The Phillips Backyard Weekender remains one of the most interesting festivals of the summer festival season on Vancouver Island. With its focus on hip hop, reggae, and DJ-based acts, it differentiates itself from the more rock-based festivals.

Each year, it adds more to its growing diversity in the market by adding jazz acts like BadBadNotGood and Weird Party, or indie rock legends like Built To Spill and Dan Mangan.

The festival’s size, location (Phillips Brewing Company’s loading bays), and dedication to classic hiphop acts like Talib Kweli and De La Soul are a huge factor in why the Phillips Backyard Weekender is quickly becoming one of the best festivals in Victoria.

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Friday

Rain or Shine. That’s pretty much the motto of anyone who lives here on the West Coast. We always pack an extra pair of socks in case our shoes get wet. We tend to forget the jacket, though. Especially in late July.

So, when the much-needed rain poured down on us, we shrugged our shoulders and kept dancing in the puddles. The photographers wrapped their cameras in grocery bags or those fancy vinyl rain covers and got busy in the photo pit. They weren’t going to let a little moisture get in the way of capturing the festival in all its glory.

Kuba Oms

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DāM-FunK

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In case you ever wondered why Easy Star All Stars are such great entertainers, it’s because they aren’t just a reggae supergroup, they’re a record label and a series of tribute albums.

And that’s why their covers, from Michael Jackson to Radiohead, are so well-performed. To say nothing of the many Pink Floyd covers they broke out effortlessly during their set, thanks to the fact that they covered the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon more than a decade ago on their album Dub Side of the Moon.

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As a concertgoer, you always know something’s up when somebody who isn’t the headliner takes the stage. Only this time, there were no complaints, because it was The Funk Hunters who kept the audience going while we waited for Talib Kweli to land.

The organizers learned of their headliner’s flight delay with enough time to bring the dueling Vancouver DJs over from the mainland for an emergency set after their scheduled gig that night was cancelled . . . due to rain.

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The only thing lacking from The Funk Hunters’ show was their signature visuals — typically a core component of their shows — because they needed to be ready to exit, stage left the moment Talib touched down.

And touch down he did when, with almost no warning, The Funk Hunters wrapped, and Talib Kweli burst onto the stage to huge cheers, jumping right into his show.

And, who should be on the decks for the final act of the night? None other than local spinner DJ Murge; a huge honour.

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Saturday

Once bitten, twice shy. With the rules gently bent to allow umbrellas, there were plenty of those, garbage bag ponchos, rain jackets, gumboots, fishing hats, and even hip waders. But, while there was beautiful (for photographers, anyway) cloud cover for the duration, Saturday was the day of no rain.

That was perfect for the most eclectic day of the fest. From young instrumental hip hoppers BADBADNOTGOOD to Australian rappers Bliss N Eso to popular headliners USS, Saturday was the day for putting your hands in the air and waving them like you just don’t care.

Little India

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Google searching Vancouver’s BESTiE before the Weekender returned many results of K-Pop and currywurst. It was an odd place to find the band sandwiched. Once we discovered them, we quickly fell in love with their laid back style of indie rock, putting the tropical single “Sriracha” on repeat many nights.

By far, one of the most energetic and fun bands of the weekend was BESTiE. It’d be weird to say they were one of the best, right?

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Without a doubt, the most crowd-hyping act of the day was Australian rappers Bliss N Eso. Yes, Australian rappers.

And, while images of men in vests and crocodile hats rapping about throwing shrimps on the barbie and spitting fire like “That’s not a knife!” might pop in to your head, that image couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite their 24-hour plane ride to get here, Bliss N Eso have absolute control over the crowd, which always makes for great photos.

Though, it would seem, they didn’t have absolute control over their equipment, as a mixer crapped out early in the set. While it was being replaced, though, Bliss N Eso dropped an excellent beatbox/freestyle combo which confirmed their talent to any doubters.

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Watsky

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BADBADNOTGOOD, a trio of young bucks who perform instrumental jazz and hip hop (try to wrap your head around that), were the perfect zag from of hip hop zigs to this point. Their music is intense, tight, and easy to float away to if you’re not careful.

