Journey to Rifflandia or There and Back Again

Hat and wig brought to you by “Let your Freak Flag Fly” day.

I’ve never been one for music festivals in the past. Mainly this has been due to a lack of interest in the bands playing and a lack of free cash on my part. The music festivals that I did attend were either the free festivals that were put on yearly, or the odd ticketed festival that appealed to my particular taste in music. The free festivals, like the Festival of Friends, Earthsong, or It’s Your Festival (where I actually worked for one summer, but that’s another story) were a fine Hamilton summer tradition and were well attended by just about everyone I knew regardless of your musical stripes. After all, they were free and it’s hard to complain about free entertainment especially when you’re young, bored, and broke.  As for paid festivals, the only one I’d managed to get to up until now was Lollapalooza: the first one back in 1991 and the fourth one in 1994. Both of these occurred due to a magical combination of my having money and the line-up being interesting enough for me to part with said money.

This brings me to Rifflandia. Since its inception in 2008 I’ve been watching it grow with interest. But every year it’s been the same thing: either I’ve been too short in the cash department by the time the festival rolls around or the band line-up hasn’t inspired me enough to cough up the dough for a couple of the steeply priced wristbands. But it was different this year: a friend had two extra park passes and generously donated them to Pati and I. So I was finally able to experience Rifflandia, or at least the main event at Royal Athletic Park. Here are some of the highlights for me.

  • I made it to the park on Friday shortly before Rich Aucoin took to the stage. I was glad that I did. His performance was high-energy and infectiously upbeat. He was able to get the notoriously inert Victoria audience jumping and signing along with him. And this was before he brought out a parachute for the audience to play with. It was like the best part of primary school had come back to visit for a brief moment.
  • Band of Skulls remind me of Rush. This is a good thing. Is it because they are a three-piece band with a rich full sound? Is it because they are skilled musicians? Is it because they rock? Is it all of the above?
  • The Flaming Lips were amazing and weird and colourfully celebratory. I thoroughly enjoyed their show and have now happily checked them off on my “Bands to See Live Before I Die” list. I was a slightly disappointed that they didn’t play more songs from the rocking part of their oeuvre, but what they did play was just the kind of crazy head-trip that they are famous for, and rightly so. Also, having small children running around during the concert made it somehow even stranger.
  • The Stanfields hard-edged Celtic rock exploded out of the side stage on Saturday afternoon, surprising all within earshot. Some folks in the audience looked genuinely disturbed, but that may have been because they saw my enormous grin and were afraid that I might eat them. They needn’t have worried: there were plenty of tasty tunes to satisfy all appetites. They’ll be back in Victoria at the end of October, in case you missed them this time around.
  • The Jezabels just may be a new favourite band. The Australian quartet have this great flowing ethereal rock sound that appeals to my endless love for all that is dream pop, shoegazer, and wall of sound. Hearing them perform outdoors on the exquisite main stage sound system may be one of the high points of my year.
  • Jinja Safari, also from Australia, played a perfect set of summer music. Their high energy performance of African influenced rhythms and infectious fair weather pop was a perfect companion to the hot and sunny September afternoon.
  • Much of today’s hip hop seems to be concerned with convincing everyone that the performers are possibly the coolest and undoubtedly the most sexually proficient people around. This is profoundly uninteresting to me. Grand Analog showed me that I can enjoy rap again. Their fun-loving brand of old school rap music was a breath of fresh air mixed with some kickin’ beats.

I have to admit something: my expectations for this year were not high. Beyond headliners the Flaming Lips, I didn’t know many of the bands on the bill. It turns out that this was actually a much better thing than I had assumed it was. It allowed for moments of surprise and discovery that really made Rifflandia for me. And I think that that’s the key to Rifflandia: go without expectations and just enjoy the experience. Chances are you’ll come out the other side with some new favourites.