Back in 2008 I attended the original installment of the Pemberton Music Festival. It was a weekend plagued with traffic congestion, intense winds thick with dust and a general feeling that the promoter did not have control of things, especially its volunteers.
With all this in mind, I was actually excited to see the festival return for a 2014 addition. With a new promoter, Huka Entertainment, and a great lineup, I felt this could be something very special. The location alone is beautiful and majestic, it would just take some organization and a well-thought-out plan of attack by the new team at the helm.
On the morning of Friday, July 18th 2014, I packed up the rental car and set off on my adventure.
The drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway was filled with marvelous views, and sunny blue skies.
After settling in to my hotel in Whistler, I scuttled over to the shuttle. It was a quick 30 minute jaunt to the festival grounds.
I had arrived, and I was ecstatic.
The first act I heard, while walking through the main gates, was American rapper, G-Eazy. His fluid lyrics were streaming through the air, as the crowd at his feet danced feverishly. It was a great point in the set to walk in on, because things were in full swing, and the energy level was at a ten. The set was solid. G-Eazy has the chops to hold his own. It made me wonder what he would do at his own headlining show, and how he would close out a full set.
I worked my way through the audience to watch Yukon Blonde at the Blackcomb stage. The Kelowna-native rockers were in good spirits. Jeff Innes planted himself behind the mike, as he howled through each song. The performance was a far cry from the previous hip-hop show, but was a fun watch none the less. Glad to see a local band, draw such a hefty crowd. On to the next show.
One of the top performances at the festival, came from the good old boys in Cage The Elephant. I stood at the foot of the stage, eagerly waiting for brothers Matt and Brad Shultz to meander to the forefront with the rest of their crew. They leapt into their set with ferocity. It didn’t take long for Matt to scale down and climb into the audience. He rolled around atop their outstretched hands, as he screamed through the lyrics. After returning to the stage, he ripped off his shirt and cravat, and let the music take control. Like a man possessed he wobbled around the stage with his spazmatic movements contorting his body. His brother Brad’s visage exploded with red-faced emotional intensity, as if willing his guitar to pour forth its thundering delivery. The entirety of the band was rowdy, and captivating. The audience was enthralled by the offering, made obvious by their equal part sweat and ear-to-ear smiles. Kudos to the band, they always deliver.
Blondie was still playing at the Whistler stage, so I made my way over. As I got close I saw the golden locks of Debbie Harry blowing in the breeze, while her fist pumped in the air with an anthemic rhythm. From what I heard of the set, it was solid. Debbie’s vocals were clear, and the band was tight. I have never been a huge fan of the band, but the excitement circling the throng filtered into me. I found myself bobbing my head and mouthing the words to every lyric I could remember. She truly was captivating.
From there it was a straight shot to the Mt. Currie to catch the leader of OFWGKTA; Tyler Gregory a.k.a. Tyler, The Creator. Even though I know his whole stage schtick is to antagonise his audience, I am always taken back by the belittling things he has to say, but then he steps into his set and it all seems fine once again. His stage presence seems to be getting stronger. Mr. Gregory works the entirety of the stage, stalking back and forth like a lion pacing in its pen. His rhymes are delivered with a certain aggression that stirs up the mob before him, and fills them with explosive energy. Tyler in turn builds off the energy, and further intensifies his delivery. This symbiotic relationship grows and grows until it culminates into unified mass of leaping on-lookers dotted with more than a dozen crowd surfers drifting across its surface. This presentation was passionate. Tyler, The Creator, we salute you.
It was time to eat, the smells of festival food always set my saliva glands to into overdrive. Mini donuts, buckets of poutine, pulled pork sandwiches, sweet mother of Jebus was it all delicious. I waddled away, and set forth to the Pemberton stage.
Once in position I laid back and watched Chris Cornell and his mates in Soundgarden as they permeated the air with thick rifted delicacies. Cornell’s vocals were on point, his powerful voice drifted through the air and had much of the audience on their feet chanting along. Kim Thayil, the lead guitarist, seemed to effortlessly fire through every song, his long mane flowing in the gentle wind. It seemed surreal, it seemed so laid back. I remember when I categorized Soundgarden as hard-rock, of course I was 16 and had red and blue hair, dyed with Koolaid packs. Now they feel like a classic, beautiful car, their comforting engine rumbling with great precision, forcing you to close your eyes, grin and rock your head in time. Their set was near flawless, and definite highlight of the first day.
