When A.J. Niland first travelled from New Orleans to Pemberton in search of a site for a mega music festival, he knew he had found the perfect spot: a massive flat field at the base of a stunning mountain range, and a short drive from two favourite destinations – Vancouver and Whistler.
But before the Huka Entertainment head could book some of the biggest names in the biz for the five-day fest – such as Nine Inch Nails, Outkast, Deadmau5, Soundgarden, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Metric, Grimes, the Flaming Lips, St. Vincent and dozens more – he had to contend with a little bit of unfortunate history.
The festival – which is intended to become Canada’s Coachella – comes six years after 2008’s Pemberton Festival vied for the same destination status but turned into a logistical nightmare with highway gridlock, dusty fields and overflowing portable toilets.
But Mr. Niland has promised locals, bands and music fans that history will not repeat itself, and the company has poured millions into infrastructure projects, doubling the size of the site, adding two kilometres of roads, building a foot bridge over the highway and installing a massive irrigation system that has turned the main field into what Mr. Niland calls “the greenest lawn in Pemberton,” but most importantly will keep it from becoming a dust bowl.
It is also adding some serious high-end comforts, including a two-storey glass VIP dining tent, a VIP cabana that’s three and a half metres off the ground and features “cold tubs” (unheated hot tubs for cooling off), and tastes of West Coast adventure such as ATV tours, ziplining, a water slide and a Tyler, The Creator pop-up shop and skate park.
Of course, what will draw thousands of music fans are the names on the bill, and on that count, the festival, which has a budget that’s “well north of eight figures,” does not disappoint. The sprawling, 100-act roster includes top artists from nearly every musical genre, from Blondie to Justice, and from Frank Ocean to Empire of the Sun. It also features Canadian favourites the New Pornographers, Sloan, Stars, Matt Mays and Hey Rosetta!, as well as big-name comedians Bob Saget, Norm Macdonald, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Breuer, Jay Pharoah, the Trailer Park Boys and more.
“It all boils down to the experience. Did people have a good time?” says Mr. Niland, who adds that, with the jaw-dropping Mount Currie as a backdrop, the festival site is as stunning as they come. “That’s what we’re here to do: Create a time that is so good that people are willing to fly from halfway around the world to take part.”
The Pemberton Music Festival runs until July 20 (pembertonmusicfestival.com).
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