SKOOKUM Music Festival Draws Huge Crowd Despite Monsoon Rainfall
By Kelly Many Guns and Laura Balance Media Group
An estimated 50,000 music lovers were enchanted by over 50 stage performances involving some of the world’s most famed artists during the inaugural SKOOKUM Festival, held September 7 to 9 at iconic Stanley Park – one of the biggest urban green recreational areas.
Festival director Paul Runnals said when his organizing team envisioned SKOOKUM, their goal was to create an event that was accessible, inclusive, and sustainable. “Our team wanted to produce a festival that would be unlike anything done before in this region, successfully incorporating food, art, culture, and of course music. The response we had throughout the weekend was overwhelmingly positive,” said Runnals.
Incessant weekend rain showers couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of festival-goer’s on hand there to see headlining acts The Killers, Florence + The Machine, the Arkells, Metric, and many others. Aboriginal artist Murray Porter, the Mohawk piano player from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, played his country blues. Porter’s soulful voice sang contemporary stories about Canada’s Indigenous people, and also on the universal theme of love.
Performing before a hyper crowd at one of the smaller meadow stages on Saturday evening was The Snotty Nose Rez Kids, the hip-hop duo from the Haisla Nation of the Haislakal-speaking people. Recreating their identities within their own contexts, they aim to reclaim their voices and share them with a wider audience.
Crystal Shawanda of the Wikwemikong First Nation belted out a country rock and blues-filled set under a Sunday afternoon monsoon downpour. Though Shawanda’s parents raised her on country music and taught her how to sing and play guitar, it was her oldest brother who introduced her to the blues. He would hang out in the basement cranking out Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Etta James, and Crystal would sit at the top of the stairs straining to hear those soulful sounds.
The renowned, award-winning recording artist, educator, and visual artist Buffy Sainte-Marie performed on the Forest Stage as the rain came down. Sainte-Marie said she was honoured to be invited to play SKOOKUM and be surrounded by so many diverse musicians.
In 2017, she released Medicine Songs, a collection of songs about the environment, alternative conflict resolution, Indigenous realities, and greed. Part rhythmic healing, part trumpeting wake-up call, Medicine Songs is the soundtrack of the resistance.
Also well received was the SKOOKUM After Dark Program, which included 11 well-attended shows at various Vancouver venues.
More than 15,000 people attended opening night on Friday, with a crowd of 18,500 and 17,000 Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The majority of attendees were from the lower mainland and approximately 18 percent were from outside of region, resulting in a significant economic impact for the community.
“An event of this magnitude doesn’t happen by accident,” said Runnals. “We have an incredible team at BRANDLIVE and hundreds of volunteers, all of who went above and beyond to deliver a world class event.”
Many festival attendees took advantage of transportation challenges associated with holding an event of this magnitude in Stanley Park by utilizing the SKOOKUM shuttle service, public transit, and EVO’s free valet service.
Along with reminders to recycle and compost, SKOOKUM Festival-goers were encouraged to reduce their environmental footprint by bringing their own reusable drink containers – and in large part they embraced the opportunity.
The Festival had no reports of major incidents, or medical-related issues.
Event organizers pan to return to the Park Board and Local First Nations to seek a multi-year agreement that will bring back the festival in 2019.