The B.C. summer-concert season’s much-hyped mega event, Pemberton Festival, didn’t come together by accident. Still, the three-day showcase, which will see 100 acts (including some of the heaviest hitters in pop music) descend on the town of Pemberton, B.C., from July 25 to 27, could just as easily have ended up elsewhere.
The fest started out as a directive from Michael Rapino, the CEO of Live Nation, a Los Angeles–based company that produces more concert tours than any other promoter in the world. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Rapino that multiday rock festivals have taken root in North America over the past decade.
American showcases like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Coachella in California, and Lollapalooza in Chicago have become as buzzed about as the U.K.’s events Glastonbury and Reading, shows in which Live Nation has a stake.
Pemberton is the company’s first entry into the festival game on this side of the pond. The job of putting it together was given to Shane Bourbonnais, president of touring and business development for Live Nation Canada.
“Michael Rapino said to me, ”˜I want you to build me a festival in North America,’ ” Bourbonnais says, on the line from Pemberton, where he has a home. “Because we could go anywhere in North America, I started looking at the Maritimes, looked in Quebec, Ontario for a long time, thought about Alberta, and looked into the States. But I kept on driving by this site [in Pemberton]. It didn’t really dawn on me until I stood there and looked around one day and said, ”˜You know what? The perfect site is right here.’ ”
That site is a 200-hectare spread at the base of Mount Currie, and it’s there that Pemberton Festival will host three days of music. Sustainability is a major goal, with organizers setting aside 20,000 camping spots, offering free parking for cars with four people or more in them, and relying on local farmers to provide produce instead of shipping supplies up from Vancouver.
“Everyone is coming to spend the weekend and really get into the festival,” Bourbonnais notes. “It’s not like a downtown festival where it’s three days but where you go home and back to your life every night.”
While working on the creation of Pemberton, Bourbonnais attended established showcases like Coachella and Washington State’s Sasquatch Music Festival, as well as spending time overseas at European package events.
“I was able to see all the different components, and take things away for what my vision for Pemberton is,” he says. “There’s a little taste of everything put together. For example, people in Canada are always used to driving their cars up to the campground. In Europe, you park your car and you go into a tent city that’s been built. There are streets in the tent city, and it all makes for a really great vibe.”
Pemberton Festival kicks off July 25 with a Nine Inch Nails–headlined roster that includes Aussie ’70s rock revivalists Wolfmother, potty-mouthed alt-country upstart Kathleen Edwards, and New York’s ever-styling Interpol. July 26 finds iconic classic rockers Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sharing the stage with a lineup including hyper-theatrical Oklahoma legends the Flaming Lips and Vancouver Pitchfork faves Black Mountain, while July 27 brings out even heavier artillery with Coldplay, Jay-Z, and N.E.R.D. all appearing.
If the festival is to be lauded for anything, it’s diversity. Instead of playing it safe, Pemberton Festival organizers—including Coldplay manager Dave Holmes and Depeche Mode manager Jonathan Kessler—realized that listening habits have changed since the iPod and Internet file-sharing. So while one of the biggest hip-hop players sharing the day with college-rock sensations and indie-pop oddballs would have seemed radical a decade ago, there’s no reason to think that Hova fans won’t find something to like in Vampire Weekend and the Fiery Furnaces.
“The business has kind of leaned itself this way,” Bourbonnais notes. “There aren’t as many of the mega superstar acts as there used to be, but when you put a bunch of them together, and then put a bunch of great developing acts together, you end up with a great festival.”
With various stages, dance tents, bar tents, kids’ areas, and a market where local farmers can sell their products directly to concertgoers, Pemberton is a huge undertaking. What’s notable about this first edition of the event is that attendance is being capped at 40,000 per day, well under site capacity. That’s considerably smaller than mammoth events like Glastonbury, which has a capacity of 170,000.
“We wanted to keep it at 40,000 and work the kinks out before we take the capacity up in future years,” Bourbonnais says. “We want to come out and show people that we’re serious about this, and that we want to attract the biggest names in entertainment as well as the best up-and-comers. We want Pemberton to become one of the great festivals of the world.”
Because the event has in many ways been his baby, Bourbonnais has no trouble listing off the acts he can’t wait so see, including My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, the Tragically Hip, and Coldplay.
“There are so many bands that I’m looking forward to,” he says, adding with a laugh: “But I know I’m going to be happiest when the Crystal Method is playing in the dance tent. That’s going to be the last act of the weekend, and probably when I’ll have my first beer.”
See www.pembertonfestival.com/. Three-day tickets at $259.50 and single-day tickets at $149.50 per day are available on the Web site.