Bruno Mars… Arcade Fire… Eminem.
The Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF) has done it; it has drawn three of the top music acts in the world — making this August’s festival “one of the top five in North America,” according to founder and creative director Paul Runnals.
“We were extremely pleased, needless to say, with what we’ve put together here… we couldn’t have hoped for a stronger top-of-the-bill,” Runnals said, as he talked about the acts, the logistics of supporting 35,000 festivalgoers, and working with the community of Squamish.
“For anyone who remembers back to 2010 or 2011, when we were just getting this thing off the ground, we always said we had a five year plan. We were in this for the long haul. We are just continuing on the path we have started.”
Mars headlines the festival on Friday, Aug. 8, Arcade Fire headlines on Saturday, Aug. 9, and Eminem closes the festival on Sunday, Aug. 10.
Runnals, who built the original Lilith Fair in the 1990s and who toured with Sarah McLaughlin for a decade, is happy to have his “three big guns.”
Apart from the headliners, 38 others acts have already confirmed, some multi-million sellers.
They are: Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, Foster the People, The Roots, Lykke Li, Thievery Corporation, The Head and The Heart, Sam Roberts Band, Atmosphere, Serena Ryder, Tokyo Police Club, Boys Noize, Danny Brown, Gramatik, Walk Off The Earth, Lord Huron, Mayer Hawthorne, Kevin Drew, Hollerado, Mounties, Whitehorse, The Zolas, Felix Cartel, Black Joe Lewis, Cyril Hawn, Herobust, We Are the City, Head of The Heard, Topless, Good for Grapes, Aidan Knight, Rykka, City Real, The Courtneys, Louise Burns, Zerbin, Slam Dunk, And The Oceanographers.
In all, there will be 69 acts on four stages, Runnals said. This is up from 42 performers in 2013. Twenty-seven are Canadians, with 19 coming from British Columbia.
“The inspiration is to take that European festival sensibility and energy you get there and reproduce it, albeit on a smaller scale. We want a festival culture that transcends who the bands are… so the people come because they know it will be great and the diversity of the music is key. You might not be a Bruno Mars fan but you’ve come to see another act and you might check him out,” he said.
Runnals said the 2013 festival, which had Queens of the Stone Age and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis perform, was a “transitional year from being a small, fairly boutique festival to being a serious contender for major mid-sized festivals.”
A North Vancouver resident whose mother and brother live in Squamish, he added: “This is the next step and it’s a big step. It’s a very exciting one but the work’s been going on for years to get to this place, so that’s particularly rewarding when see it all come together.
“Making this festival one of the top five in North America is definitely something we are shooting for. It depends on how you characterize it, if you go by a pure numbers game then that’s a challenge because there are much bigger festivals, like Coachella (in California) and Bonnaroo (in Tennessee).
“But if you talk about location, natural beauty, the climate, all of the things that are unique to British Columbia and the Squamish region, then I think it ranks as one of the best sites in the world… it’s very, very rare that you can pull together some of the unique characteristics that we’ve managed to find in Squamish. Either you’re out in the middle of nowhere in some farmers’ fields or in some dustbowl like Bonnaroo is, we’re really lucky to have been able to grow this slowly and steadily.”
Runnals said he was grateful for the support the District of Squamish and residents have given them. He has spent “a lot of time” with the Downtown Squamish Business Improvement Association, Tourism Squamish and the chamber of commerce.
“At the end of the day, we’re visitors even though I think of myself as a bit more of a local now than I used to,” he said. “We stumbled across Squamish as a site because (we did) a lot of trips up to Whistler and Squamish to visit family. We started looking at it and thought, ‘Wait a minute! You could do something here.’”
Last year, some business owners “had unbelievably busy weekends,” Runnals added, noting an economic spinoff for Squamish of $18.9 million.
Runnals said they are still moving forward in the hopes of securing Howe Sound Secondary School grounds for festival campers. The grounds at Squamish and Mamquam Elementary Schools, and the Squamish Business Park site, have already been approved for campers.
According to a factsheet supplied by SVMF, 4,500 camping spots will be available, with each supporting up to four campers, at a cost of $350 for the weekend.
A further 50 larger “glampground” spots, also with a maximum of four “glampers,” will be available for $1,000 for the weekend.
In 2013, 7,500 people used the camping facilities. The unexpected arrival of many of the festivalgoers to the campground on the first day of SVMF last year led to hours of backups on the Sea to Sky Highway.
“This year, we are selling camping spots like you’d sell a concert seat. You buy row one, seat one and that’s your seat and you have four passes for that seat. The wristbands are all stamped with the unique ID of the location. If you choose not to use all four that’s up to you, if you hand two off to someone else then they’re going to show up in your house, basically. It self regulates,” Runnals said.
The festival has also taken criticism about noise pollution and impact on residences nearby, which SVMF responded to by more than doubling the size of the residential buffer. Security plans for neighbourhoods are being finalized, and Runnals said they are creating a pedestrian corridor that should keep campers away from residences.
They’ve even brought in the army.
“We’re working with the Department of National Defence on some stuff to try and utilize some of their logisticians who set up their forward air bases and things like this, because at the end of the day, it’s a logistics exercise… we’ve been speaking with them quite a bit and have more meetings coming up,” he said.
In terms of cleaning up after 35,000 people, SVMF has brought in City of Vancouver’s special events manager, Dan Campbell, the man responsible for ensuring waste management for hundreds of thousands at the Celebration of Light fireworks competition each year in Vancouver.
“We brought him up last year as a consultant, to watch what we were doing. He audited our practices and helped us shape a plan that we’d be able to use for 35,000 people. He got to see the good and the bad and he’s been working with Carney’s (Waste Management) and other contractors for the last four months,” Runnals said.
“These sorts of things go a long way for us in terms of upping our game to be able to meet the responsibilities of inviting that many people to town for weekend.”
Tickets for the festival go on sale of Feb. 7 on ticketmaster. For more information visit www.squamishfestival.com.