Their drummer, Alexander Sowinski, is the spokesperson for the group, and is so badass that he plays with a cracked cymbal.

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The loading dock filled up quickly before USS‘ set, which was perfect for the jumping, fist pumping, and crowd surfing to come.

Ash Boo-Shultz’s brilliant lyrics and Human Kebab’s incredible stage presence, tied together with Matthew Murphy’s tireless drumming, made for the perfect Saturday night finalé in the backyard.

There were singalongs, there was bouncing, there were laughs, and there were crowd surfers. Oh, were there crowd surfers. Interestingly, there were hardly any during the first two songs the photographers were in the pit for, but the moment we left, they came outta the woodwork.

Security had their hands full, especially with one goofball who sprinted around the barrier and made a jump for the stage, flailing and grabbing railings everywhere she could on her way out the door.

But none of this tomfoolery dampened the spirit of the show, which was as energetic and humourous as ever. Where else do you see a DJ stand on his head and scratch records at the same time?

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Sunday

Following the bright flash, a low rumble of thunder rolled across the sky, holding the note for thirty seconds leaving the air vibrating and electric. And there were three of those. The sky had turned black and the heavens were releasing everything it had.

We thought we had seen the worst of it on Friday night. Clearly, we were wrong. And, while the rest of Victoria was taking shelter wherever they could, the crew at Phillips was shutting down every system they could reach during the onslaught.

Gates and set times were pushed back to dry off all the equipment but, by the time things got started half an hour later, small holes of blue sky had begun to poke through, and the rain eventually let up turning from grey to gloriously sunny and hot finish.

Sunday also marked a huge shift in the crowd. There were more beards and certainly more flannel. They were definitely older and more well-behaved. The crowd seemed laid back, at ease, and there for the music; not to get loser drunk and party.

Part of that had to be that it was Sunday and real life restarted the next day, but it probably had more to do with the music than anything. When Victoria’s Weird Party took the stage — and the lineup for Discovery Coffee was longer than the lineup for beer — it was clear: these were our people.

A crowd gathered in front of the stage slowly grooving to the smooth jazz and funk that is Weird Party, a band that has shifted the music scene here in Victoria. Making music that is more than just acoustic guitars on the beach, their record “Mellow Funk Vol. 1” is highly sought after and highly praised at Ditch Records here in town.

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Soon after, the smokey voice of former punk rocker Matt Goud graced the stage with his band, Northcote. The Saskatchewan expat brought the rock with an almost-too-quick set peppered with new and old songs.

It seemed as if the crowd already knew the words to his new songs and it was great to see a big smile on Matt’s face with all the positive reactions to his hard work.

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What can we say about the veteran indie rockers Built To Spill that hasn’t already been said? It seemed as though many Victorians in attendance were oblivious to the band before Sunday, which seems odd for a band that has been around for almost 25 years.

Especially because they have been part of the PNW music scene that whole time, despite being from Idaho. It was overheard several times that they had made new fans that day and that those folks couldn’t wait to buy all of Built To Spill’s records.

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Jon and Roy are the epitome of the word “staple” in the Victoria music scene and, while that might make them sound overdone, the reason they’re a staple is because they’re full of the perfect Victoria sound.

Part beach jam, part folk rock, part dance party, Jon and Roy (and Lou) always make for a happy crowd. Ba da ba da BUP BUP ba da ba da ba . . .

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Closing out the festival was Dan Mangan + Blacksmith. You know, the guy who got Dave Grohl to sing backup on that song “Vessel?” Oh, and your girlfriend probably said he was dreamy before too.

Generally, Dan Mangan’s sets seem to be a more mellow affair but, with his recent pairing with Blacksmith, things have been kicked up a notch. His quaint acoustic charms have been replaced with soaring rock anthems that get a crowd chanting. There is a new energy in a guy who was full of energy before. The set was filled with guitar solos and the occasional yell into the microphone.

Dan Mangan was a welcome and fitting end to the Sunday edition of the festival. It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through the festival season, and that the Phillips Backyard Weekender is already over. All we can say is that we can’t wait to get back in the Phillips backyard again this September for Rifflandia.

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