Pemberton Music Festival hosts 180,000 in ramped-up weekend 

Despite long waits for shuttles and one violent incident, festival deemed an overall success

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF HUKA - Rainbow approved The Pemberton festival had more attendees than ever in its third year
  • PHOTO courtesy of Huka
  • Rainbow approved The Pemberton festival had more attendees than ever in its third year

After four days of music, comedy, camping and partying, it can be hard for the average festivalgoer to return to regular life on Earth.

"It's an emotional rollercoaster, because you have this massive event that you're planning for, you have a great time, you make it home and then you feel like there's something missing," said Evan Harrison, chief executive officer of Huka Entertainment, producer of the Pemberton Music Festival.

And just like their thousands of guests, Harrison and his team are dealing with the come-down as well.

"You get a little bit of that on both the fan side and certainly on the producer side as well," he said.

"We're really happy with the outcome... all of the planning that went into it led to smiles on the vast majority of the fans' faces, and the operations for the most part were really smooth."

No small feat considering this year's record-breaking attendance. A total of 180,000 people came to the 2016 Pemberton Music Festival — about 45,000 per day. A total of 110,066 people attended in 2015.

There was some irritation around shuttle wait times — some reportedly didn't make it back to Whistler Creekside until 5 a.m. on Sunday morning after Saturday's shows — and an early morning stabbing incident on Monday, July 18, sent a 21-year-old West Vancouver man to hospital with serious injuries.

But aside from that there were no major reported incidents, said Whistler RCMP Sgt. Rob Knapton (though a breakdown of calls to local RCMP was not ready by Pique's press time).

The Conservation Officer Service (COS) also had officers on site all weekend.

There were a few bear sightings, but no negative encounters, said Sgt. Simon Gravel with the COS.

COS officers were also trying to restrict access to the Lillooet River, though that proved to be difficult.

"People were hot and it's nice out and they want to go in the river, so they were pushing the boundaries a bit there," Gravel said. "It was all about providing education and trying to get people understanding and being cooperative, but generally speaking (the weekend) was very good."

Dr. Sam Gutman of Rockdoc Consulting was once again on site with his medical team, and reported that the vast majority of festival participants were safely cared for on site.

A total of eight people were transported to hospital during the festival for various injuries and conditions.

Gutman said his team was prepared for the larger numbers of people, but the cool weather kept visits to the medical tent about on par with last year.

"We increased our operations team and we increased our equipment and supplies and added additional training and additional staff and all of that," Gutman said. "So we were maybe a little less busy overall, but we easily could have been way busier had it been hot."

There were no serious drug-related injuries to report either, Gutman said.

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman was on site at various times throughout the weekend, and said things seemed to go smoothly given the additional crowd numbers.

"The site seemed to be able to handle the extra close to 20,000 people," he said. "There's a few issues and glitches here and there that can be fixed, but they're all manageable, so I think overall it went quite well."

Richman said he got no official complaints, though he did have some anecdotal conversations with Pemberton residents about the festival.

"Now it's time to start looking at numbers and facts and really starting to break things down to see how it went, but the locals that I've spoken to so far seemed quite happy with it, the local businesses that I've spoken to seemed quite happy," he said.

In an email, Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce president Garth Phare said the festival is about more than the four days of music. He said crews begin working the festival grounds as soon as the snow melts — and contribute to Pemberton businesses.

"These dollars are spent in Pemberton from the beginning of May through to the end of the takedown some time in late August," he wrote, adding that festival organizers contribute $3 from every ticket to local government.

With some crucial permits around the festival set to expire, there will be much to discuss in the coming weeks and months about future instalments — and how much bigger the festival can get.

Harrison, for his part, said the Pemberton Music Festival will be ready to announce 2017 dates in the "not-too-distant future."

"We're really excited to come back next year," he said.

"We spend a lot of time preparing for an event like this, and then once it's event time, we're bursting with excitement watching the fans have fun, thinking about improvements and what it's going to look like next year, and that's already begun."

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