Let’s face it. In recent years, we’ve reached peak levels of summer music festival saturation. With so much competition to attract seasonal concertgoers, festival promoters have had to seek out crafty ways to rise above the generic and give their events an idiosyncratic appeal. And that’s exactly what Atomique Productions has done with the Phillips Backyard Weekender, now in it’s fourth year of existence.
Think about it. What activity pairs well with seeing live music? More specifically, what activity pairs perfectly with seeing live music at a weekend-long urban outdoor music festival in July? The answer, of course, is drinking beer. Now, clearly that idea is not unique to the Phillips Backyard Weekender – every festival has a beer garden, after all – but Atomique took the notion of the beer garden one step further and said hey, let’s do it at an actual brewery, which is pretty cool and totally meta. So what is traditionally Phillips Brewery’s back parking lot on the edge of downtown Victoria is transformed into an open-air festival, and a highly successful one at that. Since the site was expanded to include a cordoned off block of the adjacent Pembroke Street in 2014 – the second year of the festival – the Backyard has a capacity of 3,000, and has either sold out or come close each year.
The stage, flanked by towering cylindrical fermentation tanks, is erected atop a wide loading dock with a graded driveway. This has the added benefit of providing a downward slope for the crowd, ensuring excellent sight-lines for all, so that tall dude who always stands in front of you is less of a bummer than usual. It’s an exceptional temporary venue that also sees action as a night stage during Atomique’s Rifflandia Festival in September.
As for the beer, we would have plenty to choose from this year, including newer options such as Phillips Craft-Made Pilsner and Short Wave Pale Ale, and seasonals like the Solaris White Peach Ale and Electric Unicorn White IPA, all served from Phillips’ distinctive “gypsy wagon”, a whimsically decorated mobile bar fitted with 32 draft taps that are constantly flowing, making for well-lubricated audiences and extended port-a-potty queues.
In addition to the atypical venue, another appeal of the Backyard Weekender is the brilliant booking of the artists. Atomique promoters Dimitri Demers and Nick Blasko have done a great job not only wrangling desirable headlining acts but also arranging the lineup in such a way that the artists can complement each other with different styles, but still provide a unifying current that flows through the entire weekend. 2016 was no exception when it came to an offering of top talent and artful genre-mixing.
In the days leading up to the festival, the only significant concern was the weather, with a potential for rain in the forecast, but by the time four o’clock rolled around on Friday afternoon, just as the gates to the brewery were opening up for night one, the sun finally made a welcome appearance – at least for the time being.
As a wave of concertgoers filtered into the venue, they were treated to rousing performances from the festival’s opening acts, including homegrown Victoria talents Georgia Murray and D-Whiz – now based in LA and collectively known as the R&B-infused pop duo LiiNKS – and veteran New Orleans jam band Dumpstaphunk, who laid down a funky, crowd-pleasing set that featured covers of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On and Prince’s Sexy M.F.
By the middle of the evening, the crowd had swelled to near capacity in anticipation of the headlining acts. First up was the return to Victoria of “The Magnificent” DJ Jazzy Jeff. Supported by Philadelphia rapper/hype man Dayne Jordan, the Jazzy one deftly played the role of house party DJ, rolling hot between new and classic genre-spanning sing-along tracks, much to the crowd’s delight.
Then it fell to the Funk Hunters to take things home. DJ duo Nick Middleton and Duncan Smith brought their soulful brand of EDM to the party and kept the dance floor bumping. By the time they were halfway through their set, the clouds finally burst and we experienced our first serious precipitation of the evening, but by that point, the crowd was too funked up to care.
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Saturday’s lineup for day two featured an eclectic mix of performances spanning various genres – from ambient electronic to bhangra bass, indie go-go to indigenous EDM.
First on the docket was Victoria’s Chris Long AKA Longshanks, appearing as his alter ego, Monolithium. As Long broadcasted his treble-charged post-techno soundscape to the crowd, we felt a light drizzle start to fall, and braced for what could be a potentially wet afternoon and evening.
