It would not be unseemly to compare your first Evolve experience to losing your virginity. It’s both glorious and uncomfortable at the time. You wish you could have gotten more sleep. And two days after it’s over, the after effects linger; a bit of euphoria, a bit of residual soreness, and overwhelmingly, the desire to do it all over again as soon as possible.
Our little caravan arrived at the festival grounds in Antigonish at around 8pm on Friday night. The grounds were already humming with campers hoisting flats of beer, and mini-campgrounds had spread throughout the area with colourful awnings and signs adorned with monikers like "Team Fun." We stumbled up the hill to the campgrounds, dropped our bags, hastily cobbled together our tent and raced to see Classified. As we rushed down the now-black hill towards the glow of the Sunflower stage, the bass thrumming beneath our heels, the enormity of the event suddenly became clear. For some people, Evolve is like Christmas, and they were ready to rejoice.
As the rappers took the stage and assaulted the crowd with their unrelentingly old-school style, goofy grins abounded. Classified busted out gems both old and new, reliving Rascalz favourites like "Northern Touch" and "All Over the World" and throwing shout-outs to friends and family in the audience. The Maritime love, too, was overflowing as Classified called out first the Nova Scotians, New Brunswick-ers and finally the Newfoundlanders in the audience as a preamble to his fiddle-flavoured rave-up "The Maritimes." As an Ontarian, I felt like a bit of an imposter, but gave it up as heartily as my white, arrhythmic ass would allow.
After the Classified set, we were ready to shake off our post-car-trip dolor and headed back to our mini tent-city for more beer. We returned to the main grounds intent on finding some drum and bass, but instead got stopped in our tracks by Toronto's King Sunshine, who had taken over the Sunflower stage with their brand of brassy house. They sounded a bit like an unholy union between The New Deal and Buena Vista Social Club, with a sexy lead singer who had many a male in our party gawking distractedly.
Then it was off to our original destination, the Mushroom stage, where many dancers seemed to have ingested reasonable quantities of that drug, and perhaps a few others. A host of DJs had taken over the area on this cool Friday night and we wandered straight into a set by Halifax's own veteran 420 Jenny and Harmsworth, the latter of whom was wearing a bucket-style pirate hat. The two DJs traded duties during a relentless hour-and-a-half-long set of cleverly sampled hard jungle and D & B. As someone who got burnt out by too many jungle parties in my friends' parents' basements in high school, it was refreshing to hear that the genre is still alive and well, and showcased by two people who are obviously in love with what they’re doing.
At this point, the sun was beckoning on the horizon, so it was off to bed, if not sleep. I recall thrashing about in a tipsy haze until the music shut off at 8am, at which point I caught about three blissful hours until I was awoken by the searing heat, and some guy brokenly playing “Wonderwall” on repeat.
After a breakfast of granola bars and grassy apples, we braved the surprisingly well-maintained Porta-Potties, slapped on bathing suits and joined the throngs of already-stinky Evolve-ers on a sweaty parade to the "watering hole" about a 10-minute walk from the site. Waterfalls poured over shallow rock beds while bathers lolled on inner tubes, drank beer, and occasionally sunbathed naked. We passed one bather who looked to be in his early '40s, clad in a rainbow clown wig and speedo, yelling "Nakedness!" and sure enough, the next time we looked, he was.
Then it was back to the Sunflower Stage, where a delicious breakfast bannock from healthy food vendors at Horn O’ Plenty served to smooth away the remnants of last night’s hangover. The afternoon’s music both broke and reinforced the sleepy vibe. Hey Rosetta offered a decent slap in the face to the hippies nodding off on the grass, while Down with the Butterfly were almost TOO laconic, although they had a cool post-grungey thing going on that I really enjoyed. Their closing, bass-heavy cover of Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend” perked everyone right up in time for the absolute batshit craziness that is Mother Mother. I’d missed the Vancouver group during their gigs in Halifax earlier this week and really wished I hadn’t—this group is one of those few that defies categorization. Are they new eave? Are they salsa? What’s with those two girls with the near-perfect warbles? Why can’t I stop dancing? Overall, a great set by a fabulously eclectic group. They’ll be back for Pop Explosion in October, so I urge you—go go go.
Then—you guessed it—back to the tent, where our entire entourage collapsed for about two hours on the grass. It looked like the end of Radiohead’s “Just.” But the wee siesta made sure we were all full of piss and vinegar for Wintersleep, a last-minute addition. And really, what can one say about the band hasn’t already been said? Their new material is fuller, more mature, exciting, but the old songs still kick ass. “Dance Macabre” in particular is a perfect song to hear in the middle of the woods. We even glimpsed a guy dancing in a skeleton costume.
The night became more of a witches’ Sabbath with the appearance of Holy Fuck at 2am at the Forward Stage (featuring two of the hardest-working musicians at Evolve, Mike Bigelow and Loel Campbell, who’d both played with Wintersleep earlier in the evening). Not only did Holy Fuck have everyone in the area dancing for an hour solid, but they also gave ‘er—and hard. There was microphone twirling, vocoded yelling, manic head bobbing and best of all, a slurry group chant of “HO-LEE FUCK!” at the end of their set brought them back out for a pummeling one-song encore.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening, except for being awoken by a humdinger of a lightning storm that beat the hell out of my tent. Let’s move on. The next day was muddy and moist, and we were coaxed again down to the Sunflower stage by the Toronto reggae boys in the Irie Band. We’d been informed earlier on in the festival that the band’s van had burnt down on the way to Antigonish, and save for one hardy Gibson, they’d lost everything. By the end of their set, that guitar case was filled with bills. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the crowd’s generosity seemed emblematic of the entire festival’s regenerative spirit.
The last gorgeous afternoon was capped first by a stomping, hollering, bitchin’ set by the largely vest-clad Tom Fun Orchestra, and the second appearance by the festival’s big draw, Montreal’s Do Make Say Think. The crowd, who’d been brought to their feet by Tom Fun, remained standing—largely motionless—as the orchestral pop six-piece sawed their way through a series of soundscapes, alternating beautiful lullabies and squalling climaxes as the sun began to dip below the trees. It was an apt closer to a festival that was wild, dirty and manic—and as perfect an Evolve as anyone could have hoped for.