How a village in B.C. came to host one of the summer's hottest music festivals
VANCOUVER -- When a band as big as Coldplay decides it wants to produce and headline a European-style music festival in North America, you find a place to put it. The person charged with that responsibility, on a tight, one-year deadline, was Shane Bourbonnais, president of touring and business development for concert promoter Live Nation Canada.
Bourbonnais chose Pemberton, B.C.
Pemberton, for those who haven't had the pleasure, is a village with about 2,200 full-time residents in the Coast Mountains about 30 minutes up Highway 99 from Whistler in the Lillooet River valley. It's a take-your-breath-away kind of place: lush, green and spectacular. In the winter, it's a popular accommodations alternative to Whistler.
But the agricultural community is not on anyone's list of concert sites - it wasn't even on Bourbonnais's list at first, even though he has a vacation home there.
But this week, some 40,000 people are expected to descend on the valley for the first-ever Pemberton Festival, a three-day event that begins on Friday with acts such as Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Tragically Hip and, of course, Coldplay.
The conversion of the village to small city is just about complete.
Tents are up, sound and lighting equipment for the bands is being set up, and heavy-duty landscape cloth has been placed on top of the native soil to protect the fertile farmland.
Putting on a festival of this size in a remote village 150 kilometres north of Vancouver is "10 times the amount of work" as it would be in an urban setting, Bourbonnais says. "It's a huge challenge, but I've assembled what I think is the best team I've ever had in my entire career working on an event."
The festival is being produced by a partnership between Coldplay, the band's management company Good Boy Productions (a joint venture between Coldplay manager Dave Holmes and Depeche Mode manager Jonathan Kessler) and Live Nation.
Bourbonnais was approached last summer by Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and asked to find a suitable spot to stage the festival: It needed a place that could accommodate a couple of stages, tens of thousands of fans and, in the European festival style, thousands of campsites.
Bourbonnais' first thought was that an event that large would have to be in Southern Ontario, due to the population base. He checked sites in Wasaga Beach, Muskoka and Kitchener-Waterloo. He also looked at spots in the Maritimes and Alberta, but nothing seemed exactly right.
He returned home discouraged from his scouting missions. To shake off the frustration during one of his trips back to Pemberton - by this time it was already September - he and his wife went hiking. As they gained elevation on a mountain trail, Bourbonnais looked across the valley toward majestic Mount Currie and then down to the farm fields below.
"The light went on at that point," he said during a recent interview from the festival office. The site he had been searching the country for was in his own backyard. Coldplay's managers came to town, rented a helicopter, flew over Bourbonnais' chosen hayfield and approved the spot.
In town, the festival has been the buzz almost ever since. "This is putting us on the map," says Sandy Ryan, vice-president of the Pemberton & District Chamber of Commerce, and one of the first locals to hear of Bourbonnais's big vision for the little village. Ryan's initial reaction was "wow." His next thought was the event needed the support of the community.
Live Nation and the chamber met with landowners and groups such as the Rotary and Lions clubs. Locals gathered in October for a meeting at the Royal Canadian Legion where Bourbonnais laid out the plan, took questions and asked for a show of hands. "Everybody threw up their hands and gave a big cheer," remembers Ryan.
To win support, organizers had to address various concerns. There had to be a ban on bringing root vegetables into the area, for example, because Pemberton is a seed potato control zone, one of the few virus-free areas in North America. It helped that Bourbonnais was not some outsider wanting to trample local farm fields for a quick buck. "It was good because I was a local," he said, "and I could pick up the phone and call [my neighbours] rather than being some guy from L.A. or Toronto."
"Obviously we all have our concerns, [but] in the feedback that we've received, I would describe it as cautiously supportive," Jordan Sturdy, Pemberton's mayor and a local farmer. In December, Pemberton council voted unanimously to support the event on a one-year basis. "We thought, 'Let's take a leap of faith here and see how it goes,' " says Sturdy.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board also voted to support the festival.
Numerous agencies were brought in for consultation - including the province's Ministry of Transportation, the RCMP and Vancouver Coastal Health. All that was needed was approval from the Agricultural Land Commission, because the land in question is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve.
