Squamish is a beautiful and majestic city. For the last few years it has played host to the Squamish Valley Music Festival, formerly Live at Squamish. The rugged mountains, crystal clear waterways and the welcoming community make it an ideal location for a multi-day music festival.
This past weekend was the fifth instalment of the annual event, and it was a perfect balance of joyous comradery and beau music.
I will break this down into a day-by-day overview, simply because there is so much to cover.
Squamish Valley Music Festival Journal
I started my trek with a shuttle ride. The driver and I exchanged pleasantries as I stared out the window.
He dropped me off and I proceeded to the check-in tent.
Once I was through the gates I made a b-line to the Stawamus (secondary) stage.
July Talk, out of Toronto, were performing. The band is fronted by Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay. They brought an old-school cool to the stage as they aggressively fired through their set. It was hard not to love their interactions with one another. At one point Leah was wearing a neck pillow and used the moments between her vocals to pantomime sleeping against Peters shoulder. Peter always seemed to have an intensity about him, it was hypnotic. The entire set was wonderfully orchestrated, and made for a great start to my day.
The Zolas were playing over at the Tantalus (main) stage. So I hastily walked over to catch the last bit of their set. The two stages were quite far apart, probably about a kilometre or so. Zachary Gray et friends were delivering a blissful performance. I sat on the grass and watched as he worked the stage. He chuckled as a few random onlookers professed their love for him. The group had a wonderful vibe on stage, the whole thing felt pure. It was a great set.
Mayer Hawthorne was up next, on the same stage. His brand of neo-soul music brought a big smile to my face. I found myself bobbing my head while I closed my eyes, as their set was delivered with an effortless precision. The skunky smell of pot permeated the air around me as the suns rays grazed my cheeks. It all seemed to come together to create a perfect moment.
From there it was over to the secondary stage, but on the way I stopped in to catch the lovely ladies from The Courtneys. The three-piece from Vancouver was in the midst of a wonderful set, their thick drums and crunchy guitar pieces were delightful. Each one of the members had a happy grin painted across their face. I couldn’t stay long, as I was in a rush. I loved what I heard, and decided I needed to check them out at a future date.
I made it in time to catch Walk Off The Earth. They brought a high-energy, crowd-stirring presentation to the day. At one point Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor was using electric toothbrushes to add a low level hum to the song. They were there to have a good time, and it spread throughout the audience like wildfire. These guys, and gal, earned my appreciation. Kudos to them.
After such an uplifting display, it was time to run back to the main stage. I traversed the hordes of festival-goers, dodging people in banana outfits and groups of people interlocking their arms as to not stray from their packs.
Serena Ryder was up next, so I claimed some real estate near the front. The first thing I saw as she took the stage was her big beautiful smile. She was clearly excited to be performing for this mass of music lover, and she brought that energy to her set. I looked on as she excitedly powered through her set. She had a certain whimsical rhythm to her movement. As this was the second time seeing her, I thought I knew what to expect, but she blew me away. It was easily one of the top five performances at the festival. She did such a great job, I could hardly take my eyes off of her.
I laid in the grass for the rest of Ms. Ryders set.
Next up to the plate was Nasir Jones, aka NAS. He was set to perform his seminal album Illmatic, in it entirety. He took the stage with a charismatic swagger, after a few words he dove right into his performance. His lyrical fluidity was masterful, as he worked through each song with a fascinating simplicity. I was never a huge proponent of Nasir before, but I knew going forward I would have a greater appreciation for his work. He gained a new fan in me.
I had to nearly run to the next artists show. I found the way artists were overlapped to be a hard pill to swallow. While it would have been unavoidable to have overlap, having artists start their sets at the exact, or nearly exact, same time seemed like a poor choice. I saw why the promoter chose to do so, it forced those in attendance to chose. They would either chose to stay at the main stage or the secondary stage, and that would reduce the number of people that were traversing between. That would have been fine, but a number of people, like myself still wanted to see all the main stage and secondary stage acts. So not only did we have to travel between the two stages, it was a constant game of calculating departing and arrival times. This was especially hard for someone that was photographing the artists. I was always running, and always late for something. This was my only qualm with the festival setup, and in talking with those in attendance, I was not the only one that felt this way.
