This was the first year of Constellation Fest and NineEightSeven’s first year covering it!
Constellation took place on Hendricks Field in Squamish from July 26th – 28th. The Greater Vancouver festival market has been notably lean in 2019 as older mainstays such as Squamish Valley Music Festival and Pemberton have bitten the dust while Skookum and Rifflandia took a year off.
Constellation aimed to bring a west coast mid-size festival experience to the Pacific Northwest, and it did just that. The weekend was met with idyllic July weather (apart from a brief Friday shower). The festival grounds themselves were an excellent size. The crowds felt busy and excited, but not overwhelming. Beer, food, and bathroom lines were manageable. Similar to Rifflandia, Constellation used two alternating stages, with the main stage facing the Stawamus Chief.
Beyond the music, Constellation mixed in local vendors and artists, with several art installations evolving over the course of the festival. One paint-by-numbers zone had a large canvas and allowed everyone to get involved.
It is also worth noting that Constellation had many initiatives to go zero waste. They appeared to be partnering with waste giant, GFL, which allowed for waste-of-all-kind depositories and kept the festival grounds spick and span.
NineEightSeven’s 2019 Constellation Festival began in Vancouver Friday afternoon. By locating in Squamish, getting to the festival was relatively easy via car or festival shuttles. While camping was available off-site, NineEightSeven stayed at a nearby hotel to maximize sleep, bathrobes and water slides.
Our festival began with Canadian act, Dear Rouge performing local radio mainstays “Black to Gold”, “Live Through The Night” and others. Lead singer, Danielle McTaggart, partnered with purple smoke bombs and a black and white robe, brought NineEightSeven right into Constellation’s mode.
Following them, Edmonton band of brothers Scenic Route to Alaska took the smaller Creative BC Stage to smoke and a brief rain shower. They have a ‘Central Canada‘ guitar sound that fit right into the evening and fed into Friday headliner Serena Ryder.
She began with her biggest hit, high energy, “Stompa”. From there, through the smoke machines, she mixed in slow songs and heavier guitar and eventually caused the only rainstorm of the weekend.
After a brief pit-stop, NineEightSeven hit up the official after-party at the best nightclub on the Sea-to-Sky, The Knotty Burl. Truly having everything one might look for in a post festival experience, The Knotty Burl provided a nightly option for a sweatier dance party after a day in the grass with more relaxed music. Hot Hot Heat’s bassist, Parker Bossley, played to a packed crowd eager for the night to continue.
NineEightSeven made it in for Vancouver’s own, Peach Pit. Well, we made it in before that but got stuck at festival sponsor, Nude’s activity zone, sipping beverages and playing corn-hole. The Saturday crowd was a wide range of ages, with a surprisingly large number of kids. The family atmosphere felt at-one with a Squamish weekend while little posses of children roamed around coming up with games that only they could understand. Peach Pit came with facial hair, and a Vancouver hipster look and sound on the main stage.
Following Peach Pit, rapper (and briefly Studio Q host) Shad was on the Creative BC Stage. He mixed older classics with some newer tracks and upped the hip-hop significantly after a couple days of largely Indie Rock.
Following in the hip-hop vein was A Tribe Called Red. They began with a message, letting the crowd know that one of their members had been profiled and taken out of the festival. In response, the crowd booed and were firmly siding with A Tribe Called Red. Once the set began, some truly spectacular indigenous dancers and hoops wowed and accompanied classics such as “Electric Pow Wow Drum”.
NineEightSeven’s surprise favourite of the weekend followed, Cosmo Sheldrake. A couple of his songs have hit the mainstream in a few surprising ways, “The Moss” and “Come Along”, popping up in places such as Apple ads and the intro to The Masked Singer. He seems to mix lyrics you might associate with Dr. Seuss into a looped DJ set. His soft-spoken London accent matches his on-stage persona: perfectly: unassuming, but in full control. Fortunately, this was not the last time we saw Cosmo that evening.
In the roll of the Saturday closer, Jessie Reyez. You probably know her by now, but if not, she made cross-Canada radio waves with “Figures” in late 2017. However, only associating her music with Figures misses the R&B/rap sound of much of her other stuff. Unfortunately, Jessie hurt herself a few weeks prior and for a while Constellation looked dicey. However, she made it and began in her signature hoodie and hat. She went through classics such as “Gatekeeper”, “Apple Juice” and “Body Count” before lying down on the stage. Typically, she rips back and forth and today her movement was decidedly slower. She then said:
“You guys my back is killing me. I don’t want to stop the show, but I’ve got to sit down”.
All of a sudden, a couch appeared on stage and she lay on it and kept singing all the way through a closing “Figures”. As she likes to, she frequently brought the crowd in, telling stories of coming up performing on the street, and dealing with industry low-lifes.
However, the night was far from done as Cosmo Sheldrake was performing at The Knotty Burl. Reprising some tunes from earlier, with some new loops and mixes, he nearly didn’t play his biggest hit, “Come Along”. Fortunately, some aggressive crowd cajoling brought him back on stage to finish off Saturday at Constellation with this tune.
Sunday began slowly for NineEightSeven and the festival. Following legalization, cannabis giant Aurora sponsored a Weed Garden, enabling Aurora plastered hats to be on almost each on every head in the grounds. We checked it out before taking in songstress, Begonia. She has a big voice (think Lily Allen) perfect for larger venues and for taking in on the grass in front of the main stage.
From there, Current Swell brought a little heavier rock before Sunday highlight, Half Moon Run. They sang dreamy classics such as “Full Circle”, along with the new single and a few other tunes off their at-the-time-unreleased album, “A Blemish in the Great Light”.
Unfortunately, from there, NineEightSeven had to jet back Vancouver way, eagerly awaiting Constellation 2020 (July 24-26).
9.87/10 – Can’t wait wait for next year!
Review: Alex Jardine
Photos: Mikhail Din