The commission, after expressing its dismay that substantial planning for the event had gone on without its involvement, finally granted approval for the festival - for one year only - on March 12. Two days later, Live Nation made the official announcement.
Throughout this time, Bourbonnais was putting together a killer lineup to draw 40,000 people to an out-of-the-way spot. Having Coldplay involved was definitely a help in drawing other acts, he says.
Local enthusiasm has been buoyed by the expected economic impact. While it's difficult to estimate, the region's economic development consultant Alexandra Ross figures festival-related spending will be "a few hundred thousand dollars" in the village alone.
And for the regional district as a whole, Ryan predicts the impact will be in the millions. He figures if 40,000 people each spend $150 (on top of the cost of tickets) from the time they enter and leave the district, that's $6-million. "I think that's conservative," he says.
Many locals will be working for or volunteering at the festival (look for Mayor Sturdy selling his berries and carrots at the farmers' market). Others will be employed in festival-related work in town. Hotels in Pemberton sold out "virtually immediately" following the festival's announcement, according to Sturdy, and Whistler hotels are busy this weekend as well. "For a change, Whistler is our bedroom community," Ross says.
Most of the artists will stay in Whistler and be driven or flown by helicopter to Pemberton. The Pemberton airport will be used as a parking lot.
Bourbonnais predicts the event will be sold out by the time the gates open later this week. Live Nation and the other producers hope the event goes well enough to convince the community and politicians to allow it to return.
That is not a certainty. The Agricultural Land Commission has already expressed "very serious concerns" that the long-term use of the site as a concert venue will debilitate the land. "This is simply not the place to hold such an event," the commission warned in its March decision. It only allowed this show because so much work had already gone into it.
For the producers, there is a lot at stake. The money they've spent on traffic studies, blueprints and other start-up costs will be easier to swallow if it's amortized over the long term.
"We'd love to see this festival become like the ones in Europe that last in a community for many, many years and be a really great economic driver and a highlight of the community's year," Bourbonnais says, adding: "There's nothing better than having incredible music in a beautiful setting."
Im stoked for this. I only got a ticket for Sunday. It was free so why complain? Im from Vancouver so it works great.
Gonna head up Sunday morning and work my way to the main stage and camp all day. Im looking Forward to the Death Cab, Jay-Z Coldplay 1-2-3 knockout. I the only one hoping Chris jumps on stage with jay to preform Beach Chair?
I hope this lives up to the hype. Wish I could go Saturday... ahh well Im going for coldplay anyways.
Yeah Thank god for my connections. Gonna be a long day though with working graveyards and coldplay not hitting stage till 9:30 (so in concert speak like 10-10:15ish) I wont get home till like 2-3 we figure and i work at 8:30 that day.
The sacrifices we make for the best band in the world.
What the music festival of the summer means for the Village of Pemberton
By Claire Piech
The quiet before the storm
In 15 days, 4 hours, 13 minutes and 25 seconds, 40,000 concertgoers will descend upon the small village of Pemberton to party their brains out over three days and nights. But you would never guess that talking to Live Nation organizer Shane Bourbonnais.
The Calgary-born, California-raised head honcho of operations looks startlingly calm on this sunny July afternoon as he strolls through his air-conditioned office in Pemberton’s industrial park. He speaks honestly about the concert preparation, detailing ticket sales and stage construction in an enthusiastic but mellow voice. His acute cool emulates throughout the building: fashionably dressed employees work serenely at their computers or talk to each other in an ever-so-civil manner.
And this relaxed atmosphere is just how Bourbonnais likes it.
“In this business, if you are two weeks away from an event and things are chaotic, you know you are in trouble. Here,” he says waving his hand around the office, “things are under control. We are in great shape for the festival.”
Assuring words from the man who holds the fate of Pemberton in his hands.
Like the towns of Glastonbury in the United Kingdom, Coachella in California and Bonnaroo in Tennessee before it, the tiny village of Pemberton is heading for a major change this summer with the arrival of the highly anticipated Pemberton Music Festival.
Up until now, Pemberton’s economy has been based almost solely on farming and tourism. This is a village where almost no one locks their doors at night. This is a village where the Pemberton Barn Dance – complete with cowboy hats and plastic cups of beer – used to be the summer’s biggest event. And this is a village where the parking lots still have hitching posts.
