At the Logger Sports Grounds and Hendrickson Field on Saturday, September 4
Booking serious star power at a first annual festival can’t be easy for B.C. promoters. They really have to prove their cred to backers, sponsors, city officials, and ticket-holders with an impressive trial run before they can lure more than one big-name act onto the main stage. After all, many image-conscious artists are reluctant to headline a concert that could go down in history as the biggest clusterfuck in live music history and rightfully so.
But, if an ambitious and competent production company does manage to pull it off that first time ’round without any serious hitches (no easy feat), then there’s no telling how many top-billing bands they can score the following year.
Well, I’m happy to report that the first day of LIVE at Squamish was a success. (There were a few minor timing and signage wrinkles at the beginning, but nothing that wasn’t easily ironed out later on in the day.) Of course, the festival had a lot working in its favour—namely weather and location. You can’t beat a clear sunny day in a lush green mountain-surrounded bowl. And then there’s Squamish itself—far enough to give you that road-trip high, but close enough to ward off any kind of long-drive car-lag.
But it wasn’t just God-given scenery and Mother Nature that made this huge musical undertaking a triumph. There was a of lot solid planning in the layout department. No overflowing toilets (that I saw anyway). No food shortages (let’s give it up for the jerk chicken concession stand). No never-ending lineups for beer and water (a hydrated crowd is a happy crowd). No three-hour lineups for shuttle buses (unbelievably, there seemed to be plenty of accessible parking).
And oh yeah, there were bands. Lots of bands. Spread out over three giant lots with three totally different vibes, 20 or so diverse acts played on the three stages. There was the Stawamus main stage area, where a hodgepodge of country fans, aging punks, and Vancouver radio rockers lived together in West Coast harmony.
On the other side of some trees (just out of sight and sound) was the clubZone stage, where DJs such as Nigel Mihell and Seb Fontaine played long dance sets to perhaps the most uninhibited crowd at the festival. This was the party place for people to go balls-out crazy and happily dance like they just didn’t care. The highlight here was Dirty Vegas, a British house trio that pumped out its own brand of kick-ass, emotive electronica.
Then, just over yonder (again out of sight and sound of its sister arenas) was the hipster Serf stage—a mini outdoor sanctuary for East Van scenesters (imagine SoMa in the hills). One of the highlights here was catching the tale-end of We Are the City, a beautifully melodramatic, experimental beardo band from Kelowna that totally rocked!
Highlights from the main stage included Vancouver’s own Said the Whale, followed by Tennessee Three, which is a bit of a misnomer. There’s actually five of them. As the backing band for Johnny Cash for 40 years, when this outlaw country ensemble covers the Man in Black, they do it justice. Make no mistake, frontman Rodney Blake Powell and his posse are not a Vegas tribute band—they are the next best thing to Johnny. When they cranked out “Folsom Prison Blues” in the middle of our beautiful mountain setting, it was a perfect musical moment.
The second to last act on the main stage was Matthew Good, which is bit of a misnomer as well. Matthew Meh would be more apt. Don’t get me wrong, I think the man is a huge talent. He’s got a great distinct voice that still carries just as powerfully as it did when his band rose to CanCon fame in the late ’90s. And he’s clearly an amazing guitar player. The problem is he suffers a little bit from same-song syndrome. It honestly sounded like he was playing the same great, but never-ending, song the entire set. I’d love to see him collaborate with a really cutting-edge, innovative songwriter/producer. A new hook would definitely do this man a world of "good".
Naturally, the best part of the event was Devo. Oh my god, those grey-haired new wavers still got it! You didn’t need to fork out 40 bones at the merch stand for an energy dome to enjoy the headlining show. The first few notes of “Whip It” were enough to make most people spontaneously combust into the world’s worst ’80s dance moves. Too much fun.
So yes, musically, the Akron postpunk, synth-pop innovators were spot on. Visually, however, the 60-something musicians looked a little like an SNL skit in their various getups, especially the legendary yellow rubber hazmat jumpsuits and grey robotic workmen uniforms. But that just made their set that much more bombastically entertaining. We could have used a little more of that kind of off-the-rails, totally memorable, concert-going experience on the main stage.
That said, I can’t wait to see what LIVE at Squamish books next year. No doubt, it will be one for the records.