The Good, the Bad and the Ugly at Squamish Fest

Just a few years ago, the word Squamish would likely be mistaken by most people for a misspelling of squeamish. Not anymore.

In only four years, the sleepy former logging town has become the unlikely home to one of North America’s biggest annual music festivals.

As someone who used to live there a decade ago, it’s hard to overstate how unlikely this would’ve seemed back then when a show by, say, a Van Halen cover band or DOA’s latest final show ever at one of the town’s handful of pubs was considered a big deal for live entertainment on a Saturday night. The only time you’d be likely to see a multiple Grammy-winner or a Super Bowl headliner was if they stopped at Starbucks on their way to Whistler on vacation.

This year’s Squamish Valley Music Festival was twice as big as last year’s and had less than half the problems. Brand.LIVE organizers have sensibly ditched the old “LIVE at Squamish” name that sounded more like a real estate marketing slogan and also solved last year’s brutal traffic problems by offering advance check-ins for campers at Britannia Beach. The sun was shining and so was the supermoon. Approximately 30,000 people  ‑- roughly double Squamish’s total population — made it to this year’s three-day affair an hour’s drive from Vancouver and it looks like the summer concert is here to stay.

The Good

Arcade Fire put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, period, let alone probably the best show of the festival. (I say “probably” because, of course, there’s no way to see them all.) As a former Montrealer as well as a former Squamishite, I take a certain amount of hometown pride in how this weird indie band has become the world beater it is today.

After “The Reflektors,” a fictional group wearing giant papier-mache Arcade Fire bobblehead masks first took to the stage, the band themselves came out to an immediately frenzied crowd. Enigmatic frontman Win Butler – who I’ve always been a bit on the fence about after watching him needlessly smash his guitar on Saturday Night Live a few years ago – immediately won me over by stealing my friend Rebecca Blissett’s camera.


And then taking her photo.


Arcade Fire are a band that could never have come out of Vancouver. Apart from anything, there is probably no way all seven of them would’ve been able to squeeze into affordable rehearsal space here back in their early days. But there’s also something distinctly Quebecois about them that is more than just their habit of switching into French, and somehow the band’s performance reminded me of la belle province’s other big cultural export: Cirque du Soleil.

They may not have been doing backflips on trampolines while riding unicycles or anything, but there’s something about their over-the-top theatricality, elaborate costumes, fancy video montages and sheer musical virtuosity, which was added to Saturday night by a horn section, violinists Owen Pallett and Sarah Neufeld, and several drummers. Something to do with the way they keep changing instruments simply because they can or the obvious joy they take – Butler’s wife Régine Chassagne in particular –   in performing before a crowd.

They also deserve props for delivering the funniest encore I’ve ever seen when The Reflektors once again took to the stage and did an air band version of local boy Bryan Adam’s syrupy ballad (Everything I Do) I Do It For You from the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves soundtrack. And then explaining it was because Jurassic Park is their favourite movie.

The Bad

The festival was a cashless event, meaning that if you wanted to get something to eat from the wide range of food vendors or stand in line for a LONG time in order to buy an overpriced adult beverage, you had to buy a special bracelet with a microchip inside that gets swiped to complete transactions.

While there’s something inherently creepy and uber-corporate about being forbidden to use actual money, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem if festival organizers didn’t also gouge customers at the same time. It cost $3.50 just to activate the damn thing and, if you didn’t use all the credits up by the end of the festival, yet another $2 to apply for a refund. Which could only be returned after filling out a whole bunch of forms online by Aug. 15 and giving them your bank account info rather than, say, simply going to one of their on-site stations and getting it back in cash. Brand.LIVE are clearly counting on people being too lazy to bother and it is the most transparent cash grab since Ticketmaster “convenience” fees.

It is literally armed robbery.

The Ugly

Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity to see Eminem perform in B.C. for the first time in a decade, would you capture it or just let it slip? I’ve enjoyed – sometimes guiltily – Marshall Mathers’ music since his early Slim Shady days and I was looking forward to seeing him live.


But I still left a few songs into his set in order to beat the traffic back to the city. I’ve huge respect for Eminem but the fact remains this is a middle-aged man with an adolescent daughter who is now reportedly clean and sober but is still doing the same old shtick rapping about assaulting women in order to entertain the masses.

As hard-working detective Roger Murtaugh famously said, I’m too old for this shit.

So, frankly, is Eminem.

(© Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)


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