Beyond twisting roads, fog banks, pouring rain, windstorms, and endless forest, lies a town on the wild western shores of Vancouver Island called Port Renfrew: haven for those looking to escape cell reception, tune in with nature, surf the pacific, and enjoy the Song & Surf Music Festival.
Song & Surf started as a celebration between friends and the music they make. It is now a blossoming intimate music festival in a surreal west coast setting. Days start slowly after nights of partying with like-minded friends and festivalgoers. Beers on the beach outside Big Fish Lodge as you watch dogs play in the surf. Relaxing in a homemade hottub dug deep into the sand and warmed solely by campfire. This is what living the Pacific Northwest Dream is all about. Good people, stellar music, great local beer, fantastic scenery, and all the dogs.
For some, Song & Surf is a drug-fueled party and an excuse to cut loose from daily life. Like the pioneers who rushed to the lawless west in the past, Port Renfrew provides some relaxation on the stigma of substance abuse. It’s almost a detractor from the well-crafted musical line-up of both local and international acts performing throughout the three day festival. We at Rocktographers don’t condone the use of illicit drugs, but do understand its place in music festival culture.
What really does stand out about the festival is the intimate venues that demand your attention. The day venues such as Big Fish Lodge and The Church are warm (well, not in temperature) and inviting. Many times the floor was filled with folks sitting cross legged and attentively watching the bands perform. The Community Hall is where the guitars and turntables get plugged in while people danced the night away.
Hands down, our favourite venue during the festival was The Church. Often colder inside than out, it was filled with a warm sound, a feat brought by a full day spent getting the audio perfect before the festival started. Thanks to Hugh for making that venue sound so good.
It was in The Church we first got to hear the lovely Kirsten Ludwig perform on Saturday afternoon; something that was long overdue. We can’t wait to get our hands on her new record next month.
Steph Macpherson, Odell Fox, and Fox Glove (one of their dozen performances during the festival as backing vocals to all the great bands) all had sets that would melt your heart right there in the church pews. None compared to Sam Weber’s set, though. He packed the crowd in like it was a southern revivalist church. Just when we thought they could fit more folks in they squished in more. It was great to see and hear. Sam and his band beamed glowing smiles all Sunday night as they performed to a packed house.
Big Fish Lodge is a bit of an odd duck. It had gorgeous views over the bay that Port Renfrew sits on. The beauty is a little distracting from the bands. You just want to get out there and soak in the sunshine, campfire smoke, and sights.
Inside the Big Fish Lodge we were treated to intimate performances from acts LoveCoast, Man Made Lake, and Fox Glove. Musicians that demand your ears with their talented voices and musicianship. It’s in The Lodge where hungover festival goers park themselves on the floor with a beverage and watch magic happen. Some from the band and some from mother nature.
When we first arrived at The Community Hall we wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into. We’d just spent a terrifying drive in a storm at night hoping to God we wouldn’t die, only to be greeted by a man in a unicorn onesie — with a stuffed unicorn under one arm — and a beer in his other hand yelling “SONG AND SURF!!!!” Luckily, it mellowed out a little from there, although there were a lot of people dressed up like old people, fairies, unicorns, and space pimps (a fur coat over an astronaut costume)?
The Community Hall is where the party lives at Song & Surf. Interesting visuals are projected all night during both DJ and band sets (as they alternate throughout the night).
Edmonton’s The Wet Secrets returned for their first Island show since Rifflandia last September. It was great to hear three of the four songs off their new EP I Can Live Forever (as reviewed by Bud here) as well as lots of songs from their back catalog. One favourite, Grow Your Own Moustache, Asshole, made an appearance as the encore before Grossbuster’s set.
As usual, Jesse Roper slaughtered his headlining spot. If you haven’t had a chance to see Jesse Roper perform live yet, you are doing something wrong with your life. He literally plays seven days a week to sold out crowds everywhere. Jesse wasn’t the only fantastic local musician to grace the main stage this weekend. Dougal Bain & Beard Wave and Dope Soda both commanded the crowd in huge dance parties.
Ending the festival on a high note was Yukon Blonde. We literally almost got hit several times by their guitars for being too close to the stage. Which was a huge difference from when we saw them a few months ago on the McPherson Theatre stage. No long lens needed. Our only wish is to one day hear their single Saturday Night on a Saturday night.
We’ll be the first to admit that Song & Surf isn’t for everyone, but we recommend you give it a try. It’s an intimate festival with great musical curation and run by great people. It’s surrounded by indescribable rugged beauty that only comes from being on the west coast. It’s a festival you have to plan for. Despite being in a small town most restaurants are closed in February and the corner store isn’t the best place to buy groceries (maybe a handle of gin though). The pros of the festival outweigh the cons that is for sure.
Any fan of unique experiences, intimate interactions with musicians, and truly getting off the grid for some fun, should look into Song & Surf. Rocktographers is glad we made the trek and can’t wait to get back out there next February.
Check out our full photographic coverage on SmugMug.