Up-and-coming artists generate buzz at Rifflandia

What: Rifflandia featuring Jessie Reyez, Daniel Caesar, Current Swell, Lights, Bishop Briggs, and more

Where: Various venues, including Royal Athletic Park, Phillips Backyard and Capital Ballroom

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When: Thursday through Sunday

Tickets: $44.50-$299.50 at Lyle’s Place (770 Yates St.), ticketweb.ca and rifflandia.com

More than 160 acts on 14 stages over four days of eclectic programming — that’s what the Rifflandia schedule spells out in bold type. But what you won’t discover until you attend is the camaraderie among those who participate in the event, from vendors to artists and attendees.

There’s always a strong contingent of local acts at the festival, but the 2018 edition will set a new high in terms of B.C.-based artists. That’s something both fans and organizers of the popular four-day event can take pride in.

“I love that Current Swell — a hometown group — is headlining Sunday,” said Nick Blasko of Victoria’s Atomique Productions, which produces the festival. “I just saw them at the Skookum festival in Vancouver on the main stage and it was amazing.”

Rifflandia made its name on the headliners it assembled each of its 10 years, from Gord Downie, Tegan and Sara, and the Flaming Lips to Death Cab for Cutie, Arkells and Moby.

But those who’ve been following along know the notables names tell only half the story.

Rifflandia has done exceptionally well at bringing artists through well before they break. Superstars such as Post Malone, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, AWOLnation, Reggie Watts, Coleman Hell and Phantogram all appeared at Rifflandia before they ascended the charts, which bodes well for the up-and-coming acts featured this weekend.

“You’re always going to have those artists who are not yet known draw a big buzz at Rifflandia,” Blasko said. “I can think of four this year who will be getting much bigger very soon.”

Two of those, budding Toronto stars Jessie Reyez, who won breakthrough artist of the year at the 2018 Juno Awards and figures prominently on Eminem’s new chart-topping album, and Daniel Caesar, twice nominated at this year’s Grammy Awards, sit atop the bill for the 11th annual festival.

“Jessie Reyez’s career is on an upward trajectory right now, from her stuff on the Eminem record. She’s definitely having a great moment of growth right now. She’s a unique headliner for us.”

The youthful appeal of Reyez, 27, and Caesar, 23, represents a paradigm shift for festival programming, but the move was part of a greater rethink. This weekend, Rifflandia will host more female and First Nations artists than ever before, Blasko said.

“This is a year of diversity in terms of music, in terms of genre and in terms of gender,” he said. “There’s a younger crop of artists and a lot of new artists who have never played the festival.

“Part of us changing and staying relevant and being a festival that will survive into the next decade is going to be as a result of our ability to change and read the landscape in terms of who those new artists are and who we should be paying attention to.”

Last year, more than 6,000 people took in sets around the city on each day, and first-night attendance was the biggest in the festival’s history.

During the day and into the early evening, Royal Athletic Park serves as the hub, while the night programming is centred on Electric Avenue, a multi-stage, multi-venue area at the junction of Store and Discovery streets.

The main stage at Electric Avenue has been moved from the Capital Iron parking lot onto Pembroke Street, and will act as an extension of the programming at the Phillips Backyard. That brings the capacity of the area up to 6,000 people, Blasko said.

Rifflandia expanded its Electric Avenue footprint this year by adding two nearby venues, Canoe Brewpub and the Rubber Boot Club, to its roster. “I like the new setup because it won’t be so spread out,” Blasko said. “You could effectively venue-hop just in that part of town.”

The MusiCounts TD Lounge in The Atrium on Yates Street is open to those who don’t have tickets to Rifflandia but want to see Rifflandia artists perform acoustic sets on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 per day, with the proceeds benefiting music-education charity MusiCounts. Secret sets are also being offered at Royal Athletic Park to those who register at do250.com/secret, after last year’s sets drew huge crowds.

Atomique is also partnering as producers of the Rifflandia Gathering, a music-industry conference held Thursday through Saturday, featuring delegates from around the world.

“We’re piggybacking a learning and networking opportunity on the backs of the festival,” Blasko said. “We’ve opened up the panels to artists who are playing the festival, but also to the local industry as well. We’re able to show off the festival to this varied group of people, which I think is amazing.”

Families are an important aspect of the festival, according to Blasko, who has two young children. He wants Rifflandia to be a place where families can enjoy a wide range of activities, be it music, food or art.

To encourage that, Rifflandia has upped the age of children admitted free with a paying adult from 10 to 12. “The family thing is huge. It makes it more accessible for families to comes as a unit.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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