A quick-and-dirty tour of mu­sic-fest his­tory

Pop Eye Mike Usinger

The Georgia Straight - - Skookum -

At the risk of bring­ing up the ghosts of the Grate­ful Dead—a band cur­rently beat­ing a rot­ting horse un­der the money grub­bing ban­ner of Dead & Com­pany—what a long strange trip it’s been for the phe­nom­e­non known as the mu­sic fes­ti­val.

One minute, you’re eat­ing bar­ley cake and dried eel while groov­ing to the ex­otic sounds of the au­los and kithara and singing a hymn to Apollo at the Pythian Games at Del­phi in an­cient Greece. The next, you’re din­ing on roasted rib-eye with Borde­laise sauce and horse­rad­ish salsa verde while the Killers power through

“All the Things I’ve

Done” at the SKOOKUM fes­ti­val in Van­cou­ver’s gorgeous Stan­ley Park.

It seems like only yes­ter­day that your grand­par­ents were rolling around in the mud like pigs at Wood­stock.

What’s crazy is the way that mu­sic fes­ti­vals have evolved in a short time.

While the Pythian Games were in­deed first off the mark, the mod­ern­day out­door ex­trav­a­gan­zas we’ve come to know started in the ’60s, when peace, love, acid, and bushels of mar­i­juana got peo­ple re­al­iz­ing that it was bet­ter to be trip­pin’ balls to­gether than curled up in a fe­tal ball in bed.

Pop­u­lar opin­ion is that Cal­i­for­nia’s Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val was the first time some­one got the idea of set­ting up a bunch of gen­er­a­tors and por­ta­ble stages, and then con­vinc­ing peo­ple that noth­ing is cooler than tak­ing a Day 2 dump in an over­flow­ing Porta Potty.

It makes sense that the three-day Mon­terey blowout gets credit for paving the way for Wood­stock, Glas­ton­bury, Lol­la­palooza, Coachella, and too many others to list here. It was at the Mon­terey County Fair­grounds that the Who ended its set with Keith Moon kick­ing the shit out of his drums while Pete Town­shend at­tempted to turn the stage into fire­wood with his Stra­to­caster. And that, de­ter­mined to up­stage the Who, Jimi Hen­drix turned his Stra­to­caster into a camp­fire af­ter fuck­ing the liv­ing day­lights out of his Mar­shall dur­ing “Wild Thing”.

Given such land­mark per­for­mances, it’s no won­der that the Fan­tasy Fair and Magic Moun­tain Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, which took place one week be­fore Mon­terey, sel­dom gets the glory for be­ing the true rock-fest pro­to­type. Blame Jef­fer­son Air­plane, the Doors, the Byrds, and Canned Heat for not giv­ing the au­di­ence some­thing epic to re­mem­ber—namely, dodg­ing fly­ing gui­tar parts, bass drums, and empty cans of lighter fluid.

But, as fun as it is to watch Jef­fer­son Air­plane singer Marty Balin get punched out by Hells An­gels in old Al­ta­mont Speed­way Free Fes­ti­val footage, let’s bring things into the present.

As­sum­ing that you know the Weeknd is Abel Makko­nen Tes­faye’s stage name and not a typo, chances are you’ve heard of Sur­rey’s now well-es­tab­lished FVDED in the Park. This week­end sees the launch of the Lower Main­land’s sec­ond ma­jor mul­ti­day mu­sic fest: SKOOKUM. SKOOKUM is in­ter­est­ing be­cause, like FVDED, it rep­re­sents some­thing of a sea change in the fes­ti­val­go­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. For lack of a bet­ter and more gra­cious way of putting things, it might be the first time that a mul­ti­day West Coast mu­sic fes­ti­val has suc­ceeded in mak­ing things classy. Think long-ta­ble din­ners, on-site craft brew­eries and craft dis­tillers, and pop-ups by topflight restau­ra­teurs.

For­get queu­ing up for a Mr. Tube Steak and warm Mol­son Cana­dian in a dust-swept field at the re­cent and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously de­parted Pem­ber­ton Mu­sic FES­TI­VAL—SKOOKUM will see the likes of the Main Street Brew­ing Co., Lib­erty Dis­tillery, Vij’s, and Hawksworth Restau­rant set up on the Brock­ton Oval grass in Stan­ley Park. Yes, you read that cor­rectly—hawksworth Restau­rant and Stan­ley Park.