As the anticipated arrival of Coldplay, Jay-Z et al. draws closer and Pemby prepares to cross that heavyweight line from farming community to notorious multi-day festival host, residents are preparing for the big shift. In the lull before the storm, families are buying locally-discounted festival tickets, attending town hall meetings on traffic flow and porta-potties, and stockpiling their cupboards with enough groceries to get them through the week.
And as everyone holds their breath and prepares to take the leap of faith between July 25 to 28, one big, fat question hangs in the air: What becomes of small villages that play host to large festivals?
Suddenly, Bourbonnais’s cool, calm, collected attitude seems like a priceless commodity.
But first, a one-minute history of Pemberton
Big festival celebrity was not always in the cards for Pemberton. Until recently, this was not a place you would expect to see rock stars. The village’s humble roots began somewhere in the 1880s when a group of European settlers, tired of chasing gold, realized the soil at Port Pemberton (as it was then called, despite the lack of a port) was great for farming. They named their new home after Joseph Despard Pemberton, a surveyor-general for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Thus was spawned “Spud Valley”.
Of course, long before the Europeans stumbled upon Pemberton, spread out beneath the 8,300-foot splendour of Mount Currie, the Lil’wat First Nations roamed the area. They fished, hunted, and lived harmoniously with the land. Today, band members of the Lil’wat First Nation still live in the Pemberton Valley, on the Mount Currie reserve.
In 1914, more European settlers poured into town when the first passenger train rolled into Pemberton and connected the valley with the rest of the world. Agriculture and forestry became the town’s economic driving forces, and Pemberton became renowned for its seed potatoes. In 1967, the village became the first commercial seed potato area of the world to grow virus-free seed potatoes, and today Pemberton potatoes are shipped throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California.
A major economic shift for the village occurred in 1975 when a highway was finally built between Whistler and Pemberton. Easier access to and from the village brought in workers from Whistler’s bourgeoning tourism industry, and local farmers began growing a larger variety of crops. In the wake of these innovations, another wave of migration came, highlighted in 2005 when Pemberton was proclaimed the fastest growing community in all of British Columbia. Yet despite this rapid growth, nobody imagined what was to come in the summer of 2008.
Enter the Pemberton Music Festival.
The big show
The first public murmurs of the festival began in the fall of 2007, when a rumour spread that Live Nation Canada organizer and Pemberton local Bourbonnais was thinking about throwing a Coldplay concert in the village that summer. In November, Bourbonnais confirmed he was looking into a large scale event but nothing was set in stone. Over the next few months, gossip continued to gain steam as Bourbonnais and his crew worked through logistical hurdles.
Then, on the fateful day of March 13, 2008, inside information was leaked to Billboard.com that the Pemberton Music Festival was happening. Billboard immediately posted the festival's preliminary line-up on their website. Among the musicians listed were Jay-Z, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Tragically Hip, Nine Inch Nails and Death Cab for Cutie.
Later that same day, Bourbonnais officially announced the festival at Big Sky Golf and Country Club in Pemberton.
“After the announcement was made, that same day I got calls from media across the country,” recalls Jordan Sturdy, the mayor of Pemberton. “That, I think, was my first inkling of really the scale we were going into.”
News of the festival spread instantly. Even before ticket prices were announced, dozens of Facebook groups dedicated to the event sprung up in heightened anticipation as people across North America scrambled to organize trips to Pemberton. Phones throughout the Sea to Sky corridor were ringing off the hook, and less than four weeks after the festival was first officially announced every hotel room in Pemberton was booked out for the July weekend.
“Where we haven’t gotten calls from? That would be a shorter list,” laughs David MacKenzie, general manager of the Pemberton Valley Lodge. “We’ve gotten everything, from entertainment media, to celebrities, agents of celebrities. It has been overwhelming, but it is nice to see how the word about the festival has gotten out there, far and wide.”
And it is not just Pemberton hotels that are selling out, adds MacKenzie, who also operates hotels further south in the Sea to Sky Corridor, both at Whistler and Squamish.
“Now, I am seeing the volume of our Squamish reservation grow," he observes. "It is a trickle down effect."
