I’ve lived in Victoria all of my life. The Victoria Ska & Reggae Festival has been around for the past 16 of these years and as it heads into its 17th year it remains my favourite week on the West Coast music calendar. People I don’t see for a year at a time reconvene from around the globe to the Festival, a cultural touchstone unlike anything else around it. In a world of boutique festivals, catering to a specific fanbase, Victoria Ska & Reggae was among the first, and it remains one of the strongest. With the main shows once again centralized right in the heart of my city’s beautiful Inner Harbour and night shows at various venues throughout the city, the Ska & Reggae Festival is a kind of love letter to the city as well as a celebration of the incredible strong culture, descended from another, way more famous island than our own.
Get full lineup, scheduling and ticket info at victoriaskafest.ca.
TOOTS and the MAYTALS
The headliner of any festival obviously should be the biggest reason to check out said festival. Well, maybe it's not always the case but it often is and there might not be a bigger, more appropriate headliner than Toots and the Maytals. They've headlined the festival before, but this is different. For more than three years the legend, Toots Hibbert, has been off the road, after suffering the repercussions of some astoundingly dumb person hurling a bottle from a crowd and smashing the reggae pioneer in the head. It stands to reason that the fire and passion that Hibbert has demonstrated over his years of surviving in the notoriously cutthroat music business would manifest itself in a roaring return to the stage, full of a renewed determination. The last time Toots and the Maytals hit the Festival's now legendary stage in the heart of Victoria's Inner Harbour was a show for the ages, with the band running through hits and covers with the perfect balance of precision and looseness. Toots is one of the most important connections we still have to the roots of reggae culture, a culture that has seeped through the veins and into many corners of the modern musical landscape. Who knows how many more chances anyone has to see this titan of music.
I've been covering the Victoria Ska & Reggae Festival in some form or another for five years now. I've come to know the people running it, even as they change over, and the deeper into this thing I've got, the bigger the rings of joy that surround this planet reveal themselves to be. I've met a gentleman from New Zealand who left his home to answer the call of the Festival, dedicating himself to spreading the culture through working with the all-important Street Team. A wonderful lady who left her home, promoting shows in Edmonton, to come to the coast and join the Board that helps keep the festival on track. The head of the Festival, who started it as a labour of love and has helped incubate the fledgling baby into the longest running festival of its kind in North America. Look around at any one of the many shows on the schedule and you'll find these people, among the countless others who volunteer year in and year out, dancing as hard (Or harder) than anyone in attendance. It's a lovely, warm feeling to know those behind the massive operation are doing it for their love of this powerful, important culture and ever uplifting music.
THAT FULL, JOYOUS LIVE BAND SOUND
In its 17 years of existence the Victoria Ska & Reggae Festival has proven its commitment to the overwhelming power of the Live Band. Like moths to the light, it's nigh impossible for a music fan to not be pulled towards a group of talented musicians playing a soundtrack for getting down. Over the last few years I've delved deeply into the world of electronic music (A direct of reggae when you go back in time just a bit). As that DJ rabbit hole has deepened, so has my need to make regular stops in the land of live music. No matter how fun or funky any given night with a DJ might be, there is no substitute for the intimacy that a great group of live musicians can deliver. While the Ska & Reggae Fest does a great job bringing in choice selectors to augment each performance, the lineup from top to bottom is stuffed with that real, uncut LIVE MUSIC. This year bands like big-band ska-swing kings WESTERN STANDARD TIME SKA ORCHESTRA, New Zealand reggae rebels the BLACK SEEDS and Argentinian clown sensations ENTANGADOS promise to bring those live grooves you need to get your summer dance party on.
ILLVIS FRESHLY & FRIENDS
I've been writing about Illvis Freshly on and off for the last year because they're damned-near inescapable in these parts and for good reason. Their unique blend of heavy EDM grooves and playful west-coast party rap takes the infectious factor to new heights. I've been running into them, one by one, around our shared home here in Victoria and each dude has lit up at the mention of this upcoming set, on a bill with headliner Dub FX and Canadian reggae sensation Mikey Dangerous. I've heard rumours of the impending dance party they're itching to put on, gathering up a bunch of their friends – some of the most talented, exciting artists the city has to offer – for a super-duper, extra special, one-of-a-kind West Coast blowout.
I'm all for going to commune with my fellow music lovers in whatever field or small forest people want to set up a festival in but as I age through my 30s, the idea of being around the comforts of the a city is more appealing than ever. I love comfortable shit and there really is no replacement for crashing in a real, honest to God bed at the end of a night of dancing my face off. I don't care how comfortable of an air mattress you have, it's not a bed. Don't lie to yourself. Beyond my petty, selfish love of comfort, we have the far more important and serious issue of environmental impact. A festival that takes place in the heart of a city skips a lot of the problems with transportation of people, resources and equipment to some remote location. I'd really like to see someone break down what gets saved by holding an event in a location with an established infrastructure that is easily accessible by public transportation. With the proliferation of festivals in the last few years all over North America, as we continue to adopt the European model, the need for Festivals like this (Sled Island in Calgary, Levitation in Vancouver, Rifflandia again here in Victoria – to name a few) is ever more important.