The Sea to Sky region has seen its share of failed music festivals over the past few years: Pemberton Festival, Music in the Mountains and the Whistler Music Festival are just a few of the one-hit wonders that have rolled in and out of town recently. But now, there's a new company interested in bringing tunes back into town, and they've set their sights on Squamish.
Brand.live, a Vancouver-based production company behind events like the 2005 and 2009 Grey Cups and last year's Sarah McLachlan, Neil Young and Sheryl Crow concert at Ambleside, has just announced a two-day music festival set to take place at Brennan Park, the logger sports grounds and Hendrickson fields over the Labour Day weekend (Saturday, Sept. 4 to Sept. 5). The festival, dubbed Live at Squamish, will feature a range of up-and-coming pop, electronic, indie and rock bands to be announced.
Paul Reynolds, one of the owners and senior vice president of production for brand.live, explains that they aren't focusing on hanging the success of the event on one major headliner, but rather a collective of talented and slightly underground artists to create an event that's akin to the earlier Sasquatch Festival.
"A true festival, for me, has always been about the sum of the parts," said Reynolds, a self-described "festival junkie."
"It's always about the opportunity for different experiences depending on where you go on the site and what sort of music you're into and just the animation of the site with arts and other elements."
Reynolds hopes to steer clear of the corporate feeling that many North American festivals seem to have and instead, take a more "European" approach with the programming.
"The Europeans I think have done it right all along. They kind of blend everything. One stage, there'll be a DJ on it one minute, there'll be a rock band on it the next, and what it does is it mixes the flavour of the crowd and it also exposes a bunch of people to music they might not have otherwise appreciated."
The idea for a Squamish festival came about from discussions between another brand.live partner, Greg Albrecht, and Squamish mayor Greg Gardner. But the idea wasn't just to hold a concert for the sake of a concert, there are some underlying motivations as well. They believe the festival has the potential to become a great economic driver, attracting tourists to the area and showcasing the growth of the community.
"I think Squamish felt a little passed by on the Olympic opportunities and maybe even on Pemberton (Festival)," Reynolds reflected, "I think there was just an interest there on having something that had a unique identity and was Squamish's identity, and wasn't Whistler or Vancouver."
So, how will brand.live succeed where so many others have failed before? Well, first of all, Reynolds points out that they've been watching those failed festivals closely and have learned from their mistakes.
"I was involved in the Pemberton Festival - I produced the dance tent there - and the guys at Live Nation are all good friends and colleagues of mine, so they had a good idea. I think they tried to go a little too far, too fast, and they had some fundamental challenges with the highway and transportation, and liquor licensing was a nightmare. So there were a bunch of things that caused it to not be the success that they'd hoped it to be in the first year."
And with Squamish just 70 kilometres from downtown Vancouver on the upgraded Sea to Sky Highway, Reynolds points out that it's actually an ideal site for a music festival.
"It's close enough to Vancouver that you can day-trip it (and) when you're on the site all you see is trees and mountains, even though you're only a minute-and-a-half off the highway."
Brand.live has already developed a five-year plan for Live at Squamish, and envisions the event being an annual draw for the community.
They received conditional approval from Squamish Council on Tuesday evening, and are working closely with local authorities - police, fire, liquor board and emergency response - to ensure they're adequately prepared.
The site, which features three stages, has a capacity of around 13,000 people, though Reynolds said it would be a bit of a "lofty" goal to expect to sell-out in the first year. Instead, he said they are aiming at attracting between 8,000 and 10,000 each day. In order to draw people to the new festival, Reynolds pointed out that they have priced their tickets below the annual Vancouver Folk Festival.
They've also opted to give Squamish residents first crack at buying tickets. Tickets go on sale Monday morning at 10 a.m., and the lineup will be posted later the same day. Check www.liveatsquamish.com for more information.