Tickets, priced around $259.50, went on sale soon after the festival was announced and were scooped up quickly by buyers from British Columbia, Alberta, the rest of Canada, the United States, Australia, England, mainland Europe, and even Asia. Roughly half of the tickets sold went to people outside British Columbia. Two thousand of those were sold outside North America.
As the hype for the Pemberton Music Festival grew, people everywhere suddenly knew where the tiny village of 2,283 was located. Pembertonians, used to having to always explain to outsiders that their village was 30 kilometres north of Whistler, now couldn’t get the word “Pemberton” out of their mouth before someone would immediately reference the festival. And residents were even hearing a new question asked: “Whistler? Is that near Pemberton?”
“I think we’ve got to appreciate that Coldplay is the third most popular band in the world, and they have just put a new album out,” concedes Paul Selina, president of the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce. “Even in Europe, people are hearing about Pemberton. The concert is definitely putting us on the map, without any shadow of a doubt.”
These effects are already being felt strongly in Spud Valley. While tourism numbers are down for most of British Columbia, visits to Pemberton are up. And the concert has not even happened yet.
“I think it is going to affect positively every business in Pemberton, because everyone is connected to the local economy in one way or the other," speculates Selina. "Farmers are growing produce for it, the vendors are going to sell the produce, the restaurants are adapting their menus to be able to sell fast and hard, and the B&Bs and hotels have been fully booked for ages."
Forget potatoes. Let’s make money off of rock stars
As “go time” for the festival approaches, Pemberton businesses are temporarily switching from farming and tourism to concertonomics. Take the example of Victor Lee. Three weeks before the festival, the owner of AG Foods — one of the only grocery stores in town — can be found sitting down at his desk, carefully combing through the list of extra merchandise he has ordered for the upcoming event. Lee is purchasing more than twenty times his usual supply of water, ice, pop, snacks, juice, milk, coffee, and tea to make sure his shelves are properly stocked when people drive into town for the festival.
“I mean, there are about 50,000 people coming to town,” exclaims Lee, referring not only to the number of concert goers, but also to the number of workers, volunteers, security personnel, roadies, entourages, and more that come with a festival like this.
“Fifty thousand people! Now think about how many drinks one person would consume per day at the end of July? Let’s say the number is four drinks per 24 hours, I bet it is more, but let’s just use that number. So we are talking about 200,000 drinks a day. And then multiply that number by three and a half per day, and that is 700,000 drinks!”
And that is just the number of drinks, he says. That does not even cover the amount of food people will needed to eat during the festival.
Of course, the type of planning needed to be properly equipped for an event of this size is not instantly intuitive to a storeowner used to dealing with a customer base of less than 5,000. To figure out proper numbers, Lee put a call into his buddies in Merritt, British Columbia as soon as the festival was announced to get the lowdown on how they prepare for the Merritt Mountain Music Festival each year.
“I asked them, ‘Okay, what can I expect to happen, how much did their business increase, and what kind of product did they sell’. And these are things they have been telling me, to stock up on water, ice. Of course, they have much, much bigger stores, so I have to take that into account,” he explains.
Because Lee is ordering so much extra stock, he has transformed his own backyard — which incidentally is also near festival grounds — into a temporary warehouse of trailers.
The other major complication he has run up against in his preparations is staffing. Since the population of Pemberton is so small, having to instantly increase his workforce proved to be problematic. To get more workers, Lee has enlisted students and part time employees.
Despite these snags, Lee says he does not mind that the Pemby Fest is being held in his hometown. “I love it,” he beams.
Other businesses in Pemberton are also modifying their business plan specifically for the three days of the Pemberton Festival. Like Lee, they are stocking up on supplies and trying to speculate on how many customers will come through their doors during the fateful weekend. Almost all plan to extend their hours of operation till at least 10 p.m., if not 2 a.m. (an extremely late hour for a village of this size). And restaurants and cafes are designing special scaled-down menus to make sure their turnaround time will be short enough to meet the demands of such a large crowd.
“Nobody really knows what to expect,” says Alex Ross, economic development consultant for Area C and the Village of Pemberton. “This year I see as an educational year… Some people around here, they have never experienced a concert of this magnitude.
