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Pop-up bands connect Squamish music festival with the community

Careful planning by organizers and local agencies aims to help SVMF concertgoers and residents alike



Setting up a pop-up band actually takes a bit of time.

Surrey indie band Good for Grapes was seeing to the last-minute fixes of amps and mics before their three-song set on Sunday morning, Aug.10. They were also a little distracted by their venue.

They were on the deck of the Sea to Sky Gondola’s Summit Lodge, 885-metres up overlooking stunning Howe Sound. They were already in town to play The Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF) on Sunday evening, Aug. 10, when they agreed to do the pop-up for tourists and locals.

Good for Grapes was one of 13 bands performing impromptu gigs around Squamish over the festival weekend. Along with the Sea to Sky Gondola, artists have performed at On the Farm Market and at the community-run On the Street Festival, which took place in the town’s downtown area over the weekend.

Lead singer Daniel McBurnie said the band pulled in a few extra musician friends, including a cellist who also wanted to take part.

“I don’t think it’s possible to beat that backdrop,” he said, gesturing to the panorama of Howe Sound, “Unless they get musicians into space!”

McBurnie said Good for Grapes play pop-up band sets “every chance we get,” in order to reach new audiences.

“For everyone here I think it’s a nice surprise to see bands playing and for us it’s good to have them see us,” he said. The pop-up band series was arranged by SVMF, and the connection was reciprocated around the community with special deals for festivalgoers from local businesses, with the Sea to Sky Gondola knocking $5 off their ticket cost for those with festival wrist bands.

Kristen Robinson, part of the festival’s community outreach team, said this was part of several festival partnerships. “We are working with On the Street and (the Downtown Business Improvement Association) and provided bands there as well,” Robinson said.

“I’ve worked the festival four out of five years; even in terms of the crew and how it has all grown, it is unbelievable. We watched Arcade Fire last night and I couldn’t believe they were here… then every morning we have staff starting to move concertgoers around and telling them they can play golf, or paddleboard, or kiteboard, and then go to the concert after.”

Trevor Dunn, general manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola, added: “I’ve seen this trend happen in other places around the world. You start to get great things going in a community and the recognitions starts to come from the broader community. We saw it this year, with CNN voting Squamish the No. 1 mountain town to be in this summer in North America. The festival is a part of that.”

Dunn said they were seeing quite a few wrist bands from festival attendees taking advantage of the discount to visit the gondola. Lesley Weeks, executive director of Tourism Squamish, said roughly 4,000 people have been assisted by the agency’s program to help visitors during SVMF. Many have come from outside the Lower Mainland, particularly Alberta and the U.S., she added. “We have been out on the street to talk to people, mainly at campground when visitors are out in the morning looking for a place to go,” Weeks said. “The (SVMF) campgrounds are spread out and we can show them they have places nearby.”

It was their job to show people the closest local food and shopping precincts.

“It has been working really well… We’ve gotten a super-positive response,” she says.

“There has also been lots of learning. Maybe we can get information out earlier, maybe when they buy their tickets… We will look to plant the seeds before they come.”.