In the end it was scorching temperatures, not smoke, that caused challenges for crowds at the Pemberton Music Festival, which otherwise unfolded smoothly last weekend.
Temperatures in Pemberton reached 36.8 on Saturday (July 18) and rose to a record high of 37.7 C on Sunday (July 19) — slightly beating the record of 37.1 C set in 1995.
While organizers added more water stations and shade structures this year, some said it was still a struggle to stay cool. Festival information included a map of the water stations and organizers sent out messages via their app reminding people to stay hydrated.
On Friday, they issued a release to quell rumours that festival camping was oversold and water on site had run out. “Not only is there adequate water on site, as per our government-approved plan, we offer water free of charge through refill stations in the campgrounds and festival grounds,” it said.
A group of festival-goers from Victoria said they were having a great time at the event, but found the heat difficult. “Half the water stations are broken,” said Leah Massime, who travelled to the festival for the second year in a row. “Some girl found a hose.
We didn’t know if the water was safe to drink, but we did anyway because we’re so thirsty.”
Another girl in her group said her friend had to be put on IV after suffering from heat stroke on Saturday. “She’s fine today,” Helena Budgell, also from Victoria. “We’ve actually been going to the (Lillooet) river,
even though we’re not supposed to.”
Originally the group had been worried about reports that smoke from the Elaho and Boulder Creek wildfires could prompt organizers to cancel the festival.
Air quality, however, remained at low levels throughout the weekend. “Obviously it would’ve sucked if it was cancelled, but trying to get 50 – 60,000 people out in the night who can’t drive their cars isn’t safe,” said Massime.
Added her friend Sheri Li: “They kept us really updated with everything and that was really nice.”
Festival attendance was up this year with around 10,000 more people in attendance than last year. That growing crowd had an impact on business in Pemberton, said Mayor Mike Richman. This year, the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce organized a shuttle from the campground into town where festival-goers could shop for supplies.
“We’re trying to find a balance on that because HUKA (which produces the festival), in their traffic plan, keep the roads flowing as best as possible,” Richman said, on Sunday afternoon. “I think we’re hitting that balance where businesses in town are profiting, but not clogging up the roads and it’s going smoothly.”
Tourism Whistler said that while bookings for the festival dates were pacing three per cent ahead of last year, it was difficult to determine if that was solely due to the festival. “We will be reviewing results after the weekend to understand the impact of the Pemberton Music festival on Whistler,” said Katie Brockett, communications coordinator with Tourism Whistler, in an email.
As the festival grows and brings more people to the valley going forward, Richman said there are a few tweaks organizers need to make. On their end, the Village of Pemberton hopes to have the Friendship Trail complete to divert people from the highway.
“There’s definitely some additional shady space, but they could go for more,” Richman said. “I did a helicopter tour an hour ago and the grounds look almost empty. People are hiding from the heat… That’s the reality of our valley this time of year, so they’re going to have to plan for it. I know it was a concern of mine going in, for kids and heat stroke and that sort of thing. It’s definitely something we have to look at.”