For its second foray in Canada, HUKA Entertainment put on an excellent weekend of music in the Pemberton Valley July 16-19 2015. This time around the lush meadows saw an increased number of fans and sold out camping. Despite rumors circulated of cancellation due to wildfires in the province, everything went according to plan with the only evidence of fires up the valley being the orange glow of the sunset and the occasional fire helicopter. The four day event saw a wide diversity of music and fans to suit, including enough Rock, Rap, and EDM to keep everyone happy.
With a stacked lineup, music was spread over four days with headliners each day requiring fans to show up mid-day Thursday to see all the favorites. Needless to say, the party escalated quickly with J.Cole and Bassnectar topping off the first night and setting the bar for the festival’s hip-hop vs EDM battle. With one of the loudest bass camp setups I’ve heard, it was clear that HUKA spared no expense on the sound. While the majority of the younger crowd didn’t venture too far away from the all-day back to back thumping of the bass camp, this review focuses mostly on other live acts at the festival.
An alternating schedule between the Pemberton and neighboring Mount Currie stage provided an easy transition between acts, with alternatives at the whistler stage and a constant party raging opposite at bass camp. In such a centered setup there was some interference between stages, but the convenience of standing in the middle of the grounds and letting your ears guide you to what sounded best was hard to beat. Friday afternoon warmed up with a soulful set from Shakey Graves, ushering in the rest of the day’s lively rock sets. The legendary Charles Bradley followed with a large dose of loving for the limited crowd. While his Extraordinaires laid down soulful rhythms Bradley drew out passionate vocals and seduced the crown with time-tested dance moves, finishing off his set with a round of hugs from the audience.
The funky tUnE-yArDs followed with their unique combination of drum loops bass and experimental vocals, providing a refreshing alternative to the heated sets earlier in the day. However, one could not help but overhear the hard beats and excitement of Run the Jewels dropping across the way, including tUnE-yArDs lead Merrill Garbus proclaiming them as one of her favorite groups. Following these acts, the Alaskan group Portugal. the Man laid out a high energy set with harmonic vocals and howls from the Iditarod clad Zachary Carothers. Included in the mix was a twisted Another Brick in the Wall cover.
The Oregon based Indie folk band, The Decemberists were clearly the best dressed in the festival, which must have been quite hot on the sunny Whistler stage. Nevertheless they played an excellent set including a wide range of sounds and a fair bit of progressive rock despite the heat and a brief technical difficulty axing the bass during two songs.
Following the Decemberists and Passion pit was Kit Cudi and Dada Life. Rocking an Iggy pop tee and clearly having the best time of anyone around, Kid Cudi put the audience into a deep rhythm while bouncing all over stage.
Next up was the Black Keys, dressed well with a very regal backdrop and well laid out stage. Vocals were heavily drawn out during this performance with frequently extended riffs and plenty of reverb.
Following the Black Keys was Tiesto and the String Cheese Incident playing opposite ends of the festival. As one of two sets of two hours each, String Cheese played an excellent and lively set starting mostly bluegrass and working into psychedelic as the set continued on under dim blue lights complementing the groovy sounds. Check out a recording on live cheese (http://www.livecheese.com/live-music/0,12727/The-String-Cheese-Incident-mp3-flac-download-7-17-2015-Pemberton-Music-Festival-Pemberton-CA.html).
The final act for the night, Galactic featuring Macy Gray played a blend of soul and funk. Macy’s voice enthralled the audience while her wit provided entertainment against the backdrop of beats coming from the bass camp. Casually dressed in a fancy robe, Macy came on and off stage as a diverse set of songs was laid down by Galactic.
Day three of the festival brought on the heat with the heavy-hitting acts Jane’s Addiction, Alice Cooper, Weezer and Ludacris. Many festival-goers sought the refreshing glacial silt waters of the ice cold Lillooet river nearby or took a ride down the water slide in the middle of the festival. Organizers had numerous options to cool down in festival as weekend highs hit 38 C (100 F) including a mist tent providing a tropical shower experience conveniently located closest to the bass camp. Pemberton firefighters also patrolled the grounds with squirt guns refreshing those unwilling to pry themselves away from the day’s music.
At the southeast corner of the festival, the Mount Currie stage felt the hottest and only warmed up as Weezer played their evening set. Starting with classics and blending in songs from all over their old and new hit list, the crowd reacted with enthusiasm and loud vocals, singing along to many of the sounds of the 90’s and beyond. An encore of Buddy Holly played with more grunge and lower vocal pitch made for an excellent finish with the crowd going wild and the whole band joining in on the drums.
