Constellation Festival: Day Three -- 07/28/19

Before getting into the third and final day of the Constellation Festival, I want to mention how smooth the whole weekend ran. With two stages of alternating acts, and being able to hear the music anywhere on the grounds, just about the entire weekend ran according to schedule.

And if they did fall behind, the time was very quickly made up for. There were also no Skookum-esque lineups for washrooms or food!
Any complaints, or thoughts for improvements in the future (such as phone charging stations that are NOT in the area dedicated for the festival patrons to smoke weed) were very minor. I was very impressed with how it turned out, especially for the first year of the festival.

Luca Fogale - Christine McAvoy Photography

Luca Fogale - Christine McAvoy Photography

But on to the music, as Sunday for me began with Luca Fogale, who took the stage alone -- a bold move for a festival. He started off with his acoustic guitar, his heartfelt voice pouring out in the mid-afternoon sun, as the crowd grew. Mid-way through the set, he switched over to keys, which I thought was a much better fit for his crooning vocals.

Next I listened to a bit of The Modelos, over on the Creative BC side stage. The self-proclaimed "Rock 'n' Roll Cowboy Surfers" lived up to the moniker, with a loud and rollicking set of a combination of surf rock and honky-tonk that fit together surprisingly well for a fun set.

Then it was time for one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend, Begonia, who had arguably the most amazing and powerful voice of the festival. Her set ran from the soft and heart wrenching "Hot Dog Stand" to the infectious bass groove of "Juniper", as well as my favourite of the set, the title track to her upcoming album "Fear", an intense song that gave chills despite the shining sun.
Judging by the reaction, by the end of her set, both her music and her charming, slightly self-deprecating banter between songs earned her more than a few new fans. My guess is, she's going to be headlining one of the Constellation stages before long.

Begonia - Christine McAvoy Photography

Begonia - Christine McAvoy Photography

Hunting was up next, the new project from Bradley Ferguson, Dustin Bentall, and Jessicka (who played the festival earlier in the day). It was the first show as this new incarnation of the band, which also included a few familiar faces to the Vancouver music scene, Daniel Ruiz and Catherine Hiltz backing them as the rhythm section.
Their electro-tinged rock & roll was exactly what you would expect from the pedigree on stage, with a high-energy, driving sound. A couple songs especially caught my attention; one I think they called "She Was", along with a song that they introduced as meant to be listened to with the windows down, bombing down a highway. I'll definitely be on the lookout for them in the future.

All the way from Victoria, Current Swell took the main stage next. It's been a long while since I last saw them play, and as far as I could tell the only remaining member was lead singer Scott Stanton, joined by a new group (which included Evan Miller from Wild Romantics). Not only that, but they had a horn section join them for much of the set.
Their laid back, "Vancouver Island surf rock" sound was tempered with some newer tunes that had a bit more of an edge to them. Scott also brought out the slide guitar for my favourite song of theirs, "Cursed", with it's incendiary slide riff.

Current Swell - Christine McAvoy Photography

Current Swell - Christine McAvoy Photography

I only caught a little bit of the next act on the side stage, The Jerry Cans. But I did get a fun and energetic party feel from what I heard, with the Iqaluit band blending raucous vocals with Inuit throat singing.

Half Moon Run - Christine McAvoy Photography

Half Moon Run - Christine McAvoy Photography

The only celestially-named band at the Constellation festival was up next, Half Moon Run taking the main stage. They started off slow before building over the next few songs, with a set that had a really good ebb & flow of energy, building up to songs like "Turn Your Love" then drop to slower songs like the ballad-y "Need It". Their four voices blended together harmoniously throughout, including their hit single "Call Me In The Afternoon", when they decided their dual drummers were not enough, and one of the singers pounded the floor tom along with them.
The set same to an end with "Full Circle", though the crowd was not yet satisfied, chanting for "one more song" and since there was enough time before the next set, they obliged for what seemed like a legitimate encore, the band huddled around the microphone with an acoustic guitar, for a cover of Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush".

Closing out the side stage for the day was Wintersleep. I've never been that big on the band, but I was a little amazed at just how many songs I recognised throughout the set. They showed off their prolific career with singles like "Amerika" and "Spirit", before delving into their most recent album In the Land Of. As the set drew to a close, they got everyone clapping along with the now-classic "Weighty Ghost", and then finished off with a couple more, a big, extended jam finishing off.

