apt anthem for this year’s golden Squamish Festival), and the soul-bearing piano piece, “The Vampyre Of Time And Memory”.

Though an overly ambitious fan managed to make it onto the stage, get in Homme’s way, only to be promptly shoved offstage, the occasionally testy frontman kept his cool and, instead of encouraging the transgressor to consume a bag of *****, asked us to stay safe (i.e. off the stage). I have a feeling things would have gone down differently had this not been a festival, where the crowd is a mixed bag and not necessarily hardcore Queens fans and thus more fickle to a frontman’s disciplinary attempts. But Homme knows the game well, and so kept the ball rolling despite the interruption and some other technical blips (one, ironically, during “Smooth Sailing”).

The only album not referenced during the set was their 1998 self-titled debut. We were reintroduced to the ladies of Lullabies (“Burn The Witch” and “Little Sister”, Lullabies to Paralyze, 2005); got a little lovesick (“Make It Wit Chu” and “Sick, Sick, Sick” off Era Vulgaris, 2007); and injected with the beloved “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer” (Rated R, 2000). The rest of the set consisted of new stuff and songs off the desert rockers’ best-known album to date, Songs for the Deaf (2002), and their latest.

After Queens’ non-encore performance (which I enjoy as I’ve grown tired of the falsity of the customary encore in my old age), it felt as if the show might just be over as an army moved away from Stawamus. But no, Colorado’s Derek Vincent Smith (aka Pretty Lights) had other things in mind. The well-known electronic producer had more than enough to offer to keep the good times going, including (of course), a supercharged light show which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen paralleled, and fan favourites such as “I Can See It In Your Face” and the anthemic “Finally Moving”. This was one of those times where you got that good feeling. One of my highlights from Pretty Lights’ set was the track which first brought me into his world, his moody mix of Radiohead (“Everything In Its Right Place”), Nirvana (“All Apologies”), and Nine Inch Nails (“Closer”).

The Garibaldi area was packed tight all the way to the back, constantly shifting with new revelers bringing new blood to Smith’s soul-jam party, many spinning various glow apparel – sticks, swords, necklaces, glasses. One girl was kindly asked to remove the Marilyn Manson mask she was wearing on the back of her head by the friend of a friend who “was on a bunch of mushrooms and just can’t handle that right now.” She laughed and kindly obliged. Another group of partyers-cum-circus-troupe somehow managed to make a three-person human totem and keep grooving to the beat, perhaps inspired by the other big-tent entertainment on display near the giant can of Canadian; shiny robo-girls shifted and shimmied to the beat as one somehow managed to spin a fire-lit hula hoop around her waist and neck.

Pretty Lights’ feel-good vibes were the perfect way to wrap up Saturday night and another successful Squamish Valley Music Festival.

Alright, that’s enough. I need another shower. Until next year…

photo by Jonathan Evans Photography (Jonathan Evans and Ryan Rose)