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How the First Skookum Festival Succeeded (And Fell Short)

Music festivals, for many people, are the only thing worth attending in the summer. You get to dress up cute, see artists you love, and find out about bands before all your friends do. In British Columbia, we have no shortage of music festivals that cover different genres and niches. Over the past few years, however, a void has appeared. One of the most attractive festivals used to be the Squamish Valley Music Festival, having previously drawn in acts like Drake and the Arctic Monkeys. It had endless food trucks, four stages that were well spaced out, and a good range of lesser-known to award-winning acts. It was canceled in 2016. A year later, the festival that many were migrating to, Pemberton Music Festival, filed for bankruptcy.

So there was a void. The announcement that the Skookum Festival would take place at the end of the summer of 2018, from September 7–9, raised hopes for a new star-studded festival. Star-studded it was, featuring a huge amount of popular acts like Blue Rodeo, Florence and the Machine, Arkells, and The Killers. It was to be held in Stanley Park, which sounded like one of the coolest places to hold a massive festival.

I won’t claim to be a connoisseur of festivals. I’ve attended smaller ones as well as the Squamish Valley Music Festival (twice). This is the point of view of your average introverted college kid. I can tell you that this festival met some of my expectations, but also came off as amateur in other respects. Skookum’s tagline is “Music. Food. Art.”, so I will judge its inaugural festival on those three things.

 

 

Music

You’re supposed to critique things like a compliment sandwich, so it must be fate that music comes first.

Every night, there was an act that stood out, one that managed to hold an audience’s attention, even when another band had begun their set on the other side of the park. Arkells were one of those bands. Lead singer Max Kerman charmed the audience by pulling up one spectator and having him play with the band. Actually, later on in the festival, The Killers did the same thing, having one lucky man go up and play the drums for a whole song. I guess it’s the new trend, now that encores are getting passé (actually, most of the big bands did an encore… as if anyone thought The Killers wouldn’t play “Mr. Brightside”).

Oddly enough, the most standout act of the weekend wasn’t a mainstage headliner. The coolest experience was catching the last half of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s set. They had her at a smaller stage, right near the entrance, but the energy coming off of the stage and from the audience was like nothing you’d feel in the crowd at Florence and the Machine or another headliner. The crowd really connected, and I loved seeing my mom watch this figure that she remembers seeing on Sesame Street in her childhood.

The only real qualm I had was how close together Meadow, a smaller stage, and Skyline, the stage the big bands performed on, were. They were almost side by side, and it felt unfair that, even when no band was playing on the big stage, they were blasting music on the speakers that may have overshadowed the artists on Meadow.

 

 

Food

The food for sale at Skookum was a mix of your typical festival food (mac and cheese truck, poutine, pizza) and some more unlikely meals, like Savary Island Pies or Fat Mao Noodles. They even offered a Long Table Dinner Series that you could buy tickets for (I did not) in order to have a meal under a canopy of trees.

The lines were a bit of a downer, though, so I only got to try a few dishes. I mean, a festival should have at least three poutine trucks and one truck dedicated to deep frying random food, right? I hope I’m not the only one who was expecting that.

The food was, overall, good. There just wasn’t enough of it, or enough places to sit without getting my pants soaked through.

 

Art

Skookum took a cue from the Squamish Valley Music Festival and set up an art pavillion in the middle of the festival. You could climb the stairs and peer out at the festival grounds, or you could stand below and watch artists paint the walls of the pavilion. This was one of my favourite parts of the festival: the art was spectacular and added to the overall vibe.

The art pavilion was stationary, but sometimes the art came to you. Where people were leaving the festival, one performer played the violin on a little makeshift stage. I saw a woman performing acrobatics on aerial silks, people walking on stilts in ethereal costumes, swarms of umbrella jellyfish and dragons that bobbed around the crowd during performances. That’s not even a full summary of all the moving art on the grounds.

This was where the festival really shone. Seeing jellyfish float above you while Florence Welch twirls across a stage is truly the best feeling ever. The world stops feeling rigid and unreal for a few seconds. If Skookum continues to lean into the strange, surreal vibe that they have started to develop, it will feel like its own unique entity and find a space among other popular festivals.

 

 

Some Extra Beefs and Bouquets

I wanted to reserve a little section to be nitpicky, because these tickets were expensive, so I gotta be honest … Unless Skookum wants to sponsor me with free VIP tickets for next year? No?

In brief, what to expect upon arrival at the festival was not information well shared with ticket holders. The only map distributed was of the festival grounds, with very few clues about how to get there. Parking was a nightmare, with very little signage and, again, no map of where different parking was located. The volunteers had maps, but they weren’t allowed to distribute them. It felt like a festival made for locals in this respect.

The Skookum Music Festival shows promise in that it can pull in some big names, but it needs to focus less on how famous the acts are, or how good their sign will look on Instagram, and more on the experience of the festivalgoer. Better seating, maybe a third grouping of porta potties, and better shelter from the elements, could go a long way toward making people feel more comfortable. I’m not sure that I’ll be going back, but I also wouldn’t completely write it off.

Emma is in her fourth year of a BFA in Screenwriting and a Film Studies minor at the University of Victoria. She's an aspiring filmmaker and pop-culture obsessed. When she isn't writing for Her Campus or burning her eyes from staring at a screenplay that just isn't working, she's probably at home playing video games, watching movies (it's technically homework, she's studying them) or mindlessly scrolling through her TikTok feed.
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