The Pemberton Music Festival came to a dramatic close on Sunday night with performances by Noel Gallagher, Halsey, and an epic, 27-song set by rock legends Pearl Jam. More than 180,000 fans passed through the festival’s gates over the weekend, crushing past attendance records and virtually guaranteeing that the “Canadian Coachella” will stick around for many more summers to come.
The third annual event lured more than 90 singers, rappers, rockers, and comedians to the tiny town of Pemberton, BC (population: 2,369). Fans from over 15 countries participated in the festivities, and that doesn’t include the ones who joined in the celebration online; it’s estimated that more than 100 million Pemby Fest impressions were generated via social media over the weekend.
Fans hoping for a champagne supernova in the sky on Sunday were instead treated to an afternoon of sunshine, a nice change from the wet and wild weather that soaked festival-goers on previous days. Singer Noel Gallagher cracked a rare smile after taking up the scenery and said “this is not dissimilar to my back garden. It’s pretty much the same.”
The former Oasis frontman is now part of Noel Gallagher’s Flying Birds, which features a couple of the singer’s ex-colleagues (pianist Mike Rowe and drummer Chris Sharrock worked with the Noel and his brother Liam on several projects). The band mostly stuck to material from last year’s Chasing Summer album but indulged the crowd in a little 90’s nostalgia courtesy of “Wonderwall” and closer “Don’t Look Back In Anger.”
Victoria’s Jesse Roper is no stranger to the festival circuit, having rocked stages at Sunfest and Rifflandia in years past. After a technical glitch temporarily left him without a pedal board (“it’s hard to sing with a metal face if you don’t have any distortion,” he cracked), Roper was back on track with an explosive performance usually reserved for the big stages (his set was criminally relegated to the tiny Whistler/Blackcomb area).
Many of the Sunday’s performers used Pemberton as a platform to address the wave of violence and unrest plaguing the United States this summer. Singer Halsey declared that her concert on the Mt. Currie stage was “no place for fear” while R&B star SZA prayed that “nobody in this crowd gives in to that shit.”
“I worry about life,” she said. “It’s not whack to show you care or show your feelings. If we take care of each other, I think we’ll be alright”.
Tyler the Creator was having none of that positivity. Instead, the rapper used his prime slot to bully and berate his fans, calling them “assholes”, “motherfuckers”, and much worse…in his first five minutes on stage. Tyler told us assholes to “fucking boogie” to songs from 2015’s Cherry Bomb, but was non-plussed when we complied.
“Stop it! Only the black people clap!” he said as a DJ hit the “pause” button on a MacBook Pro. The crowd politely waited for the punchline, but Tyler didn’t offer one. “I mean it,” he said.
The atmosphere was a lot more inclusive at Halsey’s show at 8:15 pm. Pemby Fest marked the singer’s fourth concert in as many days and she promised to be in “rare form” for her BC fans. “I don’t get to come here very often so I hope I give you guys the show you deserve.”
Mission accomplished. Dressed in just a bathing suit over a body stocking, Halsey delighted fans with sultry, sexed up versions of “Hurricane” and “New Americana”, both from her stunning debut album Badlands. In the span of just two years, the New Jersey native has graduated from playing tiny clubs to duetting with tiny superstars like our very own Justin Bieber. Halsey played a solo version of Bieber-collab “That Feeling” and said “I wasn’t gonna play that one tonight, but we’re in Canada so it would’ve been disgraceful to leave it out.”
Pemby Fest 2016 drew to a close with a scorching performance by Seattle rockers Pearl Jam. At exactly 9:30 pm, lead singer Eddie Vedder took a seat in the center of the Pemberton stage, opened a bottle of wine and proceeded to blow the collective minds of the 45,000-strong crowd, many of whom arrived as early as noon to get as close to the action as possible.
Critics are calling Pearl Jam’s latest trek their best ever, which is no small feat considering they’ve toured relentlessly for decades (debut album Ten turned 25 this year). On Sunday, the band performed early classics like “Jeremy” and a remixed version of “Daughter” that featured a couple of lines from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” (Vedder replaced the line “teachers leave those kids alone” with “leave your fucking guns at home.”)
“If you believe the news, the world is a crazy and brutal place these days,” Vedder said. “And then you see nature, and you’re around nature and within nature and you think, ‘this is the most spectacular place in the whole universe’. There needs to be more news reports like ‘There was another beautiful sunrise today in Pemberton. With beautiful mountains and a lake.”
“And why is everybody killing each other?” he asked immediately afterwards. “What the fuck? Stop fucking killing people, people! We are evolving, and we are not neutral. Let’s take control of some of this stuff and make our evolution positive.”
After two hours of hits, which included seminal tracks “Alive” and “Even Flow”, Vedder thanked the small community of Pemberton for their hospitality and urged the crowd to “make this place look good when you leave so they invite us back.” He also pointed out that festival organizers awarded $100,000 worth of grants to multiple social and art projects in the Pemberton community and predicted that “some of those local artists will play on these stages next year.”
The band finished with 1991’s “Yellow Ledbetter”, an outtake from Ten that served as the perfect nightcap to a truly wonderful weekend.
Some photos for this article were provided by Brandon Artis. Connect with him at @_brandonartis.