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Homegrown talents play big gig

Find out what Sea to Sky musicians thought about the inaugural Pemberton Festival
Barn Dancers The Hairfarmers were just one of the many musicians from the Sea to Sky corridor that were included in the first Pemberton Festival. Photo by Greg Eymundson,

It was the opportunity of a lifetime for many local performers — whether they were long-time acts, or newly formed groups, many musicians from the Sea to Sky region had the chance to perform in front of crowds of thousands of genuine music lovers who came to the area for the July 25-27 Pemberton Festival.

While concertgoers may have been lured here by the big names in the lineup — Jay Z, Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Petty and more — quite a few talented locals took to the stage at the Barn Dance Tent during the three-day festival to keep the party going late into the night.

Named for the annual summertime Barn Dance that’s typically held on the same weekend in Pemberton, the organizers of Pemberton Festival, Live Nation, decided to incorporate the Barn Dance, and lots of homegrown talent, into the massive musical event, inviting groups from throughout the Sea to Sky region to step up and entertain crowds.

Jamie Weatherbie, drummer for long-time local punk band, Slush, said the experience of playing at Pemberton Festival was very positive, aside from some traffic issues.

“As far as the band stuff, everything seemed to be pretty solid,” Weatherbie said. “A little bit of a lack of promotion on the local bands, but obviously that wasn’t their biggest priority.”

Weatherbie pointed out that for a group like Slush playing a gig like Pemberton Festival, which didn’t include many punk acts, it was hard to get the word out to concertgoers who are into heavier, faster music. He suggested that next year, it might be a good idea to include bios on local bands so people who are coming to the festival from outside of the region can get an idea of the different kinds of music each group plays.

Slush played an hour-long set on Friday night, which saw the pumped-up crowd tear down the fence in front of the stage.

“It was fun, the sound was great, and we had all-access passes, so it was fun!” he said with a laugh. “We had a party.”

Greg Reamsbottom — more commonly known simply as Grateful Greg — is one half of the infamous Hairfarmers duo, and a member of Whistler’s favourite Led Zeppelin cover band, Whole Lotta Led. Both groups played during the festival, so Reamsbottom had the chance to take the stage in the Barn Dance tent twice, and perform to a crowd of smiling and familiar faces.

Whole Lotta Led performed on Friday night after Nine Inch Nails finished up on the Mount Currie stage.

“We were the only live music option to go to at that point — the other option, of course, was the Bacardi tent, which is all DJ music — so all the rock ’n’ roll fans swarmed over to our side of the fence and it was wild in there!” Reamsbottom said.

While the crowds were definitely rowdy, Reamsbottom points out that they weren’t aggressive, and everyone just seemed to be there to party and have a good time.

“The fence in front of the stage came down three times just from the people moshing in front of it, and every time it came down, 20 people would fall on top of each other, everyone would back up, help pick the people up — even help set the fence back up again,” he pointed out.

When The Hairfarmers performed on Saturday night, the vibe was similarly amped up, with the other half of the duo, Doug Craig, making an on-stage guitar sacrifice.

Reamsbottom had heard about the Pemberton Festival before it was even announced, and approached organizers very early on to find out how they planned on including local musicians. Initially, he said they weren’t sure if they were going to have the time or space to showcase homegrown talent. And while The Hairfarmers and Whole Lotta Led have been fortunate enough to play big crowds before, Reamsbottom pointed out that there are a lot of local bands that haven’t.

“I think its great fun and experience for them, and really cool of Live Nation to do that, because it added a nice local touch,” Reamsbottom said.

Mike McDonald is one of the members of Donny’s Ashes. He played alongside fellow bandmates Mike Carter, Dean Fesor and Liam Webster at Pemberton Festival late Sunday night. In fact, they were the last group to play the festival, taking the stage after Coldplay. Imagine having that as an opening act.

Because the performances on the Mount Currie stage ran late all evening, the influx of people they were expecting didn’t come until later in their set. But they started out playing to a crowd of about 1,000, which quickly grew with people looking for their last drink, or two, after Coldplay wrapped up.

“By the end of our set, we were pretty much at capacity, and that’s a 2,500 capacity tent,” McDonald said. “That’s easily like 10 times as many people as I’ve ever played for. So its not just like a big step, it’s like a leap.”

The large-scale festival experience was even better than McDonald had imagined, and he pointed out that logistically, Ace MacKay-Smith and the stage manager, Dale, did an amazing job of coordinating the local talent.

“It just went so well,” McDonald said. “Every time I went in the Barn Dance, the crowds were really good, like not just like numbers, but really responsive and really seemed to be enjoying the local talent.”

Despite all of the criticism of issues like traffic, expensive food, and dust that have been circulating in the media, McDonald said he didn’t have any negative experiences, and seemed pretty pleased with the event, as an audience member and performer.

“Every one of us was just an inch off the ground when we got off stage.”