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Pemberton Barn Dance turns 10 on July 23

Twelve-hundred expected to participate in annual community fundraiser

What: The Pemberton Roothouse Rock Barn Dance

Where: Copperdome Roothouse (Pemberton Meadows Road)

When: Saturday, July 23, 8 p.m.-2 a.m.

Tickets: $30

At the first Pemberton Barn Dance people lined up to buy their beer out of a canoe in the back of a pickup truck. One canoe full of suds proved to be about right for the mostly local crowd of 115.

This year, upwards of 1,200 people will spur on their inner cowboy on Saturday, July 23 at what will mark year 10 for the annual event. What started out as a single purpose event has evolved into a $40,000 fundraiser supporting three community organizations.

And while many of those wearing Stetson hats and Boulet boots will be coming from outside Pemberton, organizer Jan Kennitt expects that many locals will be two-stepping the night away. For at its core, the Barn Dance is a community event, initially formed to fund an essential community service: the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce.

When Kennitt opened her women’s clothing store, The Pemberton Trading Company, in 1994, she was dismayed that there was no business organization. Despite the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce forming in the late ’20s, interest had waned and the organization had folded. Along with Shirley Henry and Judy Bourhis, Kennitt resurrected the chamber. The women decided that the first order of business should be opening the info centre that is still in operation at the junction of Highway 99 and Portage Road.

"We needed to get going and revitalize the community. We didn’t qualify for any government grants or any of that. So we thought a really good idea would be to hold a barn dance as a fundraiser," explains Kennitt.

The first folks forked over $8 apiece to dance the night away at Doug Gilmore’s farm. While she doesn’t remember the name of the band, she remembers that one canoe full of beer wasn’t quite enough to quench the kind of thirst Pemberton in July can create.

"It seems to me that Rich Miller had to do a beer run at midnight –dodging the police – even though it was a small number of people, we had a lot of beer drinkers," laughs Kennitt.

Along with Miller and Henry, Kennitt ran the Barn Dance for a couple of years until the event became a victim of its own success.

"Eventually we had to move up the valley because the police wouldn’t allow us to be this close to town," she says of the first location at the turnoff to Pemberton Meadows Road. "The parking started to become an issue."

The organizing group, which had expanded by this point, started to use different locations up the valley, hosting the event in various farms’ root houses – barn-like structures used to store seed potatoes after harvest.

Along with the venue, the participant demographic changed. On Saturday, the typical participant will be under 30. However, there’s still a loyal older locals following that includes many Whistler old-timers.

"Rick Clare (owner of Whistler One-Hour Photo and chair of Tourism Whistler) usually uses this as his staff party. He hires a minibus, brings all his staff and this is their annual summer bash; their blowout. I hope to see him again this year."

And while she clearly appreciates the support and enjoys the company of the old guard, Kennitt gets a kick out of the younger people who attend. She’s pleased that for some the event is becoming a destination weekend that benefits a variety of businesses in the community.

"Last year someone said they were driving something up for the dance from Vancouver and as they were driving up they saw all these girls in cowboy hats and thought, ‘They must be going to the barn dance.’ That just makes me feel good."

A young, alcohol-soaked crowd usually spells problems but The Barn Dance has a reputation of being relatively problem free. Kennitt points out that occasionally you’ll see some guy get testy over the attention another fellow is paying his girlfriend, but these incidents tend to get resolved without incident.

"In all of the years, I can only remember one fist fight," she notes.

Tolerance extends beyond the usual boy/girl drama. One of the early dances coincided with a gay camping event in Whistler. The night of the barn dance, there were two country dances in the region: one specifically gay, one not. A group of gay men arrived in Pemberton to show off their considerable two-stepping and line-dancing skills.

"There were quite a few gay guys that came out from Whistler thinking that this was the venue of the gay dance and it was really good. Everyone was fine except for one old guy up the valley who said, ‘Jan, I think we’re going to have to call this dance, ‘Fags and Farmers’. I told him that I didn’t think that would be too politically correct," says Kennitt with a raised eyebrow.

"What’s funny about this thing is that everyone seems to get along."

Barn Dance tickets are $30 and all proceeds go to benefit the Pemberton chapters of: Chamber of Commerce, Lion’s Club, Royal Canadian Legion and Volunteer Fire Department.

Tickets are available in Pemberton at the Pemberton Valley Supermarket, Pemberton Trading Company, PaperWorks, Pemberton Esso and the Legion.

Located at The Root House on Pemberton Valley Road (look for all the cars, you can’t miss it), Barn Dance doors are at 8 p.m. Dance until 2 a.m. to the sounds of new country cover band Appaloosa and bluegrass band The Courageous Mountain Rangers (formerly The Tragically Hick).

Bus service is available from Whistler Telus Conference Centre at 7 p.m. for $5. Pemberton service is $2 with pick up in front of the Legion. Return bus service is available to both communities later in the evening. For more information call 604-894-6984.