Foster The People were about to start. I was eager for the show, as I knew what Mark Foster and his crew could do. Once I was fully recovered from my near-run, I moved over to the front of the stage and waited.
As they filtered out before us, the colourful back-lights began to illuminate the group. Mark was charismatic from the first moment. He stepped around the stage with a sure footed stagger. His vocals accompanied by perfectly precise instrumentals. It was a strong set, and definitely made my running over, worthwhile. Many of those in attendance sang along to most of the songs. It was lovely to hear.
Midway through the presentation, I had to jettison from one stage and proceed to the other.
For Bruno Mars I had to work my way up to the stage. I didn’t get close, I was still about 50 feet or so from the fence at the front.
Bruno stepped on to the stage, and the night sky was immediately a blaze with tropical colours from dozens upon dozens of high powered lights.
Mr. Mars was electric, he had this contagious energy about him. You couldn’t help but get wrapped up in the whole spectacle. He would effortlessly pick up the guitar and fire through a visceral solo one second, and then the next he would be doing a choreographed dance piece, like something out of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker movie. All while maintaining a perfect pitch and an ear-to-ear grin.
I had heard about Bruno’s voice, I had heard how silky smooth it was, but I didn’t believe it until I heard it for myself. I could only think about how incredibly talented this man was, and then embarrassingly remembered how little I actually knew about his back catalogue. I vowed to make an effort to listen to his entire discography, in an effort to really appreciate his contributions to music.
By the end of the set I was drenched in sweat, with only a portion of it being mine.
I walked out towards the gates, and listened to those around me praising the performance.
I smiled and got back on the shuttle.
Off to rest up for the next instalment.
After a quick lunch it was back to the festival.
It seemed to be much hotter, so I slathered on some SPF 75 and made my way over to the secondary stage.
Wildlife were mid-set, and it was really pumping along. The audience before them were dancing in the summers glow. The smell of hops from the beer garden tantalized my nose, and drew me in. I sipped a cold pint as the Toronto-based rockers shook me awake. I snapped a few pictures and fled towards the main stage.
On my way I took a brief detour to enjoy some grub, a hotdog covered in hot sauce and onions seemed like a good idea. Delicious!
That rocking foursome from Ottawa, Hollerado, had just walked on stage as I filtered into the audience. I moved in for a closer look as the delivered an uplifting set, that had those around me dancing in time. I found their set fun, but felt it lacked any physical energy. For the most part they were stationary, which surprised me. I watched the rest of their performance while waiting for the next act.
After Hollerado departed, it was a short wait before Black Joe Lewis and his team took to the platform before us. This was one of the sets I was waiting for all weekend. Mr. Lewis brought a sultry blues mixed with some rich soul, which I love. I watched in awe as he worked his guitar to the brink and back. Dancing down those strings with an attitude the day so deserved. At one point he pulled his red Fender up to his mouth and Hendrixed out a few notes. It was a powerful set, that left me wanting more. I would also place them in my top five for the weekend.
I had to cut their set early, in order to make it to the Stawamus stage.
Austra were up when I arrived, and they were well into their delicate run. I watched as the lead singer, Katie Stelmanis, traversed the stage. Her arms flowing around her in s sweet visual serenade, as her graceful voice passed over me. The entire band was so on point, and interesting to watch, but at the same time it wasn’t played over the top or too far gone that made it feel disingenuous. It was a perfect balance of whimsey and intelectual.
Tokyo Police Club were about to kickoff, so away I went. Along the way I found a group of women pushing manual lawnmowers, decorated in bright garb. I decided not to ask any questions, and snapped a few pics as I scurried along.
When I arrived at the Newmarket natives set, I was once again let down by the lack of physical energy in the display. The music was great, and the vocals were spot on, but the lack of movement made it less appealing, visually.
Note – My thought was that if you are playing a festival, you need to be extra appealing on the eyes. Most bands accomplish this with lights and props, but if you don’t use that stuff, then you need to move around and fight for peoples attention. At the end of the day you need to get them to remember you. Failure to do so is a wasted moment.