“Next year, though, they will have a better idea of what they can offer and what people are interested in."
Ross notes despite this lack of experience, most businesses she has talked with are welcoming the festival with open arms, and almost all comments she has heard have been positive.
Selina adds, “I think for three or four days of the year, the dynamics of Pemberton will change without any shadow of a doubt. But longer term, the town will return back to normal really quite quickly.
“It is like someone coming into Pemberton and spending millions of dollars with Pemberton businesses and then going away. It is the best tourist you could ever have.”
The other Pemberton Music Festival
Though most people seem to have forgotten, this is not the first time a music festival has taken place in the Pemberton Valley. From 1984 to 1989, a series of concerts took place on the Mount Currie reservation called the Stein Valley Voices for Wilderness Festival. The festival started out small, with only 500 attendees in its first year, but grew to a respectable 16,000 by its end.
The Stein Valley festival was thrown to protest logging in the Stein Valley, one of the last untouched watersheds in the southern Coast Mountains of B.C. The protest worked. In 1988, a moratorium was placed on logging in the Stein, and in 1995 the area was declared the Nlaka'pamux Heritage Park, jointly administered by the Lytton First Nations and B.C. Parks.
At its height, the festival hosted several well known musicians including Blue Rodeo, Bruce Cockburn, Spirit of the West and Valdy. David Suzuki also attended as a guest speaker.
“The setting was perfect,” wrote Casey Clemens in an issue of UBC’s campus newspaper, The Ubyssey, “a valley tinged by majestic, protective mountains, marred on one hillside by the ugly gashes of clear cutting to remind us what we were fighting for.”
Most of the Stein Valley Fest's attendees, for whatever reason, did not hail from Pemberton. When asked about the festival, most Pembertonians say they do not even remember it clearly. George Henry from the Pemberton Museum speculates this is partly because the village of Pemberton has seen so much growth over the last 20 years.
And while Henry admits that he also did not attend, he does remember that cars were parked for a couple kilometres around the Rodeo Grounds, where the festival was held, and that there were lots of drunk and disorderly people.
“Let's face it, when you get 10,000 people coming into a town of only 400 or 500 people, you always have a spin-off effect,” he remarks. “Lots of people came into town to buy gas and beer, even though no alcohol was allowed. People bought it anyway.”
Henry’s relative Arne Siego, an environmentalist from Kelowna, did go to the concert one year. Siego says the heart of the concert really was focused on the protest. “It was a good very food feeling,” he says. “People were very positive about the situation but very angry at the government for allowing people to log it.”
Because the Stein Valley Festival, unlike the Pemberton Fest, was focused around a cause, most stakeholders in this summer's festival say that few comparisons can be drawn, and Bourbonnais says he did not model the Pemberton Festival at all after the Stein Valley Fest. In fact, he has found almost no records of it taking place.
Small towns with big festivals
As businesses in Pemby get ready to cash in on the upcoming fest, the Chamber has also been busy behind the scenes checking how other large music festivals have impacted towns with small populations. The number one case study: The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.
“There is no other festival in North America that is like the Pemberton Festival that has come to a small town,” says Selina. “Most of the festivals in North America are near larger towns or cities. But the one festival was can draw the most similarities too is Glastonbury in the UK.
“What is interesting for the community of Glastonbury, England is that the festival is their economic driver for the whole year. They are a small town, and everything is about the festival.”
Adds Ross, “They build everything around that event. Year-round, it is all around that event. I can see doing something similar with Pemberton.”
The Glastonbury Festival takes place on a dairy farm in the southwest of England, between the small villages of Pilton and Pylle and six miles east of the town ofGlastonbury. It was started in 1970, the same year that Jimi Hendrix died. At that time, 15,000 people attended. Today, Glastonbury is considered one of the largest music and performing arts festivals in the world and attracts a crowd of over 100,000 every year.
Since the Pemberton festival was first announced, the Chamber has been in frequent communication with Glastonbury's Chamber of Commerce to find out what their experience has been. Selina even flew out to the United Kingdom to meet with them during the first few weeks of July.
