A weekend of female excellence and communal joy
The Victoria music scene’s crown jewel event has come and gone once again.
Rifflandia took place over the course of two weekends this year, as opposed to its usual three-day duration, in the Royal Athletic Park. Weekend one, called “Electric Avenue,” featured Iggy Pop and Paris Hilton as headliners.
Dozens of photos and videos of the socialite-princess-turned-DJ swarmed my social media feeds on the festival’s inaugural weekend. I didn’t attend, but based on the amount of footage I saw of her set, I might as well have.
My scope of the event, bound to a six-inch phone screen, was limited. So, my imagination filled in the blanks with pink glitter and bright-eyed fans dressed in pink, and an enticing air of fabulous, uninhibited fun.
By the time weekend two, “The Park,” rolled around, I was ready for my turn to revel in the magic with headliners Salt-N-Pepa and Diplo.
I strolled through the admission’s line at the Royal Athletic Park on Saturday afternoon while the sun was still hanging low in the sky, and emerged at the top of a concrete staircase that descended into the field.
A birds-eye-view of the festival stopped me dead in my tracks. The festival consisted of a number of merchant’s tents, what looked like a thousand people, two stages, and a series of food trucks that lined at least a quarter of the field’s perimeter.
At first glance, it reminded me of local fairs I’d visited as a child, if they had been larger, busier, louder, and with more drugs circulating.
New arrivals murmured complaints under their breath and swarmed around me on either side. I apologized and reluctantly took the stairs down to the field — into the belly of the beast.
At the risk of sounding unworldly, I moved through my first hour of the festival like Will Ferrel’s character in Elf explored the Big Apple for the first time. I felt like my inexperience as a festival-goer was so obvious it might be visible, a glowing aural ring around me that wouldn’t let me disappear into the crowd, but instead urged me, wide-eyed, through the drink line without a ticket, aimlessly up the bleachers and inexplicably past the outhouses.
I wound up in the media pit, where I was supposed to be, eventually. I was one of two dozen or so in the six-foot wide stretch between the stage and front barricade. I felt like an imposter, but crossed my arms and frowned a little so none of the camera-carrying media personnel around me could tell. It was ten minutes before Salt-N-Pepa took the stage. Behind me, hundreds of people waited for the headliners.
The world might as well have belonged to Salt-N-Pepa’s Sandra Denton and Cheryl James between 8 and 9 p.m., as far as I was concerned, and I think it would be safe to say that I wasn’t the only one who felt so.
Diplo’s set excited a rowdy crowd, and the next day, Melanie C’s DJ set was also a crowd favourite.
At the entrance to the “comedy bunker” on Sunday, where I watched an hour or so of stand-up (including work by famed Canadian comedian Marito Lopez and UVic alum Julya van der Sloot), a security guard stopped me before waving me in. As I pulled up my sleeve to reveal my media bracelet he said, “I work a lot of these things. All the DJs start to sound the same after a while. [Mel C] though, she’s doing something special, and I like it.”
New guidelines for living applied at Rifflandia, like shoving and screaming and unusual comradery and public drinking, making the experience feel like a funhouse distortion of reality. By the end of the weekend, though, I overcame my overwhelm, and realized that everyone there was in search of the same thing: a release.
I grew to love the crowd, free and uninhibited, and even found that when the weekend was over, I missed the sight of hundreds of faces staring out in the same direction, bound by a collective desire for a little fun.
Upon reflection, more special yet was the fact that four mature women drew a significant portion of the crowd over the festival’s two weekends.
Paris Hilton (42), Melanie C (49), and Salt-N-Pepa, also known as Sandra Denton (56), and Cheryl James (57) were all Riff crowd favourites, and no doubt, the reasons why many bought tickets to the festival.
Taylor Swift says, in her Netflix documentary Miss Americana, “We do exist in this society where women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard at 35,” a sentiment that has echoed widely through the music entertainment community.
In a society that tolerates the success of women best while they are young, every show of mature female excellence is a brick in the wall, so to speak, strengthening our collective defense against the entrenched patriarchal myth that a woman is of most value while she is reproductively viable.
At Rifflandia 2023, four excellent women each placed a brick in that wall, and so did each member of the audience that bought a ticket to see them or pushed against the barricade in the crowd.
I climbed the concrete staircase on Sunday evening, ready to leave, and looked again at the festival, but this time, once the sun had gone down.
The crowd buzzed about the field like a swarm of honey-drunk bees, looking drowsier now than they did the day prior.
I left feeling satisfied, and caught the bus home just in time.