With a lineup like that, one might be for­given for for­get­ting that SKOOKUM (run­ning Fri­day to Sun­day [Septem­ber 7 to 9] in Van­cou­ver’s most fa­bled green space—is ac­tu­ally about the mu­sic: the Killers, Florence + the Ma­chine, Arkells, Fa­ther John Misty, Met­ric, the War on Drugs, and a few dozen more, in­clud­ing St. Vin­cent, whose moth­er­fuck­ing “New York” is eas­ily the great­est moth­er­fuck­ing song you’ll hear this moth­er­fuck­ing year.

What also sets SKOOKUM apart from re­cent lo­cal fes­ti­vals—not to men­tion Wood­stock, Glas­ton­bury, Lol­la­palooza, and Coachella—is its de­cid­edly uban lo­ca­tion. Some­where along the line, af­ter the high­pro­file Pem­ber­ton Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and Squamish Val­ley Mu­sic Fes­ti­val crashed and burned, it be­came clear that high-wattage des­ti­na­tion events were in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to pull off. Hav­ing to pay top Amer­i­can

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rad­i­cal in­sur­gents (such as the photo ses­sion in which the band bran­dished ri­fles, only fo­cus­ing the un­wel­come at­ten­tion of au­thor­i­ties) can look like youth­ful pos­tur­ing. But there can be no doubt about the MC5’S will­ing­ness to wade into the mid­dle of a blaze, as it did when it turned up to play for hours at an an­ti­war demon­stra­tion dur­ing the fa­mously riot-filled 1968 Demo­cratic na­tional con­ven­tion in Chicago, while other acts on the bill fled.

This is dou­bly re­mark­able given that, only a year be­fore­hand, Kramer had been of­fered a close look at the vi­o­lence that po­lice forces of the day were ready to in­flict. As if es­tab­lish­ing a key­note, The Hard Stuff opens with his de­scrip­tion of the 1967 Belle Isle po­lice riot in Detroit, when lines of of­fi­cers swarmed con­cert­go­ers af­ter an out­door MC5 show and started swing­ing.

“Clearly, there was a rage build­ing up in the Detroit po­lice depart­ment, and they must have been re­hears­ing their tac­tics, be­cause the level of force that they used to ba­si­cally rid the park of a bunch of hip­pies and drunken fac­tory work­ers was all out of pro­por­tion,” he tells the Straight. “I was stunned. I couldn’t be­lieve what I was see­ing. To beat peo­ple mer­ci­lessly with night­sticks from horse­back was like—you know…” He trails off for a mo­ment. “When I was grow­ing up, my mother said, ‘Wayne, if you’re ever in trou­ble, you can go to a po­lice­man. He’s there to help you.’ Well, not those po­lice­men.”

THE IN­CI­DENT WOULD be far from Kramer’s last brush with the law—in­deed, a head-on col­li­sion was lin­ing up. The Hard Stuff con­trasts the bril­liant arc of his band with the dark­ness that en­gulfed him in the years that fol­lowed the 1972 col­lapse of the MC5, run to ground by drugs and in­fight­ing. Dis­il­lu­sioned and wired to heroin, he en­tered a spi­ral of petty crime and deal­ing. In­ex­orably, as the quan­ti­ties he han­dled grew larger and larger, his con­tacts reached far­ther and far­ther into the un­der­world. In 1975, an ar­rest on co­caine-traf­fick­ing charges sent him to fed­eral prison for more than two years.

There, he says, he wit­nessed the early ef­fects of the war on drugs that still rages in Amer­ica, a pol­icy he refers to in the fi­nal pages of The Hard Stuff as a “cat­a­strophic fail­ure”. He il­lus­trates this for the Straight by com­par­ing the morass of drug-re­lated in­car­cer­a­tion in the pro­hi­bi­tion­ist U.S. to a con­tem­po­rary Swiss pro­gram that set up a net­work of clin­ics where ad­dicts could ac­quire le­gal heroin as the ini­tial stage in resur­fac­ing from the drug.

“They come in with this ter­ri­ble ad­dic­tion, and the first thing they do is re­ceive med­i­cally con­trolled doses of med­i­ca­tion,” he says. “It’s treated just like any other pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tion. And the first thing you can do is get a job, and then you can get a re­la­tion­ship, and then you start to have friends, and then you start to have am­bi­tions, and then you start par­tic­i­pat­ing in the world, and pretty soon

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