The lead organizer of the Pemberton Music Festival says fans can expect a high-calibre lineup on par with some of North America's top festivals, as well as an operational plan that will address some of the problems that were encountered by Pemberton's last major musical gathering.
A.J. Niland's enthusiasm for the new festival, scheduled for July 18 to 20, is best described as infectious. As the co-founder and CEO of festival producer Huka Entertainment toured media around the venue prior to Thursday's (Sept. 25) official launch at The Meadows at Pemberton, it quickly became apparent that Niland has a clear vision of an elite event, and one that will have a lasting impact in the Sea to Sky.
"No more one-and-done," he said, noting his desire to see the festival become an annual event to circle on the calendar.
The 2008 Pemberton Festival produced by Live Nation is fondly remembered by many as an unforgettable event that brought A-list acts like Jay-Z, Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails and dozens more to the sleepy Spud Valley. But it is also remembered as much for its failure to return, for operational challenges that caused traffic headaches on Highway 99 and a festival site that was left in an awful state, with garbage and left-behind items littering the grounds.
But Huka Entertainment brings experience delivering world-class festivals. Its award-winning Hangout Music Festival, held every spring in Alabama, gets stronger every year. That's just one of the annual, multi-day festivals in its portfolio, which also includes the promotion of concerts and events across the Southeast U.S.
And Niland said lessons have been learned from some of the problems that plagued the 2008 festival.
"Every festival is a little bit more wise, a little bit more mature than they were in '08, and we all learn from each other," he said. "A lot of the issues of the past are things that have sort of been solved by the festival community through its maturity."
Beyond the fact that it's already hosted a festival attracting 40,000 music fans in the past, Pemberton appears to have been an easy sell for Huka. When asked what it is about the area that made his company want to bring another major festival back, Niland's response was fairly simple.
"This," he said, motioning to the backdrop of Mount Currie behind him. "It's spectacular. It's one of the most beautiful sites I've ever seen. That's where we like to start when we pick a festival site — try pick a place people want to be whether there's a festival or not. The beauty here is definitely world-class, and thus a world-class festival is just."
Using expanded grounds between the original festival site owned by the Sunstone Group and the Lil'wat Nation-held IR2 parcel of land, Niland expects the larger site to fix a lot of the problems experienced in 2008. Organizers will use a "multi-pronged approach" to addressing issues such as traffic congestion, he said.
"We're limiting camping on site to 25,000 people and that's going to eliminate a good 30 to 40 per cent of the cars that were on the road," he said. "In addition to that, we're going to have a very controlled shuttle system coming in from Whistler for the balance, whether they park and ride in or they're staying in Whistler. In addition to that is the additional neighbouring lands, which has reduced the need for off-site camping, again getting the cars off the road."
Nilands said organizers also have a completely new traffic flow plan in place. With the railway line running adjacent to the festival site, he described a long-term vision that may someday see trains moving people to the event, a strategy that has been successful for Denmark's massive, long-running Roskilde Festival.
No details about the festival lineup were revealed at Thursday's launch, which featured a performance by Nova Scotia's Rich Aucoin. However, a taped message from the Trailer Park Boys indicated that the Canadian TV favourites will be on hand to take in the festival themselves next year. Niland said organizers expect to begin announcing artists on the bill in January.
The musical landscape in the Sea to Sky has changed significantly since the 2008 festival. The Squamish Valley Music Festival has established itself as a diverse, well-respected event in its four-year history, while Whistler has become home to a summer-long series of free concerts in addition to smaller, genre-focused festivals that are still growing. But Niland isn't concerned that the region's music scene has become oversaturated.
"Vancouver's a big market, and if you look at other markets in North America — Toronto, Chicago, Austin, Texas; L.A., New York — there's a great deal of entertainment," he said. "It's all about having different experiences. We think the experience that we're going to put on here is going to be different, and it's going to draw a different clientele than some of those other events. There's enough going on in the region for everybody."
A limited run of tickets goes on sale Friday (Sept. 27) through what the festival is calling the Founder's Program. Those taking advantage of the pre-sale will not only receive a discount, they'll have access to a number of amenities and perks for 2014 and every other edition of the Pemberton Music Festival that follows. Among the perks are advance access to camping, lodging options, private parties, special year-round offers and more.
"We're actually going to erect a monument on site and carve their name in it," Niland said of anyone taking advantage of the Founder's Program sale. "It's a big reward for taking that leap."
Although it will be Huka Entertainment producing the festival, Niland said it's the local folks in Pemberton who have worked hard to bring another major festival back to town that deserve a tip of the cap.
"The community support has been pretty tremendous," he said.
"The Pemberton community really gets the credit for this event coming back. We've been involved now (for) a year making sure this was possible, but for the last six years this community has been working on bringing this festival back."