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Big Love unveils big Sea to Sky playlist

This is Whistler is a Spotify collection highlighting local talent, curated by Erik Van Meerbergen

Whistler is known for, among other things, its live music. Artists like Big Love, Kostaman, Monty Biggins, Red Chair, and Ruckus Deluxe have been livening up area bars and establishments for years. Yet, chances are that not too many visitors have actually heard much of their own original content.

After all, most tourists want to hear covers of well-known oldies and bangers, so that’s what most live artists are hired to do. There’s nothing wrong with that—after all, what’s a good après session without some of your favourite tunes? Nonetheless, Erik Van Meerbergen (a.k.a. Big Love) wants to showcase the full diversity of Whistler’s music scene. That’s why he came up with “This is Whistler”: a playlist composed entirely of Sea to Sky artists.

There are two versions of the playlist currently on Spotify (which will also be coming to iTunes): an unfiltered, unedited collection of local tunes and a “Safe for Work” edition curated by Van Meerbergen to exclude profanity and what he calls “super heavy stuff.”

‘You never know who’s listening’

At first, the longtime Whistlerite simply wanted to be able to appreciate his peers’ work all in the same place. Before long, he realized that others would likely be interested in a one-stop shop for homegrown music, and he was right.

Monty Biggins recently told Van Meerbergen that the playlist has been substantially growing his monthly audience on Spotify. Furthermore, in assembling the playlist, Van Meerbergen happened across numerous local musicians who tend to fly under the radar, even from his perspective.

“I’ve really discovered a lot of amazing recording artists that we don’t see playing the stages here, but are incredibly talented,” he said. “They’ve recorded some incredible music.”

As of this writing, the shorter, Safe For Work version of the playlist has reached 188 songs for more than 15 hours of grassroots content—impressive for a town of just under 14,000 residents. The project also appears to be inspiring people to record more. Van Meerbergen frequently receives messages from others asking him to add new material to the list, and he’s all too thrilled to oblige.

Local organizations have taken notice as well. Van Meerbergen reports “incredible support” from Arts Whistler and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. His hope is that area business owners begin playing his curated collection in their shops and storefronts—something that would cost them nothing extra.

“When you go into a Starbucks and they have their Starbucks playlist, it’s a great way of finding new music for people,” the Big Love Band frontman explained. “It’s the same concept, but it goes across our entire community.

“If you [as a business owner] click on the Safe For Work playlist and let that ride through even just one day a week, you never know who’s listening, you never know who’s going to Shazam it, and all those plays add up to a little bit of money for each of the local musicians.”

A landlocked cruise ship

Music has never been an easy career. For every Jon Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles in the world, there are many talented men and women who play because it’s their passion—not because they’re trying to top the Billboard Hot 100 week after week. Van Meerbergen has talked with many an artist who simply can’t imagine his or her life without any singing, strumming or drumming.

Big Love knows that it can be a hard-knock life, and he’s seen first-hand the lingering impact of COVID-19 on the live music industry—and he remains committed to helping breathe life into Whistler’s arts scene. He spent much of his 20s managing comedy clubs and entertainment programs aboard cruise ships, but he’s always loved music, and naturally joined up with Arts Whistler in 2015.

“I always saw Whistler as essentially a cruise ship that just didn’t leave,” Van Meerbergen said. “The tourists always came in, and I always wanted to try to model what I would do here in entertainment after cruise ships, where every week brings a new crop of people to entertain.”

The London, Ont. native has done it all, from busking to hosting trivia nights to open-mic sessions with other artists. These days, he is Arts Whistler’s events and program coordinator. The Big Love Band remains active, having played in last year’s Mountain Muse festival, and a variety of exciting gigs are in the works.

While “This is Whistler” is a great step in the right direction, Van Meerbergen also wants to see more venues book at least two bands per event in order to make live performing more accessible for locals who wish to share their own music.

“You’ve got to be Bruce Springsteen to do three, 45-minute sets of original content [if you’re the only act onstage],” he said. “That’s a lot, like, a couple of albums worth. For the bands that are here, if you give them 45 minutes to an hour each, they can play a solid set of original content with maybe the odd cover that they want to throw in.”

Van Meerbergen thinks that, in addition to being just plain fun, music is a great way to lift the spirits of an entire community. Life isn’t perfect, and there’s always something one could complain about (say, Rainbow Park closing for a year or the ever-present housing crisis), but artists can break up echo chambers of negativity by giving people a reason to let their hair down. It is said that humour is the best medicine, but music is right up there as well.

“It doesn’t matter what genre or style, people find something comforting in music,” Van Meerbergen said. “That’s why it’s so important, and that’s why musicians do it as well.”

Are you a local artist with some new tunes to share? Contact Van Meerbergen at [email protected].