Sam Roberts Band came out next, and they were delightful. Sam had this rocker edge to him, this appeal that pulled you in. I found myself staring at him, while his face contorted with each lyric. You could see the pain, the excitement, just the emotion on his face. You didn’t need to even hear the song to feel what he was emoting. The whole band was awesome, I loved every minute of it.
It was another mad dash to the secondary stage. This time I took a short cut through a wooded walking path and was stuck behind an ATV moving boxes. I spent a few minutes talking with a group of travellers heading in the same direction. They seemed to be having a wonderful time. Once the vehicle cleared, I said good bye and took off. My new acquaintances begged me to have a drink with them, but alas duty called.
Chvrches snuck on to the stage, behind a thin veil of theatrical smoke. Soon their sweet, pulsing tones wafted out across the audience. Their sound was catchy and had everyone in the dancing mood. As I looked out at the field I saw people, young and old, swinging to the beat. Another perfect moment on this perfect day.
The sun was starting to drop in the sky. So I chased it as it fell behind the mountains, and was soon standing before the main stage.
Broken Bells sauntered before us. Brian Burton and James Mercer took to their posts, and immediately swept into their playlist. Mercer was delightful and understated, as he mixed away. Burton added haunting vocals, and tantalized the night with his intricate and expressive guitar work. I was lost in the music.
From there I rallied over to see The Roots. I was excited and eager.
As I walked up the band had just come out from behind the curtain. They said a quick how-do-you-do and then they were on their way. The sound was rich and textured. I watched in awe as Questlove rapped away on his drums, his famous pick protruding from his afro. Black Thought stalked around the stage like a predator. His mic held high as he delivered a powerful set. They had lived up to their reputation, and brought the thunder. I was delighted.
I was running low on fuel so I stopped in a grabbed some mini-donuts. Nothing but high-octane for this stallion.
Arcade Fire was about to take the stage, so I pressed through the crowd, jockeying for position. I found myself about 20 feet from the stage, and waited patiently for the show to start.
Soon the lights dropped and several figures appeared from the darkness. Each one was wearing a giant paper mache head. They stumbled around the stage and tried to find their positions. The sounds of Rebellion (Lies) started to filter out to the masses. Suddenly a voice overpowered everything, screamed out about the figures being frauds. Win Butler and the rest of bands stormed the stage. It was all a clever rouse.
The real set started, and it was beautiful. That mouth-watering orchestral rock flowed through the sky and into my sound receptacles. I could feel the serotonin flooding into my brain.
The rich wall of sounds permeated us. The audience formed into one single mass, swaying like a field of grass in the breeze.
Win and Régine looked so perfect on that stage, I watched as the casually stared to each other and smiled mid song.
I loved that moment.
Setlist – Arcade Fire
Joan of Arc
Month of May
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
No Cars Go
Afterlife (w/ ‘My Body Is a Cage’ acapella intro)
It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) (Régine on B-Stage)
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) (‘Damian Taylor Remix’ intro)/(Everything I Do) I Do It for You (Bryan Adams song) (Fake band on stage)
Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Here Comes the Night Time
The night played off, a wave of happiness flowed through my veins.
I headed for the exit and back to my bed.
Bring on day 3.
My last day at the festival started out with a few headaches. I was stuck at the parking lot, waiting for the shuttle which never seemed to come. After a little over an hour, it showed up and I was on my way. No harm, no foul.
I had missed a couple artists I wanted to see, but made my way to watch The Temper Trap as my first band of the day.
I was wrapped up in their sound. That delicate flow, those tender harmonies, and those impeccable vocals. It was a great way to kick-off.
I was only able to lay around in the grass for about 20 minutes before I had to run off to see the next act.
Fighting through the other nomadic festival goers, I started to notice how much hotter it was on this day. Looking around, a lot more men had their shirts off and lot more women were in bikinis. I of course was in a tshirt and shorts, and I could feel the sweat dripping down my brow. I decided it was a good time to hydrate, so I grabbed a bottle of water and carried on with my quest.
Atmosphere was midway through their performance. I was able to walk right up to the front fence, and watch as Slug spit fire from his lips and DJ Ant spun gold at his back. The energy level was contagious, as the attendees around me were amped up with the spirit of the music. I had a great time in their presence. They were a force on that stage. I made a decision to see them again in the future, should I be able to.