Near the midway of the set, I scampered over the the Whistler stage to catch Empire of the Sun. Having seen them a few months earlier, I knew what to expect and I was eager. The main man is Luke Steele. He rose from the rear of the stage, the backdrop a blaze with vivid, bright colors. Every member of the group was adorned in some over the top outfit, while two dancers worked the stage in constantly changing costumes. The whole thing felt like some futuristic adventure, in a different dimension where music and comradery reign supreme. The whole set was beautifully orchestrated. At one point Luke found a superfan in the front and dragged her onto the stage. The horde of onlookers ate it up. Empire of the Sun do great work, and you should seek them out should you have the chance.
The day was starting to near the end, I only had a couple more artists to check out. I found some more food to consume and then made my way to the Mt. Currie Stage.
We all waited at the stage to see Kendrick Lamar.
And we waited.
After a 50 minute delay, the stage lights erupted into a fury of color, as Kendrick and company stormed the stage. The audience was excited to say the least. Some of the people in the front said they had waited over two hours to ensure the best spot. Kendrick’s performance was strong, he has grown quickly while his hype machine has been steadily echoing his name through the industry. He powered through each song with an aggressive demeanor, while his band was all smiles behind him. His inter-song banter was short and sweet, which left more room for pumping beats and his fast-paced lyrical wizardry. The man can spit, he can hold an audiences attention and have them waiting on baited breath. He lives up to the hype, and killed his set. Kendrick Lamar is worth the wait.
After that delightful site, I grabbed a drink and hurried over to the Pemberton stage. It was time for the headliner of the day; Nine Inch Nails.
I setup shop right in front of the stage.
Trent Reznor and the rest of the Nine Inch Nail minions took to the stage on schedule. I was relieved I didn’t have to deal with any delays again.
The set started off with intense front spot lights illuminating each member of the band, they then dove into Copy Of A the second single from 2013’s Hesitation Marks. Every member was fueled by a fevered aggression, with animalistic emotion contorting their faces as they growled through the song. Mr. Reznor was particularly hypnotic, his face dripping with sweat as he fired out every lyric into this microphone.
The lighting for the set was minimalist, but was made very interesting by the use of white backdrops placed behind each artist. Alternating lights would cast varying shadows across those canvases, making for a great visual texture.
By the end of the Nine Inch set I was impressed. I have seen them perform a few times before, but this felt more grand and more visceral. It felt like they had gone just a little bit harder. Outside of Trent, I was really impressed with Robin Finck. He seemed so effortless in his finger work, traversing the fret board with ease.
All in all, the whole performance was tight.
For those of you interested, here is the set list.
Setlist Copy of A Sanctified Came Back Haunted 1,000,000 March of the Pigs Piggy Terrible Lie Closer Gave Up Me, I’m Not Find My Way The Great Destroyer Eraser Wish Only The Hand That Feeds Head Like a Hole
Encore The Day the World Went Away Hurt
It was now time to jump back on the bus and head to Whistler for food and and some much needed sleep.
The morning of the second day, I meandered around Whistler for a bit. I needed to relax my legs, all that walking around that huge, gorgeous venue the day before had done them in.
I showed up midway through Dinosaur Jr.’s set. They were their usual crunchy bit of rock n’ roll awesome. I caught about three songs and then headed over to catch the last bit of Wild Belle. It was quite a juxtaposition. The female lead, Natalie Bergman, has this soulful, soothing tone. A perfect pairing for the overcast sky, and warm breeze drifting across the field.
After the set, I moved with the crowd over to watch the choppy rock stylings of Metz. The boys in this band are great fun to watch, and present a pleasant throwback to the 90’s. I lost myself in their visceral display, then my stomach demanded some nourishment, so I trekked over to the eateries. Mini-donuts caught my attention, they were both delicious and addictive. Such a dangerous combination.
It was at that time, I had to make my first tough decision. Was it going to be TV on the Radio, or was it going to be Violent Femmes? I chose to catch TV on the Radio.
Looking across the giddy faces in the audience, I knew I had made the right decision. Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone and the others sauntered before us. Tunde made a couple quick comments, smiled and then they started off. It was a slow climb, starting the show with Young Liars, the initial sounds flowed out across the field. It was soft and delicate, but then it grew, and it grew. The energy swelled and passion heated up, songs like The Wrong Way and Dancing Choose. It was a perfect journey, a walk through a rich tapestry of musical mastery. They were phenomenal.
With a glow on my face, I strutted over to the Laugh Camp tent to catch some comedy. Natasha Leggero took to the stage. At first I was taken back by how pretty she was, but as soon as she started her set I was so impressed with her writing that I got lost in the jokes. My sides were splitting by the time she left the stage. Though it felt like much of the crowd was not really into her style. It was their loss, she was fucking delightful.