Between sets, the rain intensified, but the sudden showers did not put a damper on the second act, Bellingham, Washington’s Grant Eadie, an electronic music producer and viola virtuoso who performs as Manatee Commune. Blending ambient beats with live viola and electric guitar, Eadie’s harmonious down-tempo rhythms conjured images of a blissful collective of docile sea mammals frolicking in the shallow waters of the West Indies.
The rain finally let up in time for the evening’s third performers, desiSUBculture, an offshoot of popular Vancouver band Delhi 2 Dublin, who introduced us to their vision of global bass music, mixing traditional Punjabi folk with modern bhangra and EDM.
Primed to keep the party going was RDGLDGRN, a 3-piece band from just outside Washington, DC that feature a unique style of hip hop combined with alt rock and DC go-go, a regional style featuring syncopated rhythms and a focus on audience call and response. The group’s high energy captured the crowd’s attention and took things to the next level.
Closing out the night was the celebrated native producer/DJ crew out of Ottawa, A Tribe Called Red. DJ NDN, Bear Witness and 2oolman fused elements of hip hop with traditional pow wow drums and vocals and a polished EDM production. Rounding out the show was a thrilling appearance by the Lekungwen Dancers of the Songhees Nation.
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It was a soft rock Sunday to close out the fourth annual installment of the Phillips Backyard Weekender. Buoyed by ideal weather – an ideal mix of sun and cloud, a cool island breeze and zero threat of rain – festival-goers arrived early to enjoy the afternoon’s supporting performances.
Kicking off the afternoon were local folk quartet Carmanah, fronted by talented singer and fiddler Laura Mina Mitic, and Old Man Canyon, the brainchild of Vancouver singer-songwriter Jett Pace. His contemplative brand of indie rock had a poppy, dreamlike appeal that lent itself well to placid introspection and autonomous head-bobbing.
Next up were Seattle’s Pickwick, featuring lead singer Galen Disston, whose rootsy croon injected some serious R&B flavour into the band’s soulful take on indie garage rock. Disston also shared an amusing anecdote about Pickwick’s last visit to Victoria three years earlier for a gig at Lucky Bar where their former guitar player ended up meeting his future wife and ultimately leaving the band. In the end, he essentially gave a shout-out to the women of Victoria for being simply irresistible.
The penultimate performer of the festival was acclaimed Toronto-based musician Afie Jurvanen, better known as the Juno-award winning Bahamas, who expanded our summertime state of mind with his folksy surf pop vibe. Afie was clearly enjoying himself in front of the Phillips crowd, as he cracked jokes and at one point broke into a half cover of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, all as festival crew started to launch plastic parachute men affixed with extra drink tickets and Rock the Shores passes from a boom lift high above the crowd. Never again will I underestimate the level of excitement generated by dropping prizes from a great height.
Set to wrap up a conspicuously tranquil finale of this year’s Backyard Weekender was German electro-folk duo Milky Chance. Singer/guitarist Clemens Rehbein and DJ Philipp Dausch have rocketed to global stardom within the last couple years thanks to their viral megahit “Stolen Dance”, the video for which has racked up more than 250 million views since it was uploaded to YouTube in April 2013. With an intermingling of low-octane beats and serene guitar strumming, Milky Chance had the crowd dancin’ on and doin’ the boogie all night long – or at least until the end of their set.
Overall, it was another successful year for the Phillips Backyard Weekender. The only major stumbling block was the failure of Atomique’s much-lauded RFID bracelets, which were intended to be used for access to the festival and would be pre-loaded with cash, debit or credit to pay for all on-site food, drink and merchandise using cashless scanning. Due to a technical issue, the bracelets only worked to scan people in at the gate, but were not up to the task of purchasing beer tickets or anything else. Atomique had planned to use this same RFID system for both Rock the Shores and Rifflandia, so we’ll see if they can work out the bugs by July 22.
Until next time, cheers from the Phillips Backyard Weekender!