East Meets West: Summer of Festivals Series- SKOOKUM Festival Volume 1

I’d never festival’d before. Yes, festival IS a verb. Sure I’d sang “Ziggy Zaggy Oi OiOi” in Kitchener at Oktoberfest. I’m also told I had a great time at George Street Fest. (I would like to take this moment to offer thanks to Dionysus, the god of madness and pleasure that a) I survived  b) no smart phones were around when I was having plastic cup after plastic cup of Lamb’s, rum because I have no doubt in my mind that I was the farthest thing from picture perfect.)

The Summer of 2018 found me changing the tides; in two months I found myself at three music festivals. Each with their own personality. I present to you, part one of SKOOKUM


Vancouver changed seasons rather abruptly in August; leaving us shivering with tans underneath our sweaters, but I was still ready to have one last kick at summer. I had another festival attend: Skookum Festival.

Back in early spring, I had heard that there was going to be a new festival starting up, smack dab in the middle of Vancouver’s Stanley Park; the mountains and the City of Glass as your backdrop. SKOOKUM was billed as “Music. Art. Food.” and possessing a penchant for all three, I took a gander at the lineup; well butter my buns and call me a biscuit! This festival was practically curated for me; Whitehorse, The Zolas, Bahamas, Mother Mother, Metric, The Arkells (one of the three headliners alongside Florence and the Machine and The Killers) AND Farther John Misty?  Where’s my credit card? Let’s do this! I bought my weekend pass, to what I affectionately and oh so bombastically dubbed: Steens Fest.

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But what is a Skookum? Outlined on their website, “Originating from the historical Chinook Jargon of the Pacific Northwest, Skookum translates to strong, brave and impressive. It also means celebration” Heck of a mandate; would it live up to it?

The festival featured four stages dubbed Meadow, Forrest, Mountain and Virgin Mobile Skyline (corporate sponsorship, I’ll get to you). The site featured merch,  craft beer and wine tents, food vendors, picnic tables where you could eat your gourmet-curated picnic basket, and sponsorship tents; Clearly Contacts, Evo Car Share, Virgin Members Lounge, and Top Shop Selfie Stage to name a few.

This was the fest’s inaugural year, but hardly grassroots. Vancouver is expensive, and a unique location, newness and big-name acts as major draws, this was an opportunity for money to be made. Could an event of this magnitude even occur without sponsorship? Chew on that.

Just because sponsorship was omnipresent, this festival still had a conscious. Sustainability was fiercely celebrated and upheld; only compostable, reusable or recyclable food containers were permitted, no single-use plastic bottles or straws. If we all get to party in the middle of such a beautiful place, you can be damned sure that it wasn’t going to be left in a steaming pile.

Respect for the land also means respect for the indigenous people of the land. It wasn’t enough to just acknowledge that the festival took place on the unseeded territory of Musqueam , Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, it also was a time to educate. In the very middle of the festival ground were texts dedicated to just that. Attendees were invited to learn more under the categories of land, the people and the place. Awareness.

The art installation or informative tool Sínulhkay (a double-headed sea-serpent) & Ladders deeply illuminated this point. The objective of the game was to “move beyond neocolonial denial and admit that there are many problems to solve. Once woke, you roll the dice to begin your complicated journey of understanding and committing to decolonizing practices”. The goal and the methodology to win; the Squamish verb Chenchensyway “Uphold one another”.

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With that foundation, it was time to be lifted by the music. My powerhouse of a pal Sarah, with her mighty heart and humour, was my weekend partner in crime. I was already sardine’d in the crowd, and a bit pessimistic she’d find me in a crowd of 15, 000, with no distinguishing factors other than “I’m front left! Near the tall guy, I’m in my black rain jacket”. But of course she did, Skookum Magic. “I can’t believe she found you! That’s so awesome!” cheered the person behind me just as the band was starting. Uplifting indeed!

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Friday’s headliners:  good ole Ontario boys the Arkells. Dudes who always remind me of the kind of guys I grew up (incidentally, my cousin’s best friend is cousins with one of them members), work hard/play hard type whose music made you feel good, invigorated and nostalgic. What a love fest; an energetic, feel-good show, with singer Max Kerman pin balling around the stage in his leather, rainbow fringed jacket. “Now at an Arkells show there are three rules 1) you’ve got to dance 2)  you’ve got to look after each other and 3) you’ve got to sing!” Max joyously told the crowd, and on that rainy Friday night, happily, we did all three. In that moment, community was fostered and distilled into fun. No ego, just joy.

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It was a hell of a kick-off to a weekend that would find me drenched in music, friendship, and rain. And was I ever ready to soak it all in. ‘Cept the rain, thankfully though, I’ve got a good jacket.

*The complete Summer of Festivals Series- is available here.*