Officially tapped for a fifth straight year, the return of the Phillips Backyard Weekender last weekend brought three days of bands, beers, and webmeister Bud festival hair sightings to Phillips Brewery & Malting Co. in Victoria. Festival organizers Atomique Productions assembled an eclectic lineup of local, domestic and imported acts this year, and we saw everything from reggae and rock to hip hop and even mariachi—a little something for everyone.
A new wrinkle for 2017 was the addition of the “Picnic-er” on Discovery Street, which included a second stage at ANIÁN Yard and a row of food trucks and picnic tables where festivalgoers could grab a bite and take a break from the proceedings.
Here’s how the Weekender played out …
There was a lot of buzz around the main stage’s third act, Washington, DC rapper Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, better known by his stage name, Oddisee. A veteran of the underground hip hop scene, Oddisee’s style harkens back to the golden era of East Coast hip hop, and he thrilled the crowd with his highly technical vocal skills with culturally conscious lyrics. This man can rap!
Jamaican reggae and dancehall star Junior Reid (the one-time frontman of Black Uhura) distributed some distinctly heady island vibes with his penultimate set, and Orange County’s Common Kings closed out the night by introducing Victoria to their buoyant blend of rock, reggae, and R&B.
Day two saw an earlier afternoon start, beginning with a trio of local acts, including the enigmatic Kermode, fronted by local music industry type Colin McTaggart, along with soulgrass collective Electric Timber Company, which features a veritable who’s-who of the local scene, and pop rockers Fortune Killers, fronted by the talented and charming Felicia Harding.
Over at ANIÁN Yard, the Do250 stage showcased a full squad of emerging artists throughout the day, including Whistler’s Lazy Ghost, a couple of female-fronted Victoria bands—indie darlings Wise Child and roots rock group Violet—as well as local psych-pop quintet Cartoon Lizard and Salt Spring Island folk rockers Barefoot Thieves.
Back on the main stage, Vancouver’s gritty synth-rock outfit Little Destroyer was one of the day’s surprise highlights. Fronted by the resolutely intense Allie Sheldan (back by brothers Chris and Michael Weiss) the group commanded the stage with a raw intensity that strayed from the more relaxed summer bubble we’d all been living in up to that point. But it was just the wake up call we all needed in order to prepare for what was to come next: The One and Only PPL MVR! The Sasquatch and Yeti suit-clad group may seem a bit gimmicky, but you can’t deny the inherent entertainment value of it all. And you also understand the palpable anger that’s felt when a Yeti’s headset mic isn’t working for the first two songs. “SNWBLL is mad!”
The evening’s sub-headliners, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, administered an extended dose of funky jazz flute and sexy tenor sax while attendees continued to flood in through the gates, ostensibly there to see festival headliners CAKE. Saturday was the only sellout of the weekend, and the massive influx of humanity towards the end of the evening strained the capacity of the vendors with extremely long waits for beer, food and bathrooms. By the time CAKE hit the stage, the Backyard was more packed than ever before, which also made for difficult sightlines for folks stuck in the back. Nonetheless, the Sacramento pop rock vets treated the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd to an eclectic set from their expansive library, peppered, of course, with the droll banter of lead singer John McCrea, and a special live tree giveaway intermission, which is apparently a thing that CAKE does. You can see a map of the “CAKE Forest” on their website. What fun.
The Phillips Backyard Weekender 2017 wrapped up on Sunday and, with a good portion of the crowd starting their day at Victoria’s Pride parade and associated festivities, it ended up being a sun-dappled, rainbow-tinted Sunday fun-day for the ages.
The day’s program kicked off at the main stage with another trio of local artists, including electronic duo Distant Grand, who performed one of their signature #SexySad sets, community horn ensemble The Brass, conducted by Julia Knight, who covered an array popular crowd-pleasing tracks, and folk hero Vince Vaccaro, who delivered an intimate acoustic set—just a man and his guitar, playing tunes and sharing stories.
Over at the Backyard Picnic-er at ANIÁN Yard, Do250 showcased another group of talented regional musicians throughout the day, including Kyle Vaughan (of Vancouver’s Year of the Wolf), local DJ Mt. Doyle, roots/country band Dirty Mountain, funk collective The New Souls, Vancouver-based one-man-band Alex Maher, and blues rocker David Ward.
Festivalgoers were treated to some international flair with a mainstage performance by the all-female mariachi band Flor de Toloache (pronounced “toh-loh-ah-chay”). The group is based out of New York City, but its members claim a diverse Latino heritage with roots in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Adorned in traditional mariachi costume, the group featured Mireya Ramos on violin, Shae Fiol on vihuela, Julie Acosta on trumpet, and Eunice Aparicio on guitarrón (picture a crazy embiggened guitar). These talented ladies showcased their strong musicianship, as well as some beautiful harmonies, with Ramos and Fiol in particular showing off their especially fierce vocal chops.
And speaking of vocal chops, the man with the golden voice, the virtuoso of blue-eyed soul himself, Allen Stone made his first appearance in Victoria. Backed by a talented and funky as hell band, the Washington State native proceeded to bring the house down with a powerhouse performance of his soulful original songs, as well as inspired covers of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The show was unfailingly fun and interactive, for as talented as Stone is as a musician, his complete lack of ego and pretense makes him a wholly likeable character. He definitely earned a new legion of fans this weekend.
Rounding out the revelry were local indie rock icons Current Swell. The veteran group continues to grow in popularity — this is their last show before heading off on tour across the U.S. in late July/August and Europe in September — but their well-established local following means they’re always a big draw. Their performance was as tight as ever, and the crowd was totally enraptured, jubilantly chanting their “na-na-nas” on “Keys to the Kingdom.” It was a fitting end to a fantastic weekend.