Wintersleep - Christine McAvoy Photography

Wintersleep - Christine McAvoy Photography

And immediately as Wintersleep ended, the familiar marimba of "Under The Sea" filled the air, while Bahamas took the stage. Afie Jurvanen was joined, as always, by his fantastic backing band, Jason Tait on drums, Darcy Yates on bass, Christine Bougie on guitar, and singer Felicity Williams.
Starting off the set with "So Free" off the latest album, he spanned his entire career, from the gorgeous "Already Yours" from Pink Strat, to the pseudo R&B jam "Bad Boys Need Love Too" off Earthtones, and many in between. During "Your Sweet Touch" he and Bougie broke into an extended jam, playing off each other fantastically, and other favourites like the sultry "Caught Me Thinking" had the crowd dancing (and swooning) along.
His self-deprecating humour popped up a few times during the set, as he joked he was always called to play a Sunday evening of a festival, never a Friday or Saturday. And, looking back on it, both Skookum last year and 2017's Vancouver Folk Fest… guess what day he played?
He also made a complete mockery of the encore concept, wryly stating that after the "last" song, they're obligated to go stand side stage (where 70% of the people would still be able to see them) and then come back out for a few more. Which, after the beautiful "Lost In The Light" ended the main set, is exactly what happened.
He returned to the stage with "All The Time", which was a little ironic since that was the same moment that Christine and I decided to slip out of the festival to attempt to beat the crowd (and more importantly, any Sea to Sky traffic back to Vancouver), as we could hear the last few songs drifted throughout the night.

Bahamas - Christine McAvoy Photography

Bahamas - Christine McAvoy Photography

I've long told people that the first couple years of Live @ Squamish was the best outdoor festival I have ever been to, and even beyond taking place on the same grounds, Constellation reminded me a lot of that. It was

And I hope they are planning this for a long time, because I am already looking forward to next year! Oh, and don’t forget to check out all of Christine’s photos too!

Peak Performance Project Finale @ Commodore -- 11/17/11

It was a night that would change the lives of three bands. It was, of course, the Peak Performance Project finale concert, with over $225,000 in money being awarded; $100,500 for first place, $75,000 for second and $50,000 for third. The three bands vying for the prize were The Matinée, Current Swell and The Boom Booms, picked as the top three from the twenty bands competing in the third year of the promotion. After all bands take part in a week long bootcamp and a series of showcase shows, the winners are chosen not just on musical talent, but a number of other things, including a series of challenges, fan voting, a business plan, and a mysterious "x-factor".

Going into the finale, I fully admit my bias was with The Matinée as my clear favourite, and to be blatantly honest, I wasn't really into either Current Swell or The Boom Booms all that much. But that being said, they are all hard working bands who I am sure will put the money to great use.

But on to the show itself. Kicking off the night was The Matinée, slowly taking the stage to "Also sprach Zarathustra" (the opening song from 2001: A Space Odyssey) building with a bit of instrumental before lead singer Matt Layzell took the stage, just oozing charisma as he grabbed the old fashioned microphone and got down to it. They got the crowd into it early, getting people to sing along with "Sweet Water", and several times throughout the set getting the crowd to clap along, leading to thunderous clapping/stomping and making the Commodore's floor bounce. The incredible presence had the audience eating out of their hand the entire night, and not to mention their insane talent -- especially Matt Rose who gave several guitar clinics throughout.
A couple highlights of the set were "The Sinking of the Greenhill Park", their Vancouver 125 song -- a challenge to all bands to write a song about Vancouver -- where they were joined by a small string section to back them up, including Michelle Faehrmann and Hannah Epperson and "The Road", which featured THE drum breakdown, with guitarist Geoff Petrie jumping behind a second kit, and the rest of the members on floor toms just pounding away.
They brought the set to an end with the explosive song that culminated in Rose, again, smashing a guitar on stage. If they weren't already a favourite, this set would have definitely cemented that as, even with bias aside, I thought they were the strongest of the night.

Next up was Victoria's Current Swell, who were my practical prediction to win it. I have never really been a fan of the whole "island rock" sound that they have, but I will admit they know how to put on a show and their live set is a bit more energetic and harder rocking than expected. Their set consisted of a number of new songs, from their recently released Long Time Ago as well as some older material, including what was definitely the highlight of the set, "Cursed", my favourite songs of theirs which features a incendiary guitar riff. There wasn't much chatter from the band, but they, too, have a good stage presence and the crowd was really digging them.
They wrapped up with only a couple of the members out for a more acoustic number, giving the set a bit of a softer ending. Much like I thought at their showcase, I like them live a lot better than any of the recorded material I have heard, and even though I am not a fan, I certainly thought they put on a damn fine set.

And finally, rounding out the night was The Boom Booms. The bands reggae groove is, again, really not my thing but while they are not the best technical musicians, I can not deny that they are incredibly tight and absolutely know how to work a crowd. Getting a huge section of the floor dancing and singing along, moving, grooving and even almost all of the dance floor to taking a knee at one point, they had an incredibly high energy. That said, I thought a fair amount of their songs had a similar vibe to them and kind of blended together -- and there seemed to be one member whose sole job was shakers and backup vocals. 
The set also included a cover of Nelly's "Must Be The Money" and featured Simon Kendall from Doug & The Slugs out for a few songs. 
Again, it may be just a personal preference, as they clearly have a legion of fans, but despite their fun, high energy set, I wasn't really turned around on my opinion of them. They are good at what they do, but what they do isn't for me.

