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Pemberton Festival ‘not in good shape’

Some bands made other plans while LiveNation waited for ALC approval

The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) has given the Pemberton Festival a thumbs up, but reality may hold a different verdict.

Shane Bourbonnais, president of touring and business development for Live Nation, told Pique in a Nov. 27 interview that planning for next summer’s festival is in “worse shape” than two weeks ago, and back then he wasn’t certain either.

The main problem is that there’s a tight timeframe for putting it together. And that’s largely due to the fact that the ALC only gave the festival a 10-year approval on Tuesday.

“We’re really happy with the 10 years, I think the 10 years is absolutely fantastic,” Bourbonnais said. “But you know, it really hasn’t changed the fact that we’re late in the game. It’s really late to really try to fix these problems, and like I’ve always said, we’re not going to come back unless we fix these problems.”

There’s no shortage of problems for organizers to attend to before the 2009 festival can happen.

One is artists’ schedules. By this time last year, Live Nation had booked Coldplay for the festival. This time out, with a tight timeframe, it’s more difficult to book any big acts.

“Some of the big stuff that has approached Pemberton about playing next summer has unfortunately had to make other plans because we couldn’t make those commitments,” he said. “It’s a good domino effect. If they route a date and a date doesn’t happen it really screws them up, so obviously we want to make a good relationship with our artists.”

He would not speculate on what artists had already gone by the wayside.

Artists aren’t the only problem. Most of the complaints around the festival concerned logistical issues such as traffic, security and garbage. At this point, Bourbonnais said organizers haven’t even started a traffic management plan.

“Right after the event we knew what were the problems with the Pemberton Festival,” he said. “We made a list of them, we had traffic at the top, so we said, let’s go out and get the best traffic consultant in North America.

“I couldn’t go sign a contract with that person because I didn’t know what was going to happen. So we lost that person, which was really unfortunate.”

Bourbonnais started planning the 2008 festival in September of last year — before Live Nation had received ALC approval to use its site. The application for non-farm use went into the ALC in March, well after organizers had put much of the festival in place.

This time out he’s working under a different set of circumstances.

“We saw the newspapers after the event, the commission was pretty adamant that the festival would never happen again on that land,” he said.

However that statement doesn’t exactly reflect what the ALC said. The commission approved last summer’s festival on a one-time basis. It did not tacitly disapprove the festival from taking place on that land again.

Live Nation nevertheless didn’t want to step on the ALC’s toes in the course of planning another festival.

“Understanding the power that the ALC has, we weren’t going to start moving forward on an event that may not happen,” Bourbonnais said. “Last year… we understood the ALC was a body we had to get through, and we wanted to go through the ALC with a full plan, and we thought that approach with the ALC was better, to go and say this is what we’re planning.

“Obviously the ALC didn’t like the fact that we came to them late.”

When asked how North America’s economy could impact the festival, Bourbonnais said that entertainment has “always done well” during recessions.

“You turn on the news and you open up the papers and all you see is doom and gloom. People want to go out and have fun,” he said. “You can’t sit there and watch The National and watch the market crashing every day, you’ve got to go out and have fun.”

Like many other publicly-traded companies, Live Nation has seen its stock go down this year, according to A report from the website shows that its stock has gone down 65.9 per cent this month and 73.6 per cent this year.

Bourbonnais, however, said that Live Nation’s financial situation is not affecting festival planning.

“If you look at the stock market… everyone’s been affected,” he said. “Every stock is down, this is one of the biggest stock market crashes in the history of the market. We’re still striving to do the things that we need to do.”

Bourbonnais expects to announce before Christmas what Live Nation’s plans are for a 2009 festival.