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The rise of Squamish culture

As a younger demographic moves into town, a sea change in arts and culture is taking place



There was a time when Squamish hummed with the sound of buzz saws. The wind would carry the sound and, depending on where you were, you could hear it like a monotonous music note droning along with the morning clouds.

It's gone now, that buzzing. The saws are fast disappearing, and in the void left by the forestry and rail industries, a new culture is emerging, driven by younger families, new entrepreneurs and a increasing number of artists from Whistler and Vancouver, seeking refuge from high property costs and looking for a life close to the mountains.

It's funky. It's creative. It's growing and will continue to do so.

Squamish is now home to 35 separate artist groups and has one of the highest artist-per-capita rates in the country. It is home to four music festivals  - unheard of for a town of 15,000 people. One of those festivals, Squamish Equinox Rock Festival, better known as SERF, has to annually turn away local talent wanting to participate. Another, the Bass Coast Project, is a three-day exploration of music, artistic experimentation and human cooperation - three things that could very well define where Squamish itself is headed.

"I just feel like all the artists are bringing a new breath of life to Squamish," says Bass Coast co-founder Andrea Graham, also known by her DJ alias, The Librarian. "You can see it evident on the street, in the shops."

And now you can see it in the town's new flagship event, LIVE at Squamish. Now in it's second year, including headliners Weezer and Metric this weekend, the festival alone will not change Squamish in any immediate way, aside from the business dollars it will generate. No, the festival is a result of changes that have happened in the Sea to Sky over the past decade. The festival is a rally cry for the town, B.C. and beyond to pay attention to it.

Last fall LIVE at Squamish executive producer Paul Runnals showed Squamish council the TV commercial for Bing, the Microsoft search engine, which had been broadcast to millions of viewers across the continent the week before during Monday Night Football. The 30-second clip shows a user deciding between LIVE at Squamish and Austin City Limits - one of the biggest music festivals in North America - over a time-lapsed video of the Squamish festival shot during its two-day run. A voice over says, "Squamish or Austin, you're gonna need a place to crash."

"That's millions and millions of dollars of unearned media profile for Squamish through that one little piece that was just a random thing that happened to come in right at the last minute," Runnals says.