Watching a music festival spring forth from the nothingness is a beautiful thing. It’s an even more beautiful thing when the festival exists to serve under-serviced genres like funk and afro-beat. This past weekend brought the first annual Garden City Grooves here in Victoria, a festival dedicated to music that make people want to dance their faces off…and let me tell you, good people, it was really a beautiful thing.
The brainchild of Nathan ‘musicofmymind’ Ambrose (Who does one of the most powerful radio shows around, check it here) and Reuven Sussman (Powerful drummer and member of party-animal band the New Groovement), Garden City Grooves rounded up some of the most exciting local funkiness, as well as importing a few from Vancouver and even one brother, the masterful Gabriel Palatchi, from Argentina.
The festival scene has seemingly become dominated by the quest for big names. I’m guilty of it sometimes myself – looking at the first few names on a list and forgetting about it once I don’t see anyone recognizable jumping off at the page at me. But the immense talent and passion on display at Garden City Grooves overshadowed the slightly mysterious marquee.
The weekend kicked off at Publik, an establishment I hadn’t been inside of in many years. The sound was great, the bands seemed genuinely excited and the crowd was ready to get down. By the end of the opening set by Victoria’s the New Souls, the crowd had filled up the dance floor, getting their collective grooves on. (This process was expedited by staff from Publik pulling people out to the middle. Another reason it’s good to have handsome, beautiful staff.) Gabriel Palatchi took the stage next with his deep Latin rhythms and put on a masterful display of musical prowess. Flanked by a piece-work rhythm section, Palatchi had smiles plastered across the face of everyone in the room and kept the asses of those same people moving non-stop.
Honestly, I’d love to say I stayed through the night for both the New Groovement and Truth Soundsystem’s ‘For Dancers Only’ set, but it was Friday night, the last of a long work week and I was exhausted. Having seen the New Groovement three times since the Victoria Ska Festival, I can confirm their high levels of both awesomeness and fun, but sadly, after about 25 minutes of their set, I was forced to go home and get my rest. I can only imagine Truth Soundsystem was as much fun as the last time I saw them, a short month ago.
Wandering into Lucky Bar the next night (Saturday, September 28) was kind of like walking back into time for me. It’s a place I used to go all the time for music and haven’t been in years – this was a sort of homecoming. I walked in to the awesome tribal beats of Masala, a gigantic drum collective who was in a semi-circle at the front of the dance floor. (I doubt they could have all fit on the small stage.) Let me tell you friends, Masala was awesome. Tremendously communal vibes and deep pulsing rhythms had my rump shaking like crazy.
The rest of the night at Lucky continued down the same path and turned out to be something really special. Victoria soul masters the Chantrelles took the stage for their final performance. I knew going in that this would be the group’s (tragically) last show and was interested to see if such an announcement would be made on stage. It went from “They’re going to be taking a little hiatus after this,” to, “We’re going to be gone a long time.” And while some members of the band seemed to be waiting for the set to be done, the group sounded fantastic and had the crowd in Lucky jumping and bouncing to what has to be some of the best soul music to ever step out of Victoria.
Vancouver’s afro-beat kings Miami Device came out after to close the show. I had a great time watching them, but I know very little about the genre apart from the obligatory Fela Kuti knowledge, so I won’t comment on their abilities, except to say that I had a great time watching them and danced with what one might call reckless abandon.
The moment that crystallized everything for me was seeing Ambrose and Sussman introduce Miami Device. The joy that was radiating from the stage was more than palpable and it was entirely clear that this whole event was nothing more than a couple of friends with a shared love of music creating a place to watch that music together. It fills the festival up with a sense of love and really, it highlights the reason I love music so much. It’s a sense of community, of friendship and respect, a connection to something more than ourselves. Music, in its purest form, represents the best parts of us as people and - like its close ally and one of my absolute favourites, the Victoria Ska Fest - Garden City Grooves, even in its inaugural year, is completely representative of those qualities and I can only hope that they got enough traction to make it happen again next year.
Keep on funkin’ in the free world.
Love and respect.