On rainy evening, Rifflandia Festival makes a splash

When rain besieged hundreds of thousands of fans at the Woodstock festival in 1969, hippies responded with a rain chant in an effort to make the moisture disappear.

Nothing as dramatic was evident Friday as rain dampened roughly 3,500 fans and the Rifflandia Festival at Royal Athletic Park. Of course, a little sprinkle never hurt anyone around these parts. In fact, several dedicated attendees battled the bouts of rain in shorts and sandals. Such is the do-or-die nature of the supporters of this homegrown festival — now in its 11th year — that keeps growing more unpredictable with each year.

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“We’ve got a good amount of people out given the weather,” said Nick Blasko of Atomique Productions, which produces the event. “The spirit of the festival has not been diminished because of the rain.”

“I couldn’t care less about the rain,” said Sylvain Leclerc, 24, one of a group dancing in plastic raincoats. “The event is awesome.”

Rifflandia, which got underway in 2008 with 60 acts and eight stages, has more than doubled in size in 2018 with 160 bands and 14 stages in play over the four-day festival. The event branched into the first of three days of programming at Royal Athletic Park on Friday after getting underway Thursday at a string of downtown venues, with 3,500 fans also taking in sets from 41 acts at 11 venues.

A range of local, national, and international performers were in action on opening night, from Montreal dance duo Adventure Club (at the Electric Avenue stage on Discovery Street) to Victoria synth-pop dynamo Diamond Cafe at the Capital Ballroom. The festival welcomed everyone from Portland roots rockers Blitzen Trapper and Vancouver rapper Son Real Toronto’s F — -ed Up on Friday at Royal Athletic Park.

The latter group made some waves, with physical singer Damian Abrahams acting as a court jester/provocateur. Their set was shocking in a good way, which couldn’t be said about Toronto’s Daniel Caesar, the headliner.

The Toronto-based Grammy Award-nominee has the clout to have his name sit atop the programming, but his set was woefully misplaced. Bedroom soul and slow jams might work in the right context, but his mellow mood didn’t help a crowd looking for a way to keep warm (that said, Caesar is doing something right if he was hired to perform a solo show at the house of NBA star Lebron James on Thursday, for James and his wife’s fifth anniversary).

Rifflandia has grown into a multi-faceted monster in recent years with Royal Athletic Park as the focal point. The festival continues through the weekend with sets Saturday and Sunday at Royal Athletic Park.

Night programming continues Saturday at various venues including Capital Ballroom, the Phillips Backyard, and the Electric Avenue Stage, among others.

As for the potential for rain through the weekend, Blasko isn’t worried.

“This is a really good crowd given how soggy the field is. It’s the same Rifflandia, but it’s just raining.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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