May is here and you know what that means: it’s open season for music festivals.
I’m talking about more than just the ones that rhyme with Morchella. Brace yourselves, as we get ready for favourites like Vancouver Noise Fest, Sasquatch, Music Waste, Shake/ARAMA, the Vancouver Folk Festival, Shout Back! Festival, the revived Pemberton, Pickathon, Squamish Valley Music Festival, and more—and all in the span of four months. My eardrums are ringing just thinking about ‘em.
I’ll never forget the first time I enjoyed the insanity of a music festival. It was the summer of 2008 and I was fresh out of high school, not even 18 years old. During my senior year, I’d become acquainted with Logan, a red-haired hippie in the making who enjoyed smoking weed and avoiding responsibility. We met in biology class and over the coming months, we bonded over things like the new Sam Roberts album and how closely our teacher’s expressions resembled something a police sketch artist would draw.
Who knows how we ended up going to Pemberton together, but at some point the decision was made. We stole a lawn gnome from his neighbour’s yard, packed my SUV with what little camping supplies we had, and headed for the West Coast.
The weekend was an absolute blur. We arrived in Pemberton ahead of schedule and spent the night smoking cigarettes and socializing with local teens, an evening that could have been plucked from the lyrics of a Joel Plaskett song. They talked about parties where they set old cars on fire and how the new Coca-Cola machine outside of the convenience store was a “big deal,” a side effect of the town attempting to modernize before the crowds hit. Even then I could tell the small community was unprepared for the festival about to be dropped on them.
It won’t sound impressive by today’s standards, but Pemberton marked the moment my musical interests exploded. It was the first time I’d ever heard Vampire Weekend, relatively unknown at this point, who played early in the day while a large percentage of the festival was still asleep; I witnessed the Flaming Lips battle the Pink Robots and learned what true bliss was via their circus-level performance; I was up-close-and-personal for Tom Petty’s haze-induced set, where I couldn’t tell if his smile was a permanent fixture or if he was just really stoned. While I’d always been a fan of music, something about Pemberton lit a spark in me.
Though music obviously plays a significant part, the real allure to festivals is they’re usually equal parts adventure and disaster. At Pemberton, we lived almost exclusively off of cold-cuts that we couldn’t properly refrigerate and vodka smuggled through water bottles; my vehicle’s brakes overheated while going down a winding mountain and we almost died; we made room in the backseat to pick up a cute hitchhiker who later admitted she was a drug trafficker. All of these are great stories separately but are even better when they’re sewn together with the thread of music festivals.
It was a turbulent beginning to my romance with music festivals, but my adoration has done nothing but grow since. While people are saving for their trips to Europe or funneling funds into band equipment, I’m salivating over the year’s festivals and cartographing my next great escape.
If you don’t already have plans to partake in at least one festival this summer, you should probably reconsider. Your body and bank account will loathe you, but the memories and anecdotes will be worth the sunburns.
So it goes,