Traffic, Dust and Jay-Z: Canada Gets Rocked
Pemberton, British Columbia
For the 21,000 concertgoers who opted to spend three days living in tents outside the ski town of Whistler, British Columbia, there may have been an element of irony to hearing Tom Petty sing, “You don’t have to live like a refugee.” But despite massive traffic jams, dust clouds that forced many to cover their faces with scarves, and overflowing porta-potties, fans stood thousands deep, never flagging in their enthusiasm for Canada’s biggest-ever rock festival.
Set against the stunning backdrop of BC’s Rocky Mountains, Pemberton attracted a bill that included Jay-Z, Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Interpol, My Morning Jacket, the Flaming Lips and Vampire Weekend. “Being in this valley is mind-blowing,” said My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel backstage shortly after a 45-minute scorcher of a set that opened with the title track from their new Evil Urges and laid into Z’s ‘Off the Record,’ ‘Gideon’ and ‘Anytime.’ Singer Jim James, wearing a vintage wool Salvation Army cape, dedicated ‘Golden’ to “all the bull moose, grizzly bear and black bear that are roaming in this hemisphere.”
Saturday’s main event – the one that had all the other performers clamouring for a side-stage spot to sing along – was headliner Petty, who gave Pemberton-goers a hits-heavy two-hour set laced with masterful guitar solos from Mike Campbell. Like many of Pemberton’s main-stage artists, Petty grinned from ear to ear between tunes including ‘Free Fallin’,’ ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More.’ Sensing the crowd’s approval, not just by the sight of them with arms aloft or the sound of their cheers but also the aroma of Vancouver green, Petty joked, “I can smell that marijuana.”
Equally blunt-worthy was Jay-Z’s Sunday-night set, which seamlessly combined 24 tracks’ worth of verses and hooks, from ‘99 Problems’ and ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A.)’ to Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’ and Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella.’ “I have pockets of three or four records that go together,” he said later, chilling at the Four Seasons hotel bar with Chris Martin. “I arrange them to fit the length of the set, so it’s at a consistent level, song into song into song.”
As the first attempt at an event already contracted to run for another year, the festival managed to be at once action-packed onstage and peaceful out in the field among fans. There were only approximately 40 arrests the entire weekend, no major injuries and a collegial vibe backstage that had Vampire Weekend mingling with Death Cab, Matisyahu chatting up NERD, and local up-and-comers Black Mountain singing along to Petty songs with the guys from My Morning Jacket. All seemed optimistic that, with time to work out the kinks, Pemberton could become Canada’s own Glastonbury or Bonnaroo. “We don’t see a dividing line between America and the rest of the world,” said the Jacket’s Broemel. “We want it to all be groovy.”