You can’t actually see the shores beyond the stands of evergreen trees that surround the playing fields behind Juan de Fuca Rec Centre, but a cool ocean breeze lets you know they’re there. And for the fifth straight year, they got rocked.
The transformation that takes place at the Rock the Shores venue every year is really quite astounding. Typically a trio of adjacent, terraced soccer fields, Victoria’s Atomique Productions and their hard-working crew spend days leading up to the event converting the open area into a highly functional festival grounds, offering excellent sight lines and enough green space for everyone and their LayBag™, so it never feels overcrowded. Combined with a convenient location and free admission for children 10 and under, and Rock the Shores becomes an ideal event for families who don’t mind their kids hearing rock stars drop a few f-bombs.
The site was ringed by vendors and a myriad of food trucks, serving everything from tacos to poutine to Thai food, along with sweet treats like maple bacon mini-doughnuts. Mexi-pops and chocolate covered frozen bananas (there’s always money in the banana stand). Phillips Beer and Merridale Cider were on tap, along with some hard bar options, but adult beverages came at a premium, with beer tickets ringing up at $8 and almost everything else hitting double digits at $10. While many people jeered the inflated cost, the pricing strategy seemed intended to uphold the family-friendly environment by discouraging any potential alcohol-related incidents.
One tactic that didn’t work as planned was Atomique’s second attempt at using RFID bracelets as currency, with the idea that concertgoers would pre-load their festival wristbands to pay for food, beverage and merch – but unfortunately the system, which Atomique already had issues getting operational at the Phillips Backyard Weekender earlier in July, failed once again, and many folks were reduced to paying for things like animals – with cash (bless those ATMs and their $4 service fee).
Weather is another concern at Rock the Shores, particularly when it comes to temperature. Last year’s attendees braved scorching heat that reached highs of 30° Celsius, and the downside to locating the festival in an open field is a serious lack of shade. But organizers were better prepared this year, even though the forecast called for milder temperatures. The general admission area featured a couple of extra large shade tents, while ticketholders who opted to splurge for VIP were rewarded with a shaded grandstand. For those looking for the most lavish experience, Rock the Shores also offered a top-tier VIP package with a private “cabana“ that accommodated up to 20 people, complete with butler service. For the rest of the plebs who populated general admission, hey, at least we had a mist tent and another new toy that the crew fired up between sets – a gas-powered directional mist cannon. How cool is that?
After scaling back to a weekend-only event last year, Atomique decided to once again expand to a three-day format in 2016, but this time with a TGIF twist. Dubbed “The 7 Mile Social”, Friday’s lineup featured a revue of some of the most popular performers in the Southern Vancouver Island music scene.
Up against stiff competition from the sold-out-in-seconds Tragically Hip show at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, the decision to showcase local acts at a lower single-day ticket price point (just $25) paid off handsomely, with the lineup drawing a crowd of several thousand, which, for some of the performers, was the largest show they’d played to date.
Gates opened up at midday with the first band set to hit the stage just after 1:30 pm. Nascent three-piece rockers Stinging Belle were granted the honour of kicking things off. Lead singer Allie Bowman gave an enthusiastic performance, heating up the crowd with her magnetic appeal.
They were followed up by one of the heaviest rocking bands of the entire festival – Malahat. Combining elements of 70s blues rock with Seattle grunge, the band took us on a rock odyssey punctuated by the howls and growls of lead singer Tristan Savage.
Violinistextremist Kytami and her crew hit the stage next, with a performance that may have seemed a bit out of place at a rock festival, but had the crowd jumping.
We then switched gears with a more straight ahead performance from pop-folk rockers Towers and Trees. Lead singer Adrian Chalifour and his bandmates engaged the crowd, getting everyone to sway to their heartfelt songs about love and loss.
Even during sound check, you could hear the excitement when the crowd caught a glimpse of the “Metchosin One”, Jesse Roper, getting his guitar tuned up to melt faces. The consummate showman, Jesse (shoes off/poncho on) proceeded to tear up the stage with another electric performance. There is zero doubt that the West Shore loves Jesse Roper.
And finally, closing out the night were stalwart indie rockers Current Swell. Blending genres from folk to roots to ska, the group features a little something for everyone and is always a crowd pleaser.
Day two saw slightly higher temperatures than Friday’s 7 Mile Social, so it was time once again to break out the tank tops and sunscreen. Saturday’s lineup of top notch talent packed in a larger crowd as well, with close to 8,000 music fans of all ages staking claim to their patches of grass.
Folks arriving early were treated to an inspired performance from 19-year-old Victoria artist Fintan O’Brien. His mellow, folksy pop and innate charm struck a chord with the small crowd that gathered for his performance.