Another music festival the Chamber is scoping out is the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Both Sandy Ryan from the Chamber and Bourbonnais attended this year's festival.
“I went out there this summer, and everyone I talked to was remarking on what a big event it is, and what a positive impact it has had on the town,” confides Bourbonnais.
“Actually,” he adds, “Since we announced this festival, a lot of towns have called us and asked, 'How can we get one?' We've gotten calls from B.C. towns, American towns, some pretty significant places. Everyone wants to know, 'How do we get one of these?'”
The Coachella Fest began in 1999 as a two-day event and was attended by 25,000 people. The festival took off in 2002 and now attracts about 165,000 people each year to the city of Coachella, located in the southeast of California. Like Pemberton, Coachella is a rural, agriculture community. Unlike Pemberton, however, the city has more than 38,000 residents.
Ross thinks because so many aspects of Pemberton's festival unique, Pemberton will have to learn its own lessons on hosting a mega multi-day music festival.
“Nobody has ever had, for example, the vision to provide as much local stuff as possible... Live Nation really did go the extra mile to use as much local stuff as possible and keep it as green as possible. It is absolutely tremendous what they have done. They are jumping through hoops to make this happen and to really set an example of how things can happen.”
Whatever the lessons will be, one thing organizers have been very clear about is that Pemby Fest will not be like the Merritt Mountain Music Festival which has gained a sometimes negative reputation for the large amount of alcohol its concertgoers consume.
“There is no comparison to Merritt. Merritt has a lot of negative experience attached to their concert, but that is also because it is organized differently. This is really professional, through and through,” testifies Ross. “I mean, there is an additional hospital on site and things like that.”
Mayor Sturdy adds, “We expressed our concern about Merritt, and we want to ensure that is not what we are going.”
Perhaps one of the reasons Pemberton stands so alone on the landscape of big music festivals is because its lead organizer also happens to also be a local. Bourbonnais has been living in Pemberton part time since 2003 and full time since 2005.
When Bourbonnais was originally charged by Live Nation to find a new venue for a huge music festival, he looked at places like Toronto before finally realizing that the ideal location was in his own backyard.
His close relationship to the village is apparent in Bourbonnais’ planning, and perhaps one of the reasons that the residents of Pemberton are mostly positive about the whole affair.
“Live Nation are just so open for input from the community,” says Ross. “They are asking questions and connecting with the community and really making them comfortable with what is going to happen.”
Since the Pemberton festival was first announced in the spring, Live Nation and the local government have held several town hall meetings to go over logistical details with the Pemberton public, as well as to listen to concerns. Topics covered at the meetings have ranged from what happens if a bear walks onto the festival grounds, to RCMP vigilance, to traffic flow, and to how properties surrounding the festival grounds will be protected from vandalism.
Live Nation, a North American company, has also made presentations to local volunteer organizations like the Lions, the Legion and the Rotary. A link has been put on the Village of Pemberton's website to generate more feedback before, during and after the event. And a debriefing town hall meeting has already been scheduled after things wrap up to go over what went right and what went wrong.
Following advice from the Chamber, Live Nation have also started a community fund to benefit local non-profit organizations. Three dollars from every Pemberton Fest ticket sold has been added to the pot of money, which now totals over $100,000.
Organizers have also been adamant that the produce sold on concert grounds during the festival days be locally grown, and a farmers market has been organized on the site as well as a mini pharmacy.
“The festival wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the community embracing it,” says Selina. “That is both Pemberton and Mount Currie, and the politicians. It really has been a community success story of what we can do when we all get together.
“Live Nation are working very close with the Chamber in all aspects of this. We are talking with the RCMP and the emergency services. We are looking at how it is affecting the community in general. We have encouraged it from the start, and they have stepped up, and they are very vocal in the community.”
The final hour
Its now one week until show time, and the only evidence in the village that 40,000 people are coming to party is a series of white tents that have been erected on the festival grounds.
Once cars filled with music fans start arriving at the campsite on Thursday afternoon, however, there will be no denying that the inaugural Pemberton Music Festival is going to go off.
And until the festival wraps up in the early hours on Monday, July 28, all the residents of Pemby can do is enjoy the music, and wait to see how large an impact the big festival will have on their small village.
