Festival Review: Skookum Festival 2018, Vancouver


Skookum Festival took over Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC for its inaugural year, bringing the best of Vancouver’s music, food, and arts scenes all in one place. Overlooking the Downtown skyline and North Shore mountains, it was a great celebration of what the city has to offer! With four stages, each named after their backdrop (Forest, Mountain, Skyline, and Meadow), there was no lack of choice in who to see.

Festivities kicked off late on Friday afternoon with a bit of rain (definitely foreshadowing for the rest of the weekend) and a fairly small lineup full of great and mostly local bands. The first act we caught were Frankiie at their secret show in the Brockton Fieldhouse. The band were missing a drummer, but still put on an incredible, and very intimate, show. A great way to start things off. Next we headed over to the Forest Stage to catch local punk powerhouses, Little Destroyer. Vocalist, Allie Sheldan, owns the stage with her powerful vocals while brothers Chris and Michael Weiss show their incredible skills on keys and guitar (Chris) and drums (Michael). Up next were another local act, Dear Rouge, on the Mountain Stage where they played to a crowd that didn’t stop singing the lyrics back at them throughout the entire set. The last set we caught on the actual festival grounds on Friday night were Austin-by-way-of-Toronto based rock duo Black Pistol Fire.

We headed off site next to catch one the Skookum After Dark shows at the Rickshaw Theatre downtown. Little Destroyer were playing their second set of the day, but were still just as high energy as they were at the festival, while little less reserved as this was a 19+ event. Next on the night’s bill were the exciting new band out of Calgary, Bad Animal, with their extremely danceable rock sound. Headlining the night was Canadian singer-songwriter Matt Mays. With an alt-country background, Mays definitely knows how to get a room moving with his upbeat, heavy guitar sound.

Saturday started off drier and earlier in the afternoon, with local acts Said The Whale on the Mountain Stage and Current Swell opening up the Skyline Stage for the first time in the weekend. For our third act of the day we headed back over to the Mountain Stage to catch the amazing X Ambassadors who definitely lived up to their hype. Lead singer Sam Harris was full of energy the entire set, even picking up a saxophone at one point. Next on Mountain were German duo, Milky Chance. 

As the evening went on the acts got better and better. Art rock queen, St. Vincent, took over the Skyline Stage next. She mesmerized the entire crowd so much so that no one even noticed the torrential downpour that had started until she stopped singing. Despite the sudden and heavy moisture her set kept on track, and kept on blowing the minds of anyone in the near vicinity. The War On Drugs took the stage next, changing the pace with their indie-rock sound. We kept with the rock theme as we headed back over to the Mountain Stage to see Canadian rockers, Metric close it for the night. The Toronto-based quad drew in almost the entire festival as Emily Haines sang her heart out in front of the coolest sequin backdrop ever seen at a festival. It was almost a spiritual experience to witness Florence + The Machine closing out the day with the Vancouver skyline in the background. Because she was the only act left for the night, and most vendors had closed up as well, literally every person on the festival grounds were lining the field and hill around the Skyline Stage. Going into this we knew her performance would be something  special, but mixed with the sheer amount of people (somewhere around 20,000) and the stunning setting, it was truly a moment anyone in attendance will ever forget.

Despite a forecast of constant rain, Sunday kicked of to a wonderfully upbeat start. We headed over to the Meadow Stage for the first time to catch one of Vancouver’s best Australian transplants/musicians, Andrew Phelan. From the get go he is entertaining and very conversational with the audience as he gives brief but great summaries of his songs. As usual he ended his set by getting everyone within hearing distance to sing along with him. Next we headed over to the Skyline Stage to catch Californians, Cold War Kids, as they continued the day’s upbeat vibes with their indie-rock tunes. With front man Nathan Willet switching between a wide variety of instruments, they were definitely a fun band to catch. Yukon Blonde were up next over on the Mountain Stage. The band have been a Canadian staple for over a decade now, so pulled in a massive crowd of eager fans. Vocalist and guitarist Jeff Innes did not disappoint and put on an incredible display of talent.

One of the most highly anticipated acts to catch at the festival were quite possibly Greta Van Fleet. The band is made up of three brothers and their friend, who are all in their early twenties. They seemed to come out of nowhere a couple years ago, but quickly gained massive success and are constantly being touted as the new Led Zeppelin of this generation. They don’t ever allow photographers, but we were totally fine with that because it seemed like the entire festival shut down to hear them play (although it may have just been because they were literally so loud that no one else was going to bother to try play over them). It was interesting and slightly confusing going from loud, hard rock to the soft ukulele-pop sound of Vancouver local Haley Blais, but it also let my ears have a chance to recover. Her music is soft and upbeat and discusses seemingly mundane things like asking someone to untag an unflattering photo on facebook. It fits perfectly in with a lot of the indie-pop music that is coming out of Vancouver lately. Slightly weird, but lots of fun! Next up we caught Mother Mother over on the Skyline Stage. This band is another staple of Canadian pop/rock music and they put on a great show, full of energy. The last act that we caught of the weekend was indie-rock legend, Father John Misty. His stage presence and voice drew you in further and further the more you watched, making you forget there were other people around you. Even the rain let up for the first time all day, allowing everyone to relax a little bit. There is a fairly clear country/folk influence woven throughout his music, making it feel almost endearing, like a warm hug to the soul. Seeing this man perform live was an absolutely incredible way to end the festival and weekend.

For being just in its first year, Skookum Festival did an amazing job of showcasing the artistic culture that runs deep through Vancouver while also bringing in some incredible global acts that we don’t often see come through. The location in Stanley Park offers some fabulous backdrops for the music, while still being very accessible for festival-goers as its located right at the edge of  Downtown. It will be a difficult task to top this year’s lineup, but we are definitely excited to see what they come up with for 2019.

Words and Photography by Kelli Anne Lane