As I left I walked through the festival grounds, and passed by the Blueprint Stage while Project 46 was spinning through their time slot. I walked over and watched the 40 or so people, dancing away to the music. The stage was lit up with a wall of digital displays. Lasers and high beam lights shot forth into the darkening sky. It was a beautiful thing to see.
I carried on shortly after and worked my way over the Tantalus stage to watch Alex Turner and his Arctic Monkeys.
Walking up to the metal fence, I was soon greeted to Alex and his crew filtering forth to their awaiting public. The first thing I noticed was how much much Mr. Turner exudes sex appeal. It is dripping off him at every second he is standing before his people. I could hear voices shouting various heartfelt messages to the man, he just smiled and carried on with starting the set. They opened with Do I Wanna Know?, which was met with raucous applause.
The music was delivered with a fluid finesse but still held its sharp rock edge. The crowd had swollen to near that of any of the headliners thus far. It was amazing to see.
I was impressed with how Alex held the whole show in the palm of his hand. He worked the crowd and bent them to his will. Taking them down a path of musical delight, guiding them somewhere they wanted to be, but with all the power in his court. It was an interesting dynamic to see. It didn’t feel symbiotic, but more like follow the leader. It was then that I realized that this band was ready to headline, they were ready for a stadium tour, they were ready for it all.
Setlist – Arctic Monkeys
Do I Wanna Know?
Snap Out of It
Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
Old Yellow Bricks
No. 1 Party Anthem
Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?
One for the Road
I Wanna Be Yours
R U Mine?
I made my final trek to the secondary stage to catch the worldly sounds of Thievery Corporation.
Upon my arrival, I was disappointed to see that the giant audience over at the Arctic Monkeys meant that the numbers for this set were tiny. I saw maybe 40-50 people waiting to take in what was to be a spectacular show.
As the show started the numbers grew, their were maybe 300 or so once things had gotten in to full swing.
I was thoroughly impressed with how visceral the music was, specifically the instrumentals. It felt raw and from the heart.
The rotation of lead singers, song over song, was a great way to finalise the night before the final headliner was to close out the day. The whole presentation was immaculate, and had folks of every generation dancing away. I saw a baby, kicking his legs to the beat, right beside ninety year old women, flower-child swaying in a nightgown. It was the type of music that brings people together, and spreads joy to everyone in its reach. Beautiful.
It was now time for the final act of the day. It was time to bear witness to Eminem. To say I was excited would have been an understatement.
Marshall Mathers took the stage with authority, starting the night off with Bad Guy.
It was a perfect balance of newer numbers and old school jams.
The security between the crowd and the stage was increased to account for the number of people needing to be pulled out due to heat exhaustion and due to being squashed. I stood near he side stage and watched a steady stream of removees flee the pit area, and circle right back into the audience.
Eminem tackled The Monster sans Rihanna, and even took on Rap God, which I had always thought was not something he did live. I was shocked.
It wasn’t until the end of the set that I heard the songs I was waiting for. He performed a mashup of My Name Is/Real Slim Shady/Without Me. The outcomes was glorious. It was a tight 5 minutes of songs I had grown up loving.
Those around me were dancing, and singing and having their minds blown.
The whole thing was over the top and beautifully orchestrated.
Soon Eminem said goodbye and left the stage.
He came back after a few minutes and capped off the night with Lose Yourself. It was the perfect ending.
The rapper was on his game. The show was a beautiful balance of intensity, aggression, darkness and even a little humour.
Seeing Slim Shady live was a great moment.
I filtered towards the gates with the rest of those departing.
I found my shuttle and returned to my car.
As I drove down The Sea-To-Sky highway I reminisced about all the things I had seen over the last three days. I thought about how wonderful the promoters were to all the media in attendance. I thought about how every festival goer was in a happy mood, and how I didn’t see any fights or arguments. Finally I thought about the festival over all and how perfectly it has grown over the last 5 years, and I wondered what next year would bring.
To all those that shared this weekend with me, it was breathtaking. Let’s all do it again next year.