“It is a big of a leap of faith here,” admits Mayor Sturdy. “We are relying on Live Nation to do a good job. We are looking to ourselves and to the public to help us anticipate problems… To bring 40,000 people to a community of 5,000, that is going to have a huge impact. I think we are all working to make sure it is a positive event.
“We have a very big decision to make after this is all over. And that decision is whether to have it next year or not.”
Long lineups, heavy traffic and pricey concessions can't keep music fans away from giant festival taking over B.C. mountain village
PEMBERTON, B.C. -- "Oh my God, it smells like cows." And with that comment, as she stepped off the shuttle bus yesterday from one of the dusty festival parking lots, an urban hipster began her three-day Pemberton Festival experience. Indeed, there are many cows in this lush valley, but their "essence" was quickly replaced with the scent of young humanity: beer, barbecue and B.C. Bud.
The giant, inaugural music festival, featuring international acts such as Coldplay (one of the festival's producers), Jay-Z and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, has invaded the quiet village of Pemberton, about 150 kilometres north of Vancouver. The population of slightly more than 2,000 has swelled to about 40,000 this weekend, wreaking havoc on the roads - and at the festival site.
Some campers who arrived Thursday night reported waiting hours at the Pemberton airport, which has been turned into a parking lot, for the shuttle to take them to the campsite. For some, the shuttle never came, and they had to camp at the parking lot.
"[Thursday night] was hell," said Lauren, 18, who travelled from Edmonton for the festival, and wound up camping in the parking lot, along with two friends.
"There was no people directing you, or anything," said Jason Blatchford, 26, of Burnaby, B.C. "It was just mayhem."
Festival organizer Shane Bourbonnais said campers were told to arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday and when it became clear that they would keep showing up long past that, organizers tried to accommodate them.
"I was there [Thursday] night loading buses until 2 in the morning," he said yesterday. "It was unfortunate the way it went down, but I think everybody's now on the site having a good time."
Mr. Bourbonnais said 20 shuttle buses were added yesterday and more would be running tomorrow and Monday for departure.
"Obviously in a first-year festival, you can plan and plan and plan but until you actually open the gates up [you don't know what will happen]. So now we've made the adjustments and we'll fix it."
The RCMP said frustrated campers who drove directly to the site yesterday to unload their camping gear instead of waiting for the shuttle were complicating matters because the road was so narrow, the buses couldn't pass the parked cars. "It was terrible," said Constable Kalinda Link.
Traffic on the under-construction Sea-to-Sky Highway was very heavy yesterday. Constable Link said as of about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, there were backups beginning at Horseshoe Bay, more than 100 kilometres south of Pemberton.
The road from Pemberton village to the festival, at the base of Mount Currie, was jammed. Some people gave up on their hitchhiking plans, dropping their thumbs and started walking - often moving faster than the cars stuck in traffic.
Mr. Bourbonnais's vision has seen this quiet mountain valley - where people generally come in the summer to get away from it all (he himself has a vacation home here) - transformed into a small city.
The festival is a behemoth, the biggest thing to happen in this out-of-the-way place that anyone can remember. It's expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the local economy - and millions to the district as a whole.
Prices in town were reasonable compared with the food on offer at the festival, where the going rate for a bottle of pop or water is $4.
"I'm fine with not bringing my own food in, but I don't want to get ripped off out of my pants," said Liam Johnston, 19, of Saltspring Island. (Concert-goers were not permitted to bring their own food or drinks to the festival site.)
Music fan Richard Ward, 52, travelled to Pemberton from Kelowna for the festival. With his travel, ticket, VIP parking pass and Whistler hotel, he figures he'd spent about $1,000 by the time he walked in the gate, and estimates he'll spend another $500 by the time it's all over. "It's worth it for me."
As the bands hit the stage yesterday afternoon, any lingering grumpiness over check-in hassles and inflated drink prices seemed to dissipate.
"When you're in a once-in-a-lifetime situation, who cares what it costs?" asked Richard Fonseca, 26, of Vancouver.
Added his pal Patrick Whibley, 28: "This could be the Woodstock of our generation."
