The Magic, the Music & the Mystery by Dan Howse
Three years ago, at my first Tall Tree, right before his set started, Dan Vacon of The Dudes looked out into the crowd and proclaimed that while he had played in a lot of cool places before, he had never played a set in “Fucking Narnia”. Most people chuckled, but I would wager not a soul disagreed. Tall Tree Music Festival, located on top of Vancouver Island’s Browns Mountain, is, for lack of more eloquent phrasing, pretty much “Fucking Narnia”.
Through the wardrobe we go…
Set against a breathtaking backdrop of shimmering coastal waters and luscious green forests, the view is unforgettable. The crisp mountain air and light misting rains balance out the passing stretches of beating sun. The campgrounds are up hills, in between trees, and littered with hidden treasures tucked in the woods. One year I stumbled across the Tetrahedron, a four triangle shape with fascinating mathematical properties made of salvaged wood that you could hang out in…provided you could find the door. This year my campsite had a tree-fort (which, by the way, we somehow managed to get 24 people in at one time).
While the view may be reminiscent of a Tolkien-esque mountain trek, Browns Mountain is very much charged with the childhood wonder that permeates C.S. Lewis’s literature.
Pretty much everyone is happy to be there. It’s a small enough festival that if you lose track of your friends, especially during the daytime, that you can find them again pretty quickly. Not that you’d have to, because you’re just surrounded by friends you just haven’t met yet! The vast majority of people at Tall Tree are super friendly and welcoming. The lack of wifi on the mountain creates a sense of being present in the moment that is all too often lacking in our plugged in world. People are present and paying attention to each other.
Basically, the whole place has the vibe of a really good house party….that just happens to be on a mountain. With amazing music.
Oh, and the music!
Every year is a diverse combination of predominantly Canadian talent. This year was no exception to the rule, as homegrown gulf island bands Mother Mother and Current Swell headlined a lineup chock full of talent from across the map. From up and coming island bands like Zoubi and the Sea to eastern Canadian rock staples like Hollerado, the festival embraces both the local and the sort of local, the established and the eager. Tall Tree Music Festival is in no way an official celebration of Canadiana, but it is, at heart, very Canadian in spirit: welcoming, diverse, breathtaking in beauty and magnificent in scope.
But like the Canadian spirit it embodies, Tall Tree Music Festival is acutely aware of its place in a culture all too often marked by greed and waste. In addition to relentlessly encouraging festival-goers to maintain the sanctity of Browns Mountain, the Tall Tree team addressed issues of exploitation and appropriation head on. Friday night headliners Nahko and Medicine for the People brought a fifteen year old indigenous girl on stage who delivered a speech so powerful that it literally brought the entire crowd to a hush. She then lead the crowd in prayer before Nahko and Medicine for the People rocked out so hard, the violinist’s bow started to rip apart.
Jess Bundy on Nahko and Medicine For The People:
Their performance blew me away and I feel like they really are ‘medicine’ for the people. Their messages are thought provoking and inspirational, and their sound is so unique and captivating. I’ve never seen anyone play the violin like that, it was so powerful and mind blowing to see such talent. I loved everything about them and I wish for everyone to get a chance to experience that at least once.
Beyond simply booking acts that speak about relevant issues and try to change the world, Tall Tree Music Festival walks the walk too. Every year after the festival ends, Tall Tree’s green team makes sure that all garbage is removed and nature is left as pristine as it was before people arrived. That said, they barely have to. The sense of community is astounding at Tall Tree. People are very careful to make sure their cigarette butts are out and almost always, in a receptacle. The horrific scenes of field of garbage being left behind simply don’t happen at Tall Tree. It may be a west coast island thing, it may be a smaller festival sense of community thing or it may be booking acts like Nahko and Medicine For The People or Shad who urge people to think about their actions. But whatever the reason, the fact remains. While there are some necessary evils (mainly gasoline) that create pollution at any festival, Tall Tree Music Festival is about as environmentally friendly as they come. And that’s pretty cool.
Back to the music. Emcee extraordinaire, host of CBC’s Q and Canada’s de facto poet laureate, Shad threw down one of the best hip-hop sets basically everyone in the crowd had ever seen. All Friday night the festival was a buzz with chatter over the London, Ontario native’s set. Backed by DJ T.Lo and a stellar band, Shad kept the crowd both moving and thinking. Later that evening, Mat The Alien threw down one of the tightest DJ sets I have ever seen in my life at The Spirit Stage. From drops, to scratching, to song selection, Mat lived up to his name and just dropped some next level otherworldly dopeness on the crowd. On top of that, he had BC hip-hop ambassador Emotionz kicking some raps and keeping everybody hyped. Emotionz, no slouch or stranger to the stage himself, switched gears and played a killer DJ set of his own at the Valley Stage earlier that day. After Emotionz’s set, Tall Tree staple and biggest pizza fan you will ever meet, Mt Doyle, dropped what many called the set of the weekend; he had a surprise appearance from Orilla and Illvis Freshly’s Doc Zoo and Phil Lyons (yes, that’s Phil in the banana suit).
LISTEN to Mt. Doyal
Oh and the stages!
All four stages have their own unique charms. Tall Tree Stage is the main-stage. It has great sound, a pretty fantastic view and your usual array of vendors and information. It also has a cool hang out area at the back if you want to take a bit of a breather. I say a pretty fantastic view, because the view behind The Valley Stage is unparalleled. The Tall Tree Stage also overlooks the inlet, but there’s like a bit of a fence and infrastructure behind it. The Valley Stage is in the campgrounds and named as such because it overlooks the valley. It is mesmerizingly beautiful. The Spirit Stage is the late night rave tent or “rage cage” where the DJs perform against a backdrop of psychedelic lights. The newest addition, The Stump and Stone Stage, is a little more out of the way and nestled in the woods. It hosted comedy in the morning and then a diverse array of musicians in the afternoon and early evening.