Young The Giant were next up on the docket, so I steamed over to their show. The band came out to an eager crowd. The band was all smiles as they slipped on their instruments. Sameer Gadhia is such a charismatic front man. He stood before his keyboard, and pulled his vintage-style chrome microphone to his lips. From the first note he was exuding emotion. Eric Cannata strutted around the right of the stage, working his body with every strum of his starburst Fender. François Comtoisjust couldn’t stop grinning as he battered his drum skins with fervor. They delivered the most fun set of the day by having the most fun on stage, themselves.
Again I was confronted with a choice, Snoop Dogg or The Flaming Lips. I decided I would go catch the opening few songs of The Flaming Lips and then watch the rest of Snoop-A-loops show.
Wayned Coyne is a must have for a great festival, he brings a magical sense of wonder to his performance.
The stage was dressed like a psychedelic dream. Mushrooms and rainbows and flowing colors. Wayne, dressed in a Slim Goodbody suit, began things off with The Abandoned Hospital Ship. The psychedelic rock stirred the field of onloookers as the vivid colors on the stage entranced them. Confetti canons fired bits of colored paper into the air. This is what festivals are all about. The audience, and myself, were caught in Waynes tractor beam. I managed to pull myself loose near the fifth song, The Golden Path. I made a b-line for the Pemberton stage to catch Mr. Dogg.
As I reached the main stage, I was treated to Lodi Dodi. I had been waiting 20 years to hear that song live. I was immediately swept up in the offering.
Snoop and his crew worked it. I watched in awe, as he spit fire all over the stage. This would be the third time I have seen him live, and this was by far the most energetic performance to date.
From a hip-hop god to a hip-hop newcomer, I jetted over to watch Chance The Rapper at the Bass Camp stage.
The mob of music lovers were very excited. Chance The Rapper is known for his explosive expositions. He finally took to the stage. Backlit by an enormous led screen, his fast-moving silhouette darted around, as he swooned those in attendance with his charismatic delivery. Chance was solid, he brought his A-game. It was wonderful to see how much he had matured since I saw him last year at the Commodore Ballroom back on December 16th 2013 – photo gallery.
I was now on to the last show of the day.
Looking out over at the festival, thick, grey clouds ominously floated above. The threat of rain was constant.
The eager horde was prepping themselves for a the fury of fun-loving dance beats they were about to experience.
A Canadian and a British Columbian flag flew above the audience, with Deadmau5 about to take the stage, it just felt right.
The stage lights dimmed, and the Deadmau5 DJ rig illuminated. At first it was blasting out what looked like video cuts from the Lord Of The Rings opening credits.
That was the last moment of calm, for almost the next two hours. That familiar mouse head poking over the light board as auditory pleasures tickled our brains.
That thumping bass rapping through your soul as everyone jumped in unison.
Just then it started to rain. A mild drizzle dripped down my head as I stared at the optical awesomeness.
As the last beat banged through my chest, I was in awe. The show was spectacular and capped the second day off with an exclamation point.
I walked me weary body over to the buses, and stood in line. Once again, I needed to feed myself and rest my aching bones.
The anticipation for day three coursed through my veins.
On Sunday morning I woke up with a horrible pain in my left foot.
After a delicious meal at Mongolie Grill in Whistler, it was back on the coach liner to Pemberton.
The skies were dark and once again the rain threatened to fall.
I walked over to the Pemberton stage to take in Hallelujah Train with Daniel Lanois and Pastor Brady Blade.
It was the perfect way to start my lazy Sunday. Laying in the grass, I took in every minute of the soulful sounds. The pastor was charismatic as he moved his towering frame around the stage. The southern-soul, church music was beautiful. The only thing I could think was – “Yes, we need more of this”.
As the set ended, I limped over to the Blackcomb stage to check Toronto’s own Fucked Up. The hardcore punk band is the anthesis of the gentle sounds og the previous act.
Damian Abraham ran a few minutes late, but soon graced the stage. I was shocked to see him with a shirt on, because I had never seen a photo of him so “dressed up”. By midway through the first song he ripped off his top and jumped down from the 7 foot high stage. He proceeded to power through the next two songs while interacting with the audience. It was all smiles, and tom foolery as he acted a fool. Wrapping his mic chord around his head, pouring someones water bottle over his beard, and screaming into the festival video camera from a half inch away. At one point he even started posing with all the photographers in the media pit.
My energy level was now ramped up, and I was ready to attack the rest of the day.
Up next we had the lovable Lindsey Stirling, and her body-contorting dance moves.
Ms. Stirling was punctual. She stepped on stage while the opening music played. Her violin was beautifully lit by the colorful spot lights.
She had this fast-paced, jester-like movement on the stage. Lively leaping around with a effortless fluidity. The sweet resonating of her viola permeated the air. I had never thought she would be such a force on that stage. I was surprised. I walked away as a new fan.