At the festival
The three-day Pemberton
Festival, by the numbers:
0: Amount of outside food and drink allowed at the concert site
PEMBERTON, B.C. — At the end of day two of the Pemberton Festival, as I dusted off my keyboard (and I do mean that literally) to write this, I was still trying to shake off the drive that started the day: close to two-and-a-half hours to get from Whistler to Pemberton (a drive that normally takes 25 minutes) and then almost another half-hour waiting in the mosquito-ridden parking lot for the shuttle to get to the festival site. Yes, the transportation woes continued for the third straight day at the inaugural Pemberton Festival (as one of my shuttle-mates remarked: “Really good organization here. Can't wait for the Olympics.”) Fun!
Well, nothing like a day of excellent music to help those white knuckles unwind – starting with Sam Roberts, the indie darling from Montreal whose performance was so cool, as it wrapped up with one monumental (in both length and quality) jam, the skies opened up. The shower in no way put a damper on Saturday's main stage opener; it was in fact welcomed by the dusty crowd (stores in town were having trouble keeping mouth-and-nose-protecting bandanas in stock).
It was a good day overall here for Canadian music. Buck 65, backed by a turntable and his laptop (and calling himself “the loneliest man in Pemberton” as he had the stage all to himself), coolly conquered the complicated verbiage on tracks like Indestructible Sam and The Centaur, while offering descriptive dance moves to go with the smart, irreverent lyrics (the guy can shake his booty, it should be noted).
He also dispelled any illusions of glamorous backstage conditions, particularly the washroom situation. “The toilet looks like a moose took a dump in there,” he remarked, wondering aloud if perhaps Roberts or The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie were responsible.
The Vancouver group Black Mountain, also on the smaller Lillooet stage, sounded terrific. Too bad more people weren't there to hear the indie up-and-comers: The Tragically Hip went 25 minutes long, keeping fans over at the main stage for a good chunk of Black Mountain's set.
As for The Hip, it was a classic performance. As Downie made his way through hits including Courage, Ahead by a Century, Poets and New Orleans is Sinking, he was at his beloved weirdest, paying particular attention to the microphone stand (disassembling and handing pieces of it out to the audience, at times).
Too bad Downie felt the need to shout his way through the normally-gorgeous Grace, Too – squealing and grunting at times. Also Blow at High Dough was missing from the set list, leaving a gaping crowd-pleasing hole in the program.
However, The Hip show was great overall and the boys from Kingston, Ontario clearly should have been the second-to-last act on the main stage, instead of third-last. They packed in a huge crowd, much larger than the audience The Flaming Lips, who followed The Hip, managed to attract.
That may have had something to do with The Lips' sound. It was atrocious: muddy and not nearly loud enough. It was by far the worst sound of the weekend (in fact, the sound is generally surprisingly good for an outdoor venue of this size).
The Lips did deliver, however, on spectacle. There were Teletubbies and other assorted characters on stage, huge white balloons and confetti raining down on the crowd, and the entrance of the weekend (so far): frontman Wayne Coyne did his boy-in-the-bubble routine, rolling out into the audience inside a giant plastic ball.
The sound was no doubt partially to blame for the fans' lack of enthusiasm, which Coyne seemed to notice. He kept urging the crowd to rev it up. They didn't.
Headlining day two were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: a surprise choice, given their era (really, some of the festival attendees may have been conceived to Petty's music back in his Free Fallin' heyday). But it worked. Petty, who seemed genuinely thrilled to be on the Pemberton stage, had the crowd singing along to hit after hit:– I Won't Back Down, Mary Jane's Last Dance, Refugee.
Petty's voice sounds great, but again the sound just wasn't loud enough. While it was great to hear everyone singing along to the chorus of Free Fallin', it's a problem when the audience completely drowns out the musician. One other Petty complaint (sorry, couldn't resist): the pauses between songs were just a little too long. The set needs to be tighter.
Day two's highlight: Canadiana! Low point: flame-out on The Flaming Lips' sound (and did I mention the traffic?).
Performances to look forward to on Sunday: a couple of little acts – Jay-Z and Coldplay. Also the U.S. musician Matisyahu, who offers the unlikely fusion of Orthodox Judaism and classic reggae. He'll close out the Lillooet Stage.