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Pemberton Festival cancelled for 2009

Organizers want to ‘come back with a great product’ in 2010

Music lovers across the province will need to wait another year for a Pemberton Festival — it’s a no-go for 2009.

Shane Bourbonnais, president of touring and business development for Live Nation Canada, told Pique in a Thursday interview that organizers have concluded it would better for them to focus on a festival for 2010.

“We’re really concerned about making sure that we come back with a great product,” he said. “(We’re) concerned about the fact that we’re late on talent, late on securing big sponsors. There’s a lot of logistical issues we haven’t been able to dig into.

“The commitment to the community was, we’d only bring it back if we knew it was going to be perfect.”

The Pemberton Festival, which took place July 25-27, 2008, brought an estimated 40,000 people to the Pemberton Valley to hear acts such as Coldplay, Tom Petty and Nine Inch Nails.

Many in attendance complained about logistical issues such as waste and traffic, but an overwhelming number of people within the community praised the festival as the best thing that’s happened to Pemberton.

Once the festival ended, Live Nation was mired in a diplomatic row with B.C.’s Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), which said it had only approved the festival on its site within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) for one year and that it “wouldn’t be renewed.”

The ALR is land where agriculture is a priority use, and the commission administers use within that area.

That changed after Live Nation, in concert with the Village of Pemberton, submitted a non-farm use application to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, asking that the festival be allowed to take place on the property annually for 10 years.

The commission approved the application at a Nov. 18 meeting — but by then, it may have been too late for a 2009 festival. When applying for its first non-farm use application, Live Nation didn’t wait for the commission’s approval — it was already into significant planning.

Bourbonnais admitted that the timing of the meeting was “definitely” a factor in deciding whether the festival could come back, but it was just one of many.

“We didn’t really get to work on anything. We really didn’t know which direction that decision was going to take,” he said.

Talent was also a factor, specifically a lack thereof. Last year’s festival had some of the biggest acts in the world and by the time the ALC decision came down, artists had already started planning their summer tours.

Bourbonnais said that the “biggest bands in the world” were interested in playing a second Pemberton Festival, but there just wasn’t enough time to book them.

“We set the stage in 2008 by bringing the biggest bands in the world to Pemberton,” he said. “Those acts, they’re running around the world. To ask them for a Pemberton date, it’s very important that it’s scheduled into their calendars. All these acts were confirmed already for next summer.”

Bourbonnais wouldn’t say which bands were interested.

“I wish I could but I can’t.”

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy was disappointed the festival isn’t coming back this year, but he wasn’t surprised.

“Last year I don’t think that Live Nation really realized how far they’d hung it out,” he said. “They had contacted some big names, many months before they actually received permission to do the festival and that could have been something that cost them a fair amount of money.”

Ultimately Sturdy thinks a lack of lineup was the central factor that contributed to the decision not to hold the festival in 2009.

“They had contacted… Tom Petty and Coldplay back in the fall of last year and didn’t receive permission to do the festival until March,” he said. “That had enormous liability associated with it that I don’t know was really clear to them at that point.”

Paul Selina, president of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce, estimated that the festival brought about $10 million into the local economy. Though he’s disappointed the festival won’t be coming back this year, he said the chamber understands there’s a “process to go through.”

“The ALC didn’t make that decision early enough in order for the concert promoter to book the key acts and the key equipment,” he said.

The chamber will be helping to put on the Pemberton Barn Dance this year, an annual event that was incorporated into the festival in 2008.

“The music will go on,” Selina said.