Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

The golden age of the music festival is over



I was sitting at my desk on a fall day in 2013 when a vague email popped up.

But it wasn't one of the countless irrelevant press releases I delete daily; rather, it alluded to some kind of vague, exciting announcement that would take place the next day in Pemberton.

Rumours started to fly. The most convincing: the Pemberton Music Festival was returning.

I wasn't able to confirm it until I travelled down to the the Meadows at Pemberton golf course hosting the announcement party the next day. Strolling up to the restaurant, a PR person ushered media to a lineup for a helicopter ride. Inside, A.J. Niland, festival producer with Huka Entertainment, which put on the festival, sat in the front seat and guided guests through his vision for the revived festival on the site below. Later, bands played, people drank and food was served all in celebration of what was sure to be a long-lasting and wonderful addition to the summer offerings in Spud Valley.

Now, with hindsight, we can say it: womp-womp.

To be fair, for three years before its spectacular 2017 collapse, the festival was really fun. The lineup was top-tier (I have a soft spot for the inaugural year in particular), the scenery was unparalleled, and the crowd was spread out and fairly mellow.

But there was also an overdose death, mounds of trash left behind, and disruption that many locals didn't like. The festival's cancellation coincided with the growing fentanyl crisis and, to be honest, part of me was relieved, considering just how many people take recreational drugs at music festivals.

Festival season is officially upon us and, this year, it seems safe to declare that the golden age of the music festival—particularly the large-scale variety that offers on-site camping—is decidedly over.

Want further proof? Sasquatch Festival (which I also attended many times) in neighbouring Washington state announced it was finished in May, and, last week, the much-anticipated Woodstock 50 revealed its investors had pulled out, leaving its fate hanging in the balance.

Certainly, there's something special about gathering with your friends around a stage under the summer sun—with overpriced beer coursing through your veins—and dancing your cares away. And it might be a little sad to think this unique and beloved experience might not be available in the same way to future generations.

But, really, is it such a bad thing? The flipside of those massive festivals is downright dirty. At various different festivals I have had my car puked on, hovered over horrendously overfilled porta potties, and picked my way around passed-out bodies littered on the grass (often checking to make sure they're breathing).

Let's also take a moment to reflect on the fact that it is under these circumstances that Tinder has launched a new "Festival Mode" feature to help people find a festival hook up. #Romantic, right?

All those things that seem manageable in your early 20s certainly lose their charm when you start marching through your 30s.

Instead, it seems, some new festivals are moving in a different direction. For one, instead of blowing the budget on big-name headliners, they're looking local and spending within their means. While, admittedly, I did not have high hopes that the inaugural Squamish Constellation Festival would offer much of a compelling lineup, I think organizers hit the right mark with well-regarded, accessible Canadian headliners such as Bahamas, Serena Ryder, Shad and Wintersleep.

It's unlikely to draw many people from Washington and Alberta the way the Pemberton Music Festival did, but it's solid enough for locals and music fans from the Lower Mainland to purchase a pass.

Another under-utilized format that just might be the future of festivals is the Sled Island or SXSW model where the festival takes place in a city and rather than a central location for all the shows, festival-goers jet around town to different bars and venues.

It means smaller acts get better billing, bigger acts get intimate shows, and everyone goes home (or to a hotel) to defecate in their own clean toilets.

Sounds pretty good to me.