Walking away from the Whistler stage, I found a group of people that had come dressed as a tennis team. I walked with them for a bit, and found myself in the field listening to Rebelution. A good-times reggae beat trickled over me. I felt the punching sounds of the trumpet and saxaphone adding to the groove. A steady stream of onlookers began to stand up, and release themselves to the music. Soon the field was full of dancers. It was nice to see a band bring so many people to the same type of feeling.
Rebelution ended and I headed over to the Laugh Camp, it was time for some more funny business. The magnificent Brian Posehn took to the stage. His cleverly-written-yet-low-brow-disguised humor is always hilarious. His observational take on his aging body and the dealings of his day to day life with his family, were both funny and easy to identify with. By the time he left the stage I was glad he had gone, I don’t think my stomch could take one more laugh.
I scampered over to the main stage to catch Anne Erin “Annie” Clark with her band St. Vincent. This elusive group had been on my must-see list for some time. Each chance I had to see them, I had some last minute problem that prevented it. I was not going to miss her in this instance.
Annie shuffled to her mic in her usual quirky style. They started the set off with Rattlesnake. It was a tight number. I was captivated. They rolled through Digital Witness directly into Cruel. I still could not look away. Ms. Clark had this mysterious sexiness about her that wouldn’t let me go. She would take her guitar and point it around like a gun, her eyes gazing from behind the fret board. Such intriguing theatrics.
I watched the end of St. Vincent’s set and then took off to cath the always wonderful Modest Mouse.
It seemed that everyone else had the same idea, as the mass of onlookers swelled to close of that of any of the headliners thus far.
Isaac Brock and his troupe took to the stage, and rushed right into Dramamine slowly rolling it into Life Like Weeds. The droves of people started singing along, and swaying to the rhythm. The one thing I kept thinking about their set is it just felt right. They felt like the missing piece to the day. A crucial rock n’ roll component. There live version of Lampshades On Fire had me closing my eyes, and rocking my head. It was a perfect moment. After their hefty 17 song offering, it was on to the last show of the night, well the last one for me. Due to some unchangeable circumstances I could not stick around for Frank Ocean. *insert violin music here*
Modest Mouse Set List Dramamine / Life Like Weeds Ocean Breathes Salty I Came as a Rat Sugar Boats Bukowski Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset Pistol A Different City Dashboard The World at Large Tiny Cities Made of Ashes Lampshades On Fire Float On Doin’ the Cockroach Shit In Your Cut The Good Times Are Killing Me
Encore This Devil’s Workday
With no break between Modest Mouse and the days headliners, Outkast, it was a mad dash to the main Pemberton Stage.
Big Boi and Andre 3000 started off in a giant semi-transparent cube lit up to look like the American flag. They began the night with B.O.B from their 4th studio album, Stankonia. I was in nostalgic bliss. From their they rolled into Gasoline Dreams and straight through to ATLiens. Things were off on the right foot, the audience and I were eating it all up.
Andre 3000 and Big Boi worked the stage with a masterful stroke.
Andre was in what looked like a black ski suit with text on the chest reading ‘Pray theres a god at the end of all this”, with a big red sold sign dangling off of it. Some sort of an artistic or political statement, I was not sure though. Big Boi looked like a classic gangster in his Outkast hoodie and big gold chain.
As the set came to close, the masses filtered over to the Frank Ocean show, while I escaped to the buses.
The festival was amazing.
The staff behind the scenes were well-organized, courteous and extremely helpful. The festival itself ran like a well-oiled machine. With the only major delay for an artist being Kendrick Lamar.
Back in 2008, I had high expectations about the initial festival, but felt like it was a misfire. This 2014 edition was how it should have been done in the first place. Granted the new promoter had the mistakes of the previous promoter to work off of, it still was pulled off even better than I could have imagined.
The biggest complaint about the festival was the walk from the parking lot to the camping spots. As I didn’t camp I can’t speak to that, but I heard it was awful. As long as they can rectify that, I think the 2015 edition would yield a huge spike in attendance.
I look forward to the future, and wish nothing but great things for this festival, and the people behind it. Western Canada has needed a destination festival for years, and this fits that bill nicely. We have such beautiful landscapes here, and Mt. Currie makes for one of the best ones we have in BC.
The last thing I want to say is about the people in attendance. I may not be a season veteran when it comes to festivals, but I have been to my share. The people at this event were always happy, and always courteous. At no time did I see anyone fight, nor did I even see anyone yelling. Everyone was relaxed and shared this experience together. The only reason I point this out, is because of the unfortunate death of Nick Phongsavath. While it was tragic, and cast a brief dark cloud over the festival, it was not reflective of the experience I had at all.
My thoughts go out to his friends and family in this difficult time.