While it would be impossible to name off every noteworthy act or moment that occurred over the course of the weekend, I will do my best to try and run down a few highlights, be it that I had personally witnessed or had only heard about later, moderately annoyed I had missed it. A word hear about missing things at a festival. You are bound to do it. Get over it. Now. Seriously, whatever your next festival is, you are going to miss something epic. It’s bound to happen. Just enjoy the moment. Take that in. Because part of the magic of a festival is taking it as it comes. Meeting people in campgrounds and getting sidetracked! Trying to find your old friends and then making new ones and joining their adventures! Maybeeven meeting someone that you will one day fall in love with and propose to! (more on that later) That being said, here’s some cool stuff that happened this year at Tall Tree!!
- Jesse Roper made a surprise appearance during Band of Rascal’s set and got on Malcolm the drummer’s shoulders and almost fell off! (Didn’t phase Malcolm, duh)
- Moon Tricks brought the house down with their trademark blend of sexy soul
- The Funkee Wadd played a beautiful tribute set to Pumpkin and Jon H of Fort Knox 5 (RIP)
- Apparently there were goats running around?
- Outsider smashed his set and all, but music aside….that Tall Tree fade tho!
- Kytami crowd-surfing while playing the violin…WHAT??
- Did I mention we got 24 people in a tree-house??
- Oh, and my friend Nikita gets a special shout out.
He was stuck in this beautiful suit that he put on for suit Saturday all day on Sunday too, because he lost the keys to his car. But trust me, he never once stopped smiling.
Magical Moments of Mystery
All that being said, the two most magical moments were easily, by far and away, the proposals. Both DJ Anger and Matt Posnikoff of Mindil Beach markets proposed to their long time girlfriends onstage. Both were two of the most electric moments Tall Tree had ever witnessed, and shockingly, both said yes.
Madison Tamara on Matt’s proposal:
So mindil beach played on the Saturday; I look forward to seeing them every chance I get since I’ve known them for years. This Tall Tree was no exception, as they did a memorial song to (former bandmate that passed away) Daniel Kingsbury. Following that song Matt Posnikoff started a beautiful speech about his girlfriend, Melanie Taplin, stating the most beautiful memories that they had shared. As he was speaking a few people lifted her over the speakers and on to the stage. As she stood there it came across all of our minds quite quickly and it became very surreal! I watched a man and woman I’ve known for years become overjoyed and overcome with uncontrollable smiles from ear to ear. He asked her: “Will you marry me?” My friend Jessie and I stood in tears backstage as Melanie walked towards us and we just held her in our arms. Her Bambi legs and was shaking like crazy!! She just looked up and said to us “it’s beautiful!”. Amazing.
At the heart of it, that’s really what Tall Tree is about. People coming together in a beautiful space. You may have come for Mother Mother’s technical prowess. You may have come for Nahko and Medicine for the People’s inspiring passion. You may have just came, like this dude, to party. But whatever the reason, much like Dan Vachon of the Dudes, if you came once, you’re coming back (the Dudes played Thursday evening this year, and unsurprisingly, they killed it once again). You know, why? Because it ain’t every day you get to party in Fucking Narnia.
Magic really does happen. And if you have any doubts, come next year and find out for yourself.
Alex Kerr on The Pineapple Pop-Up Party:
The pop-up pineapple party on Saturday was as tropical as you’ll ever see the side of a west coast mountain. Hosted by veteran festivalgoers Betty & Kora and the Do250 team, the session kicked off with pineapple beerpong, which of course, was championed by two ladies dressed as, you guessed it, pineapples. The pair was sinking the “balls” (pineapple tops) with ease and left many contestants walking away soon after the games had started.
The pop-up partygoers were sipping their Tall Tree ciders and Phillips beers out of plastic pineapples, and it wasn’t uncommon to see someone taking bites out of whole tropical fruits. After pineapple beer pong the limbo contest fired up. As the bar lowered the standards increased, the knees bent harder, and the epic spills became more frequent. The winner….I don’t know what to say here, I didn’t know I was reporting! Basically, well, set to the psychedelic sounds of Bocce Avocado, the pineapple party turned the slightly chilly afternoon into a balmy paradise.
Dave Walton on the Zonelander Fashion Show:
Walking down the long road at Tall Tree enjoying the sights to myself, I was drawn towards a small group of fabulously dressed folks, one of them brandishing a megaphone. As I drew nearer I heard the man on the megaphone speak of their Zonelander (Zoolander) fashion show. Wearing my Technicolor rave coat and acid Dora sweater I was quickly swept up and made part of the crew. We dubbed ourselves the fashionably fabulous Friday’s crew and carried on our message of the fashionably fabulous Friday’s Zonelander fashion show.
After a quick stop at their camp, it was off to set up for the show. Offering my services of manpower helping haul gear they decided rather than walk the runway, I would best serve as an honorary judge! I’ve never felt so privileged to be a part of something so sporadic and awesome. The costumes were amazing, each as unique as the soul dawning them.
Standouts for me would have been the fellow who put out a lit cigarette on his tongue once he reached the end of the catwalk and the babe who ripped off her costume to reveal a nudey T-shirt underneath (did I mention Baberaham Lincoln alert?)
After much deliberation and a very close call Baberaham Lincoln took the win!
I haven’t seen or heard from any of the fabulously fashionable crew since Tall Tree and would like to give them a huge shout out for making my day absolutely unforgettable. If you guys are ever in Tofino look me up for a free place to stay…
I miss you all very much 🙂