Roy Yen says that if he ever smells Purell again, it will be too soon. Speaking to the Straight right before the 2010 Winter Olympic’s closing weekend (February 26), the producer for LiveCity Vancouver also mentioned his new appreciation for a clean bathroom and warm porcelain.
Ah, the joys of working a rock festival. But this wasn’t just a long weekend at the Gorge.
For 18 days–many of them lasting as long as 16 hours–Yen was running back and forth between LiveCity’s two Olympic celebration sites.
“It’s been a monstrous task,” Yen said. “The Olympic Games is a beast, for sure. And this project is certainly of commensurate size and scope to be called Olympic.”
Of course, working the city’s loudest celebrations for the duration of the biggest party Vancouver has ever seen wasn’t all hand sanitizer and Porta-Potties. In addition to helping oversee a staff of 600 people spread out across two locations, Yen also got to take in some of the most-respected names in music today.
The Yaletown venue especially, brought to Vancouver a diverse range of talent from a number of countries. Wilco, Daniel Wesley, Matisyahu, Deadmau5, Sam Roberts, Jully Black, Colin James, Damian Marley, Girl Talk, Blue Rodeo –the list went on to comprise 140 acts by the time the closing ceremonies wrapped up.
And the venue those acts filled was absolutely picturesque. Towers of glass scraped the sky on three sides while beams of white heat quivered from spotlights at both the front and back of 8,000-strong capacity crowds. Two giant video screens bordered a stage that let fans get within 10 feet of the action. And a light show that—depending on who was playing —could let loose with ferocity to match the energy of the musicians ensured that nobody’s retinas wandered.
“I think there have been moments during some of the performances where you sat back and looked at the crowd and they’re just so into it,” Yen said. “Like Damian Marley here the other night, and just seeing a sea of people in the heart of downtown.”
The opening day of LiveCity (February 11) saw the Olympic torch arrive at the waterfront site in Yaletown to the applause of a capacity crowd inside the festival’s grounds and an additional 20,000 people outside on the streets.
According to Sue Harvey, executive producer for LiveCity, from that point on, everyday, an average of 24,000 people passed through LiveCity Yaletown’s doors while 10,000 more enjoyed the Downtown site.
“At the beginning, the weather wasn’t super,” she conceded. “But it was really heartening to see how many people did come out. In spite of the weather, we had a full house for the opening ceremony, and then for Wilco and Matisyahu.”
Harvey joked about how “waterproof” Vancouver audiences showed themselves to be.
Then, just as the rains cleared, LiveCity was struck by a potential disaster for any music festival.
With a young crowd packed inside the Yaletown site and roaring in anticipation for Canadian hardcore group Alexisonfire, there was a surge towards the stage. Just minutes after the music had started up, a steel barrier snapped and throngs of fans fell to the ground. Nineteen were taken to hospital, some with broken bones. Almost immediately, it was announced that the show was cancelled.
Yen admitted that it was a moment he will likely never forget.
“None of us who have been working in this industry for decades had ever seen anything like that,” he said. “It definitely put a damper on what was a phenomenal start to this project.”
Yen recounted the circumstances that led up the fence’s breaking. The rains had stopped for the first time in days, the Canadian men’s hockey team had just won its first game, the venue was free to enter, and Vancouver’s downtown core was hopping like this city has never seen before.”
He spelled out what it all meant: “That heightened level of energy was something that we had just never experienced before.”
After working overnight and into the next morning to fix the fence problem, the show went on, and the doors of LiveCity Yaletown opened on schedule the day after Alexisonfire. A new fence was in place and that evening, Alberta’s Corb Lund played a country set without incident.
The afternoon after that, on February 19, the biggest crowd of the festival’s run packed the streets of Yaletown for celebrated Canadian deejay Deadmau5. Staff were forced to turn fans away as early as 5 p.m. and by 9:30 p.m., the air inside LiveCity Yaletown was simply electric.
“It was nothing less than awe-inspiring: 8,000 people totally losing their shit,” read the Straight’s review of the night.
The lineups at the Yaletown site could stretch as long as five blocks. And some complained that the Downtown site’s beer garden was too small while the Yaletown venue’s absence of booze was only too typical of Vancouver. But with such a strong bounce back after the fence breaking in a city with an international reputation for crushing folks’ good times, very few are calling LiveCity anything but a success.
Yen said that he couldn’t agree more. After working a marathon schedule since Live Nation’s contract began in March 2009, he said that there is one thing he would like to see emerge from the festival’s success: a legacy.
“I hope that the city and residents of downtown become a little more tolerant over activity and what it means to be a part of something that is more energized and active,” Yen explained. “They have endured a lot, to be sure”¦but if you want to be a world class city and you want to dance downtown and you want an active downtown, this is the sort of thing that you hoped would happen.”
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.