What can we say about Otalith Music Festival that we haven’t said before? Frankly, Rocktographers thinks that it’s the bee’s knees. It’s the bestival.
Otalith Music Festival is Vancouver Island’s premiere destination music festival. Nestled in Ucluelet, just about 22 kilometres away from the terminus of the Trans Canada Highway, it is truly the furthest west music festival that we know of in Canada.
The festival boasts an eclectic and strongly curated lineup that runs the gamut of musical genres from psychedelic rock, hip-hop, folk, singer-songwriters, DJ, thrash, surf, and alternative rock. It’s unlike anything around and a solid draw for passionate music fans.
Those lucky enough to snag early bird tickets before they sold out were rewarded with a private Shakey Graves concert at The Shore in Tofino the Thursday night before the festival officially kicked off.
The journey to that private concert was a windy and bumpy road in a big yellow school bus blasting Led Zepplin, while everyone socialized over the beers they managed to smuggle along with them. You’d think the uniting factor for everyone would be the very exclusive Shakey Graves concert they were going to be going to with 200 of their new best friends, but it was really just needing to pee at the end of that bus ride.
The Shakey preshow, along with his actual performance Friday night, was attended by a higher-than-normal amount of female fans. He is a pretty one, that Mr. Graves. Mostly a one-man show, playing guitar, running effects pedals, and stomping out percussion by way of drum pedals attached to a hollow suitcase w/ built-in drumskin and tambourine, Shakey Graves’ gravely voice and passionate lyrics were clearly a highlight of the festival this year. The faces he made while performing were equally passionate.
Friday night started with two Victoria bands, the fairly new Stinging Belle and the established Band of Rascals. Portland’s The Shivas played through sunset, and Shakey Graves (almost literally) brought the house down to close out the first night.
Saturday was a very full day, with nine main acts and four in-between DJs.
The day started with “The pride of Ucluelet,” Left at the Junction (no internet presence because Ucluelet). Then came BC-raised/Toronto-based Sarah Jane Scouten with her oldey-timey vibes and her beautiful handmade microphone.
The band simply called Sandy’s was a particular treat. Dressed all in white, their sound was a tight mix of folk, surf, and psychedelia, if there is such a mix possible. This is a band definitely on our radar now.
After Sonny and the Sunsets (who are contractually obligated to perform only during sunsets. that’s a joke) pointed out the kid-led hayfight, it became an adult-taken-over hayfight-of-epic-proportions.
The best audience response outside the two main headliners had to be for People Under the Stairs, who started their set “There are a lot of pissed off people in Victoria and Vancouver right now, ’cause we’re playing HERE tonight, then we’re flying out tomorrow!” Theirs was a wonderfully interactive show. If I may, aaaaaawwwwwwwwwwww shit!
The fest ended with garage punk band Fidlar, from L.A., who opened with a tremendous cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, and things just got crazier from there. Elastic-faced frontman Zac Carper began the show by pouring water over his head, which us Rocktographers love for photos.
After the fest had ended . . . the fest didn’t end. People made their way back to the Ucluelet Campground across the street, and those in the know found the hidden campsite in the middle of the grounds, set up as an amphitheatre for a campfire-lit performance from Carmanah. Singer Laura Mitic opened for Shakey Graves during the preshow; it seemed fitting she would end things off, too.
Otalith might be a near-perfect music festival, but there are few things we’d would love to see change next year. One being the prevalence of cigarette smoke and the flagrant disregard for other concertgoers. We didn’t see a designated smoking area or somewhere for cigarette butts to go other than the dry grass. This meant people were just casually smoking in the crowd, in front of the stage, next to children, and anywhere you’d like to have fresh air. Rocktographers seemed to be the only people up there who didn’t smoke.
It’s also a miracle no one has been badly injured (that we know of) at the festival yet. With the lack of a photo pit, Rocktographers have to squeeze their way to the front of a very rowdy crowd full of stage divers, crushing masses, mosh pits, crowd surfers, and outwardly aggressive music fans. We’ve had beers thrown at us, aggressive shoves, (Tyson had bruised ribs last year), lenses and cameras knocked about and grabbed. This year we watched as over ten staff and security held up the makeshift barricade in front of the stage while people actively tried to knock them down to get to Shakey Graves (who garnered the rowdier of the two headlining act crowds). It won’t be long before something like this happens.
Ucluelet and Tofino has a reputation for being very chill, laid back, and health-conscious. Maybe Otalith is the one time of year they let out their aggression and smoke like chimneys. Maybe Otalith is their version of The Purge.
Aside from these concerns, Otalith remains one of the most unique festivals we’ve ever experienced, with a vibe unlike any other.
Where else can you see a dance circle where those who can breakdance, convulse rhythmically, and shake it like a Polaroid picture can all have their moment in the spotlight?
Where else can the night’s headliner stand at the back of the crowd to watch another act and not get too badly mobbed?
Where else can you see the most epic of hay fights between children and silly adults?
With roaming wagons of peaches, frisbee tossing and yoga balancing, everyone including the greens crew dancing like nobody’s watching, and so many young families enjoying the music into the dark, all on a ballfield, Otalith is the perfect escape from life, normality, and your typical festival scene.
Rocktographers will be back in 2017.