Even before boarding the plane I can tell this will be a very different experience from our previous ‘fly in’ shows. There are no scanners, metal detectors or dreaded shoe examinations. Even my carefully packed ziplock baggie filled with liquids and gels under 100ml goes unchecked! As I approach the entrance to the tarmac I’m met by a lone security guard who gives me a passing glance before waving me through. I imagine this must be what it was like to fly in the 1970s – ‘the golden age of man’, where rock bands were gods, drugs weren’t addictive, any sex was safe sex and you could walk on an airplane without 45 minutes of examination. It must have been fun, minus the everyone smoking everywhere part.
We walk out to our plane, a small twin prop which the inflight magazine later tells me is a Saab 340. The magazine also boasts that only 400 were ever made as if to reinforce any doubts the passenger may have about Saab’s ability to make an airplane. However, the flight is smooth and surprisingly quiet. As we descend through the cloud cover it looks like a scene from Jurassic park; an endless expanse of ocean broken up by the hundreds of small rainforest islands that make up Haida Gwaii. The area used to be known as The Queen Charlotte Islands but was renamed this June to the Haida name for ‘Islands of the People’.
Our plane lands on a small runway and we pull up to a building that looks more like an old log cabin than an airport terminal. We load into a mini-bus and just start to spread out when our driver tells us we have to pick up a few more passengers on the way; 5 retired women with their mountain bikes! We help them squeeze their bikes and bags into the bus and begin the hour-long drive from Massett to Tlell, a town of only a few hundred people that has hosted The Edge of the World Festival for almost 30 years.
After dropping off our gear we hike down a trail through moss-covered trees and salal bushes towards ocean. The scenery is instantly reminiscent of the paintings of Emily Carr, who’s paintings were inspired by these islands. You can tell it gets windy here; most trees only have a few branches left, all pointing away from the strong northeasterly wind. After crossing desert-like dunes we come upon an endless sand beach littered with smooth pastel stones, stringy red seaweed and bleached crab shells. We have an impromptu beach-yoga session and then return to the festival.
The music is already underway so we find ourselves a log to sit on and enjoy the performances of some local acts and a few out-of-town performers like Kinnie Starr and FM Hi Low. Just before it’s time for us to play we’re treated to a lantern parade where 50 locals of all ages carry coloured paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes. It’s a beautiful sight.
We take the stage to a pretty good sized crowd made up mostly of families. As we begin to play the scene instantly changes to what seems like a Scatterheart flash mob. It’s as if 100 youths were hiding in the bushes waiting for us to play; the dance floor is packed with smiling faces. The Haida Gwaii people turn out to be one of the most appreciative audiences we’ve ever seen, dancing, cheering and singing along late into the starry night.
Exhausted, we drag our feet the five minute walk to our accommodations; not a hotel, but tents tucked between the forest and a long vegetable garden. As someone who loves camping but doesn’t get to do much of it, I savour the quiet and the sweet smell of cedar on the air while I drift off to sleep.
The next morning we put on workshop to teach people how to make mini versions of the Scatterheart wings costume. I can’t help but smile as I see kids and adults alike happily working on their own feathery creations. A few hours later, during our daytime performance, the new members of the love rock revolution parade proudly in their handmade costumes. After our set we are treated to a Haida closing ceremony with traditional song and dance. They even invite Jesse, still in his costume, to come sing along.
The minute the crew start taking down microphones the Haida Gwaii clouds open up and we get our first rainforest downpour of the trip. It’s as if the festival organizers made a deal with mother nature, “Give us these three days and then you can pummel us all you want.” We put on our rain jackets, pack up our instruments and head back to the camp. Kirsten, who owns the property we’re camping on, kindly invites us in her house to warm up with a cup of tea and as I contently settle into the couch I realize this is my first time indoors during the whole trip. No phone, no email, no driving; I haven’t even opened my wallet in 3 days. It has been glorious.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and after another night in the tent, listening to the thick raindrops on the tarp above me, we’re back on a plane to Vancouver. As the airplane touches down I feel like I’m coming home from a yearlong trip around the world. Haida Gwaii is as magical, eye-opening and beautiful a place as any I’ve ever travelled to but it’s the kindness and warmth the people that makes me long to visit there again soon. Luckily for us in Vancouver, the edge of the world is only two hours away.
Mike Southworth is a musician and producer based in Vancouver, BC. He lives with his wife and pet iPhone (both of whom felt a little neglected during this trip).