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Mountain West a ‘one-time affair’

Lack of Whistler support for inaugural music fest causes organizer to pull the plug

The dust had barely settled from all of the Crankworx festivities, but last weekend, the Whistler Driving Range rocked and rolled to the tunes of Five Alarm Funk, K'Naan, Xavier Rudd and many others.

"I think that everybody that went had a fabulous time and that's the really good news," said Sue Eckersley, president of Watermark Communications.

The bad news is that local music lovers simply didn't step up to the plate and support the event. In total, Eckersley estimates that just under 1,000 people attended Saturday's outdoor concert, which included performances by The Ghost Brothers, Ash Grunwald, Daniel Wesley, K'Naan and Xavier Rudd, while another 500 turned out for Sunday's lineup, which featured Five Alarm Funk, the Grey Boy Allstars, DJ Z-Trip and Garaj Mahal.

"In a really great world, we were hoping to hit 3,000 total for the two days, but what we really needed to do was 1,500 for Saturday and 1,000 on Sunday," she said.

Less than 10 per cent of presale tickets were sold to Whistler residents, while Pemberton and Squamish combined purchased more than that.

"I think it did a great job in terms of driving people to Whistler for this weekend. I mean, there were a lot of tourists there," Eckersley said. "...There just weren't enough Whistler people there to make it a financially feasible event, so unfortunately, it looks like it'll be a one-time affair."

Eckersley actually went into the first-year event prepared to take a loss, with the idea that they could grow the event as years went on. But the apathetic local community has led her to pull the plug.

"If it had been the other way around - if there were 90 per cent locals there and only 10 per cent tourists, even with the financial losses that we took, I'd do it again," Eckersley added.

Eckersley firmly believed that the Whistler community would come out to support the inaugural event, since she always hears people complaining about a lack of live music in the summer months.

"I guess the bottom line is that I didn't create a compelling enough event for them to come out, but I guess the question begs, 'What is compelling enough to have the locals come out?'"

She actually didn't hear many complaints about the lineup itself, but rather, for the ticket prices attached to the event: $60 for Saturday only, $40 for Sunday only, or $85 for both days.

"There wasn't a huge expectation of making money - it was priced to survive!" Eckersley said with a chuckle. "It wasn't priced to line pockets."

She thinks part of the problem may be that locals have become too accustomed to getting their live music for free during annual events like the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

She also points out that last year, during the Whistler Music Festival on Blackcomb, featuring acts like The Roots and Elvis Costello, locals were waiting until the last minute, in hopes of getting free tickets.

"People were convinced that we were, at the end, just going to hand out tickets, which we refused to do, because even though we were going to be hooped and not in a position to do it again, it just doesn't help the next guy that tries," Eckersley said.

People were lining up along the fences, hoping to catch the show for free. On Saturday, security guards counted an estimated 250 people hanging around outside the perimeter of the gates.

"It's definitely disheartening to see people take advantage that way," said Eckersley, "because those 250 tickets would have made a big difference."