After the three bands played, it was time for the big announcement and handing out the oversized novelty cheques. As I am sure you know by now, Current Swell took top dollar, with The Boom Booms coming in second and The Matinée rounding out the top three. While it certainly wasn't the outcome I wanted, it was actually exactly as I predicted -- which makes it the first year of The Peak PP that I've not only successfully predicted the top three, but placement as well.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for two of the bands playing, I still thought it was an incredible night, with the crowd buzzing for the entire show, and all three bands putting on phenomenally energetic sets. And while I think that overall, the contest was not as strong as it was last year (which is more a testament to the insane amount of talent involved last year than anything) it was still a great ride; I definitely was made a fan of several of the bands taking part and I am already looking forward to next year.

Major kudos is deserved to both The Peak and Music BC and all the people involved in this incredible yearly contest, especially for their support and nurturing of local music. I hope the bands involved go on to keep doing what they're doing, and I hope The Peak continues to support them, even (or especially) the ones that didn't make the top five.

Peak Performance Project Showcase #2 @ Red Room -- 09/15/11

The Peak Performance Project is a multi-year contest in which The Peak, along with Music BC, picks 20 BC musicians/bands a year and makes them stars. The first year was won by We Are The City, and last year, Kyprios, with a ton of great bands and artists included as well.

Part one of the project was a rock & roll boot camp where they went on a week long retreat where industry pros helped them refine their craft. Phase two is a series of shows at The Red Room, four artists a night for five weeks, each playing a 45 minute set. In the last two years, the bands would all have to learn and play a cover of a classic Canadian song, but this year they will all be playing the songs they wrote about Vancouver for the Vancouver125 celebrations. Honestly, I am a bit disappointed about that, because one of my favourite aspects of the showcase series last year was seeing which song they picked and how they interpreted it. But I am sure their Vancouver songs will be great.

First up for the night was Avairis, whose three members took the stage one by one for a song that built up. They were kind of dirty, bluesy rock group and while they played off each other really well, I didn't really get into them that much. I definitely didn't think it was bad by any means, but it wasn't all that great either; it just... was.
They would, however, win if the prize was based off facial hair, and Duff has a really interesting story -- he was once in a plane crash and messed up his right hand, so he decided to switch and learn to play the guitar with his other hand.

Fields of Green was up next, and they were one of the bands that I had not heard much of before, but was intrigued to see live. With a bit of a prog-infused alt-rock sound and a crazy energy, especially the drummer, who was a maniac behind the kit. Though half way through the set they killed all of their momentum when, after trying to get the Red Room silent (which did not work at all) they decided to do a completely unplugged and unamplified song. I can see something like that being killer in a smaller venue with a quieter crowd, but as it turned out, anyone not in the first five rows couldn't hear a thing, and that really hurt. That being said, they did manage to regain some momentum and ended the set with even more energy than they started with. For the most part, I really enjoyed it, and definitely saw potential in the band; they're a little green right now, but given a few years of hard work, they could be huge.

Third up was Acres of Lions, who are one of the repeats from last year's competition. When I saw them a year ago, I thought they were okay; a decently fun band, though nothing much else. But they really impressed me this year with how much they've improved since then. They played a solid set of fun, upbeat rock songs, and had a really good stage presence, really pulling the crowd into it. The best example was mid-set, with their new single, "Reaction", which got everyone clapping and ba baa-ing along, and was sure to get stuck in peoples heads well into the next day.
Plus, any band that has a song about Firefly ("This Was Not My Best Day Ever") is aces in my books.

And rounding out the night was Current Swell. I had heard some of their stuff before the Project started, and I never really cared for them that much, so I had a bit of a bias going into their set. But they were a lot more rocking that I thought they would be, and they had a fantastic energy.
While there were still more songs I couldn't get into than could, there were a couple I really dug. "Cursed", which has a fantastic guitar riff throughout the song, was great live and their Vancouver 125 song, "Granvilletown", was also pretty fun. I enjoyed them a lot more than I thought I would, but (to be honest) I still wasn't really "won over" by them. I would probably see them live again, but likely won't be scrambling to get an album.

Maybe not quite as good as the first week, but still a damn fun show. And, on a side note, pretty much half of the Vancouver music scene was on hand to see the showcase, which is always great seeing all the love and support.
On tap for next week next week, we'll you'll see The Oh Wells, Ashleigh Eymann, Sex With Strangers and The Boom Booms.