As the great poet and prophet Nick Cave sagely observed on The Boatman’s Call, people ain’t no good. And the more shows that you attend, the more profound those words become.
Remember the drunken, cowboy-hat-sporting frat boy who showed up at Shania Twain’s GM Place gig in the late ’90s and screeched “Show us your tits and poon!” from show’s start to end? How ’bout the eastern European gangster in the red tracksuit who spent the first 10 minutes of Kid Rock at the Commodore looking for someone willing to fight, his bad luck being that the bouncers finally had no choice but to oblige after three separate women wouldn’t. And let’s not forget the world-class shithead who spent every minute of a transcendent 2013 Nick Cave show at the Vogue filming the fucking proceedings with his fucking camera, the only fucking respite being the 20 fucking seconds he took to eject a dead fucking battery and pop in a fucking new one, all the while standing 10 fucking feet from the fucking stage and pissing off everyone around him.
As proven at shows from Camera Obscura at Richard’s on Richards to Titus Andronicus at the Biltmore, Vancouver is a city teeming with the kind of asswipes that remind you how tough it is to resist all the urges that make you want to go out and kill.
But here’s a funny thing: no matter how much you normally hate people, it’s hard to keep the bile flowing at the now-ubiquitous mega-events known as outdoor music festivals. Whether you’re talking the Pemberton Music Festival up past Whistler, or the Squamish Valley Music Festival a little closer to home, somehow they bring out the best in folks.
Maybe that’s because the last thing hard-core misanthropes want to be doing with their weekends is hanging with 30,000 shiny, happy, and often chemically altered people. The true haters stay home, and those who love to party show up ready to hit it hard. And because they’re up for a party, they want to make sure everyone is having a good time.
To attend Pemberton or Squamish is to accept the fact that once every 10 minutes you will be asked for a high-five by some shirtless dude you’d normally do anything to avoid eye contact with. And, weirdly, it feels good. Girls who’d never give you the time of day in a club are not only eager to talk, but end up initiating the conversation. Ask anyone who’s stood by a food truck waiting for an order.
Assuming you aren’t crazier than Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, you’re guaranteed to end up in a deep and meaningful conversation (while wondering how the fuck it could possibly take 30 minutes to make a single fucking serving of fucking poutine).
Outdoor festivals demand a certain level of tolerance. For those who camp for the entire weekend, this includes listening to the waste-cases in the tent two feet away spend three postcoital hours debating Sam Smith’s soul-man credentials. And whether the most Pillsbury-Doughboy-white crooner since Rick Astley will be rickrolling people 10 years from now or 20.
It includes getting up in the morning knowing full well the festival campgrounds will be overrun with dudes and dudettes doing the walk of shame. Not because they’ve just hooked up, but because they’ve clearly just taken a dump in a porta-potty. Yes, there are worse things than spotting’s Worst Toilet in Scotland, among them standing 10 deep in a chemical-crapper lineup when you’re already touching cloth. And it includes accepting the fact that sometimes you’re not going to get closer than a Canadian football field to your favourite artist.
Somehow, though, none of that matters. Maybe that’s because our two biggest outdoor music festivals take place in settings that are eye-poppingly spectacular. Not to disparage Drake, Mumford & Sons, or that guy from the Killers, but the real star of the Squamish Valley Music Festival this weekend will be a familiar one: the majestic Chief, which towers over the site.
Coming in second will be the event itself. For 10 months a year, being a music fan in Vancouver means dark and sweaty clubs and shows that don’t start until Norma Reid has read the late-night news on CTV.
Next weekend at Squamish you’ll be out in the great outdoors, breathing gorgeously fresh air under a sun that, with some luck, will be beating down hard enough to make shorts as optional as shirts and shoes. You’ll be roaming a site so huge it makes B.C. Place seem smaller than Pat’s Pub. You’ll slap hands, talk with strangers, and soak up a vibe that’s relentlessly positive.
And if you’re really lucky, you’ll leave thinking that maybe—sorry, Nick Cave—people really ain’t so bad.