Day one: Friday
After getting settled in and getting the lay of the land; checking out the Island Stage in the middle of a lagoon and the Sandbar Stage right on the beach, and all the vendors in between, it was time for The Trews to take the stage. The Antigonish rockers started with the high energy "The Power of Positive Drinking" and hardly slowed down. They had the hillside crowd singing and clapping along, especially to songs like "Not Ready To Go" and one of my favourites, "Poor Ol' Broken Hearted Me". As they are wont to do, they also had a couple covers slipped in to songs, like U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" in the middle of a new song "Lord, Keep Me In Mind".
After what seemed like not nearly enough time, they ended the set with "Hold Me In Your Arms" to thunderous applause, the crowd definitely revved up.
The night ended with Mutemath, who were the band I was most excited about. I hadn't seen them live in a few years, and was afraid I had hyped them up too much in my mind, but from the minute they hit the stage (and drummer Darren King wrapped his headphones around his head with electrical tape) and started into the title track of their most recent album Odd Soul, I knew I had been worrying for nothing.
The whole band had incredible energy, but especially lead singer Paul Meany. When not at the keyboard, or playing keytar, he would be right up at the barrier, leaning into the crowd singing. He even performed a few of his trademark "keyboard handstands".
Highlights of the set included the relatively-mellow & heartfelt "Noticed", and the explosive "Typical", as well as the grand finale, "Break The Same" which transitioned into "Quarantine" as an air mattress with lights around the side was thrown into the crowd, and Paul got on top to surf the crowd while singing. And as he got back on stage, they ended the set with another bombastic percussion breakdown, leaving the crowd spent and drained for a first night of Keloha that would be hard to top.
Day Two: Saturday
(Dear Rouge would later put on an absolute rager at Doc Willoughby's with The Zolas as part of the After Party series)
Over on the Island Stage, Malibu Knights had a pretty generic rock sound, while Fields of Green tore it up for their hometown crowd; their high energy prog-rock sound continuing to grow and amaze me. I caught a bit of Gold and Youth but their dark and synthy sound would be better suited to a dimly lit and smokey venue, not a bright and sunny day.
I also was able to squeeze in a few songs from Shad on the beach stage, "Rose Garden" and "Ya, I Get It", where Shad jumped into the front of the crowd, before his DJ's laptop crashed, and he got the crowd to provide the percussion for the next song.
But I had to leave his set early to go catch The Zolas back at the Island Stage. The crowd was gathering and started to groove as they kicked off with "In Heaven" and "Knot In My Heart", the opening tracks to their most recent album Ancient Mars. As usual, the band had a strong stage presence and energy, especially Zach Gray, who is like a pot simmering over, always ready to erupt.
Most of the set focused on the new album, including the quirky "Observatory", but they also tossed in a couple older songs, like the fiery "Marlaina Kamikaze" and the passionate "You're Too Cool", which ended off the set.
Another one of the main bands I was there to see were up next, Arkells. Even though they had been at a festival the previous night in Toronto, they were advised not to miss this show, thanks to the setting alone, and they made sure to point out it was definitely worth it.
"On Paper" started off the set, with the band's energy through the roof, as usual. They are a fantastic and tight live band, and lead singer Max Kerman has an amazing and effortless stage presence. Highlights included "Oh, The Boss is Coming", which got the crowd yelling along, and they also dug into a little Motown that they save for special occasions with a cover of Jackson 5's "I Want You Back".
They wrapped up the set with one of my favourites, "John Lennon", and the raucous "Whistleblower".
Australia's Atlas Genius was up next, but while they were starting to amass a bigger crowd who were getting the dance party started, I thought their set felt a little flat. It was a pretty upbeat rock sound, and they were certainly very fine musicians, but a lot of the songs sounded pretty much the same and I just couldn't get into it.
And finally, wrapping up the second night was Matt and Kim. I had heard they were good live, but I had no idea just how nuts Matt Johnson on keys (and the odd sample, like the explosion he used to punctuate things) and Kim Schifino on drums (sometimes literally standing atop the drums to play, or clap, or "shake her booty") would be. They came right out with an incredible energy and fantastically likeable personalities to whip the crowd into a frenzy. They weren't just playing for the crowd, they wanted to party with them.
From throwing out balloons, to getting everyone to simultaneously jump, to Kim running atop the crowd to dance while people held her upright, both musicians were full of raw enthusiasm, which was absolutely contagious.
I wasn't too familiar with their music -- only recognizing the bouncy "Cameras" and "Daylight" -- which ended the set, but they definitely put on an amazing show and I wouldn't hesitate to see them again.
Day Three: Sunday
I got there just in time for Maurice to take the Island Stage, joined by a couple familiar faces, including Andrew Rasmussen on keys and Stephanie Chatman on violin. Starting off the set with "Get Mad", JP has an effortless stage presence and fills his songs with raw emotion, and highlights included the undeniably catchy "Mistake" and the best song that deals with the repercussions of a threesome, "Robin".
Wake Owl was up next, and I'm not sure if it was where I was perched on the hill, but the sound wasn't too great; their rich and lush orchestral sound didn't seem to translate very well. They played some songs off their Wild Country EP, the eponymous song being a highlight, and a few new ones which were a bit more upbeat and jaunty.
At that point, The Matinée was supposed to be taking the Sandbar Stage on the beach, but they had a little bit of highway trouble and were still on their way, so they swapped with Saskatchewan grunge band One Bad Son who were pretty much an average and generic grunge band.
But The Matinée did manage to get there just in time for their new set on the Island Stage, and despite the ten hours of travel they had just endured, they still put on one heck of a set. Starting off, as they usually do, with "L'absinthe", they put boots to the ground and kicked things into high gear. They got people clapping along to "Sweet Water", which also featured a great banjo solo from Matt Rose, threw in their cover of Zeppelin's "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp", and wrapped it up with "The Road", with its top-notch percussion breakdown.
And with that, I had to head back. I was disappointed to leave, but not too sad of missing the rest of the day, as they were mostly artists I had seen or didn't have too much interest in, and the weekend was already packed with enough memorable moments to last a dozen festivals over.
If the lineup is even a fraction as good as this next year -- and if they keep the "After Party" series going, with smaller bands playing in small local venues -- I will be back to the Okanagan in a heartbeat.