On deck was Year of the Wolf. Hot on the heels of their opening performance at this year’s Tall Tree Festival, the Vancouver quartet ripped it up with their authentic brand of alt rock.
Edmonton’s Royal Tusk brought their renegade prairie rock to the stage next, complete with a mammoth dose of heavy guitar and blue-collar soul.
As if the sunshine wasn’t hot enough, Vancouver’s Dear Rouge took to the stage and immediately set it ablaze. The Juno-award-winning group, led by husband and wife duo Danielle and Drew McTaggart, captivated the crowd with their electronic dance-rock sound, inviting everyone to join in on the “do it, do it, do it” line of the hit “I Heard I Had” from their 2015 album Black to Gold. As they continued to heat things up on stage, the RTS crew kept everyone cool by hosing us down from a boom lift high above the crowd.
Fans seeking a nostalgic moment at this year’s Rock the Shores needed to look no further than Big Wreck’s set, which featured favourites like “That Song” and “Blown Wide Open”. Fronted by Ian Thornley, who some have likened (for good reason) to a Canadian Chris Cornell, the band received an enthusiastic reception from the West Shore crowd.
Vancouver-spawned power pop collective The New Pornographers carried the crowd’s momentum into their set, bringing a bombastic blast of exuberant indie rock to the early evening soundscape, and setting the stage for a couple more memorable performances to close out Saturday night.
First, it was time for The Cat Empire. And much like Jesse Roper did in the same timeslot on Friday night, the Australian ska veterans delivered arguably the most high-energy performance of the day. Fusing musical styles and flitting across genres, from reggae to jazz to Latin, these cool cats proved why they’re known as the world’s ultimate party band with the enthusiastic crowd (and multiple pods of inflatable orcas) jumping and jiving throughout.
Closing things out was fan favourite Dallas Green, better known as the eponymous City and Colour. Green, who performed at RTS previously in 2013, is a talented crooner who combines his soulful voice with an often melancholic, down tempo strain of indie rock that invites a swaying-with-an-arm-around-your-loved-one type vibe. It was a nice comedown from the raucous performances that preceded it, sending fans home with a sense of fulfillment and a fresh perspective.
Sunday’s Rock finale did not disappoint. Blue skies and sweltering sunshine set the scene for a cavalcade of performances from some of Canada’s top names in modern rock, as well as an exhilarating set from the only non-Canadian band of the day, Eagles of Death Metal. With the event curfew falling an hour earlier than Friday and Saturday night, the crowd swelled promptly after the gates opened, with concertgoers looking to make the most of their RTS Sunday.
Kicking off the day’s performances were raucous East Coast scene staples The Motorleague. The fearsome foursome from Moncton, New Brunswick showcased their notoriously intense high voltage-style rock, no doubt making some new fans along the way.
Next up was Oshawa, Ontario duo The Standstills. Singer/guitarist Johnny Fox and drummer Renée Couture generated a bigger buzz than you’d expect from a 2-piece. Combining straight up rock with a western twang, their set had the crowd doing anything but standing still.
Vancouver-based indie rock vets Yukon Blonde’s mid-afternoon set included several tracks off their latest album On Blonde, which features a newly evolved, 80s-synth-infused sound to go along with their snappy melodies and trademark five-part harmonies.
BONUS: Rocktographers went all-access with Arkells as they performed an intimate backstage acoustic set prior to hitting the main stage later in the evening.
Toronto alternative outfit July Talk spawned a palpable level of excitement as they took the stage, bringing their bluesy brand of garage rock to RTS, featuring a unique arrangement that blends co-lead singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay’s widely contrasting vocal styles.
California rockers EODM (Eagles of Death Metal) were a definite high point of the day, thanks predominantly to the sheer charisma of frontman Jesse Hughes. Originally from Greenville, South Carolina, Hughes sounded at times like he was delivering passages from a Southern Baptist sermon, bookended by the band’s signature desert rock jams.
Someone had been waving a Hamilton Tiger-Cats flag all day in anticipation of the festival’s penultimate performers, Steeltown’s own Arkells. The alt-rock power-pop quintet thrilled the crowd with a high energy set, finishing up with a nod to Canadian icon Gord Downie, as frontman Max Kerman and the boys were joined on stage by July Talk for a spirited cover of The Tragically Hip’s “My Music at Work”.
Closing out the festival were Toronto new wave synth-rockers Metric. As the sun began to set both literally and figuratively on the 2016 edition of Rock the Shores, lead singer Emily Haines delivered a captivating performance, often wandering out from behind her centre stage keyboard rig to engage with the crowd.
With the weekend coming to an epic end, the crowd basked in the glow of the stage lights, assured with the fact that Monday morning was still a world away.