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Big festival hits a small town

What the music festival of the summer means for the Village of Pemberton



The quiet before the storm

In 15 days, 4 hours, 13 minutes and 25 seconds, 40,000 concertgoers will descend upon the small village of Pemberton to party their brains out over three days and nights. But you would never guess that talking to Live Nation organizer Shane Bourbonnais.

The Calgary-born, California-raised head honcho of operations looks startlingly calm on this sunny July afternoon as he strolls through his air-conditioned office in Pemberton’s industrial park. He speaks honestly about the concert preparation, detailing ticket sales and stage construction in an enthusiastic but mellow voice. His acute cool emulates throughout the building: fashionably dressed employees work serenely at their computers or talk to each other in an ever-so-civil manner.

And this relaxed atmosphere is just how Bourbonnais likes it.

“In this business, if you are two weeks away from an event and things are chaotic, you know you are in trouble. Here,” he says waving his hand around the office, “things are under control. We are in great shape for the festival.”

Assuring words from the man who holds the fate of Pemberton in his hands.

Like the towns of Glastonbury in the United Kingdom, Coachella in California and Bonnaroo in Tennessee before it, the tiny village of Pemberton is heading for a major change this summer with the arrival of the highly anticipated Pemberton Music Festival.

Up until now, Pemberton’s economy has been based almost solely on farming and tourism. This is a village where almost no one locks their doors at night. This is a village where the Pemberton Barn Dance – complete with cowboy hats and plastic cups of beer – used to be the summer’s biggest event. And this is a village where the parking lots still have hitching posts.

As the anticipated arrival of Coldplay, Jay-Z et al. draws closer and Pemby prepares to cross that heavyweight line from farming community to notorious multi-day festival host, residents are preparing for the big shift. In the lull before the storm, families are buying locally-discounted festival tickets, attending town hall meetings on traffic flow and porta-potties, and stockpiling their cupboards with enough groceries to get them through the week.

And as everyone holds their breath and prepares to take the leap of faith between July 25 to 28, one big, fat question hangs in the air: What becomes of small villages that play host to large festivals?