Mixing up the EDM scene, Ludacris started his set off at the bass camp with all sorts of samples including Daft Punk and even some Nirvana. He gathered a sizeable crowd under the evening bass camp shade and probed the audience for guidance as to which of his so many hits he should play. Following the rowdy Luda party, String Cheese Incident started their second set. These guys have a good routine going, spending a few days at a festival, jamming with the audience, and going on excursions during the day. At Pemby fest, that included helicopter rides, golfing, lake swimming, and mountain biking for the guys of STI. They went on to play another great set with fewer but drawn out songs and a finish with Colorado Bluebird Sky.
Right after STI, Sound Tribe Sector 9 lit up the nearby Whistler stage with their instrumental blend of danceable rock and electronic jams. Moody lights set the soundscape for an entrancing show featuring solos and a diverse combination of genres. At times producing a somewhat similar sound to the DJs in bass camp but made live with real instruments and absolutely perfect coordination. This provided a perfect lead into the night’s headlining hip-hop act after a lengthy mic check for the trio of De La Soul.
With an awesome live presence, vinyl spinning, and generous crowd participation, De La Soul took the late night spotlight and taught the younger generation a thing or two about hip-hop. They started off forcefully, even requiring photographers to let loose to the frustration of security, which was quite an amusing sight. No time was spared in getting through awesome classic and newer tracks. It was clear these guys still have it and know how to keep the party going late into the night even after a hot draining day. Concluding with an impressive freeze frame, the trio left a palpable sense of anticipation for the final day’s hip hop acts.
With a high sun even more oppressive than the previous day, the heat of Sunday saw a clear lethargy of fans around the site with the mist tent and free water stations providing necessary relief. Dan Mangan started off his set sympathizing with fans after coming from the far north of Canada with little sleep. However, he and his band Blacksmith proceeded to put on an energetic show with interludes of Dan Mangan’s more emotional songs. Of note was a drum solo introducing an upbeat version of “Post War Blues.” Giving much credit to the band which has previously been under his name, Dan Mangan and Blacksmith definitely helped to rev up the energy as the day’s heat slowly began to fade.
Following Mangan, Ed Sharp and the Magnetic zeroes took the nearby Mount Currie stage and began a highly interactive set. The casual dress and beahviour of lead vocalist Alex Ebert saw him running around the audience and handing the mic off to get a bit of excitement, emotion, and lyrics from the crowd. One enthusiastic fan even had the chance to sing a song while another told his own story to Alex and the crowd. As the set finished off, the audience sung along the female portion of the widely acclaimed song ‘Home’ albeit it at a slower and somewhat emotional pace.
Up next, Missy Elliot was one of the more highly anticipated acts with fans lining the audience and packing the backstage viewing. Introduced with a masked team of talented dancers, the curtain dropped to a beaming and lively Missy dropping lyrics into a bedazzled M.E. mic. Immediately the crowd was in full hip-hop party mode with hands up all over the venue and the searing sun setting in the background. During dance interludes wardrobe changes kept the scene fresh and coordinated with the ever-changing backdrop. While the audience jumped to the beats and Missy quickly transitioned between hits, it wasn’t until she switched into “Loose Control” that the audience really erupted and all converged into the party up front. With a shoutout to those not with us anymore and some fantastic dance solos by her team to finish off the set, Missy really jump started the night giving out the full hip hop package.
Next up were Hozier and Jack U at opposite ends of the festival. Being one of the headlining EDM acts, Jack U gathered an impressive crowd as the finale of the non-stop marathon in the bass camp. Scrillex and Diplo delivered mind-numbing bass, ear-splitting screeches and high excitement for the sweaty and scantily clad audience. Meanwhile, Hozier was satisfying the screams of the festival’s younger females with simple yet emotional vocals. Delivering great riffs and melodies, Andrew and his accompanying band produce an excellent live bluesy sound, leaving one wondering why the cheesy vocals can’t quite match up with the soulful instrumentals.
Finishing up the festival was a repeat from last year’s Pemby fest, Kendrick Lamar, jumping onstage after a dramatic video introduction backdrop. Backed by a band, Lamar delivered his show with force and aggression playing his hits and quick to the pleasure of the core hip hop fans. This set was followed by a lengthy talk with the audience before some final beats to call Pemberton Fest 2015 a wrap.