It was three wonderfully rainy days featuring fifty live music performances from top-tier international and Canadian artists alike.
Friday was day one of the festival, it was a great way to ease into the weekend with bands like Hamilton-bred alt-rockers Arkells, Montreal electro-funk duo Chromeo, and Nova-Scotia-born indie singer-songwriter Matt Mays entertaining the more than fifteen thousand attendees that braved the light showers in the name of rock n roll.
While these artists put on stellar sets, it was two smaller bands that stole the show; Vancouver rock outfit Little Destroyer and Austin blues-rock duo Black Pistol Fire. Lead singer Allie Sheldan, of the former, carried a commanding presence. She dripped with purpose and passion, delivering a message of equality and standing up for one another with her inter-song banter and sung lyrics. Lead singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown, of the latter, stomped around with fire in his belly and electricity coursing through his veins. His body possessed by the music, he jerked and kicked and writhed on the stage. Both band leads were hypnotizing to watch.
If you missed either of these bands, then you missed out on the two best things from Friday.
Saturday brought more rain but also saw some moments with clear skies as around eighteen-thousand-five-hundred people entered the venue.
New York rock band X Ambassadors delivered a solid mid-day set that had their audience dancing and clapping and singing along. Sam Harris was at the helm and over the last few years, he has grown into a truly entertaining and leave-it-all-out-there performer. The set was full of smiles and laughter and it was just plain fun.
Mexican classical guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela took things down a gear. Their duelling acoustic set was beautiful and understated. The gazing mob before them was swept away in the heart and poetry of each song. Even though the rain picked up a bit, people started to take off their plastic ponchos to further absorb the set.
That was the first moment I noticed people accepting the rain instead of defending against it.
This became a trend over the weekend.
That loving feeling carried into German folk group Milky Chance’s contribution. Band lead Clemens Rehbein sent out swaying and soulful vibes wrapped in their folky/reggae style. The exited cheers of their dedicated fans emanating throughout the sets; some professing their love and others just with an emphatic “Fuck Yeah!”
The crowd’s excitement was palpable. You could feel a buzz in the air.
Dallas-hailing music group St. Vincent took the reins and lead the attendees through a visual and auditory journey unlike anything else seen over the weekend. It was empowering and intense and featured moments of guitar work that melted my goddamn mind. Annie Clark, the main character, was purposeful and genuine in everything she did on that stage. The backdrop was a constant barrage of accompanying video feeds and pulsing colours. We all stood under the torrential downpour and basked in the glory that was St. Vincent.
The night culminated with a set from London indie group Florence + The Machine.
Lead singer Florence Welch, aka Queen, was the embodiment of passion throughout her set. She flowed back and forth across the stage like a whimsical ballet fae. A wonderful soul-shaking power emanating from her narrow frame, she sang towards the darkness and shook the audience back into the moment. The rain fell in sheets but it didn’t even cause a bump in the road. The entirety of the set was pure and it made my heart smile to witness it unfold before my eyes.
Ms Welch is something rare in this world but she is modest and genuine in all that she gives.
A truly special way to cap off night number two.
The final day was the rainiest of them all and saw around seventeen-thousand attendees cross through the gates.
Walking along the street up to the outdoor venue, streams of accumulated precipitation raced around my soaked shoes.
Long Beach band Cold War Kids were the first on my docket.
Their set was exciting and made for a nice way to warm up, as I jumped around with my festival neighbours.
Sometimes I forget just how solid their live shows are but they end up reminding me each and every time I see them perform.
One of the biggest non-headline draws of the day was young American rock band Greta Van Fleet, a group some people around me jokingly referred to as Led Zeppelin Lite.
The four-piece had cancelled their set in Seattle the night before, so there were murmurs that they might not even show up, but they did and it was fantastic.
Take away all the hype and these four young men are a well-polished music delivery machine. Josh Kiszka delivered powerful vocals, Jake Kiszka shredded on his guitar, Sam Kiszka was nimble and aggressive on his bass, and Danny Wagner is an animal behind the drum kit. Put them all together and there is a balanced harmony between them.
This band is the real deal, definitely worth checking out while they are out touring.
Vancouver pop-rock group Mother Mother proceeded to take over the main stage and brought that pop energy they are known for. The skies opened up and things started to get really wet, but no one seemed to care. I didn’t hear anyone complaining they just went with it, it felt somehow genuinely Vancouver.
We embraced the rain.
We accepted it.
American musician Father John Misty was the next one to take over the main stage. He had nearly a dozen musician accompanying him.
His drunken-poet personae emphasized by his erratic movements, he worked whole-heartedly on stage delivering a piece of himself in each song. Over the last few years, he has grown exponentially in his ability and in his maturity, with this performance being the most refined and most complex.
He stood before his flock in a slim-fitting white suit and red tinted glasses with the occasional smirk visible between lyrics.
The night culminated with a top-tier performance from Las Vegas band The Killers.
Lead singer Brendan Flowers was on point. He delivered solid vocals and strutted around the stage with just the right amount of cock-sure attitude to make you love him.
Confetti shot from the stage and mixed with the falling rain.
The exhausted and soaking wet crowd loved every minute of it.
As I left for the night, I thought about the weekend. I thought about the festival and the musicians and the attendees and the people behind the scenes.
This festival was very well run and the team behind the scenes deserves a round of applause for bringing something special to our fair city.
It wasn’t without it’s hiccups, namely the lack of washrooms and lack of food options, but for a first-year festival, everything was pretty well polished.
The grounds were laid out in a way that embraced the land and used it to the festivals advantage. Four stages each tucked away from one another, allowing for multiple bands to play multiple stages at the same time.
The local First Nations were included throughout the weekend, leading chants and speeches at key moments before certain sets. It felt genuine and the crowd embraced it.
The festival asked its patrons not to drive and to choose other ways to get to the grounds, and they did. Droves of people walked, others took public transit, some took the shuttle, and others relied on the Evo Car Share program, which was a sponsor of the event. In the end that meant little to no wait times to access the festival, all weekend.
At final count, approximately fifty-thousand people were in attendance at year one of Skookum. That’s a pretty big number.
I guess now we wait to see if the event will make a return in 2019, let’s hope it does.
I want to say thank you to every musician, roadie, pr person, media handler, vendor, medic, police officer, and every other person that worked this weekend. You made us safe, welcome, and helped us to drift away.
Now it’s time to take my socks off the vent to see if they are actually dry now.