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Pemberton wants festival back

Festival 'lost a lot of money,' but organizers won't say how much

The verdict is in: Pemberton wants its music festival back, but not without consulting all necessary stakeholders.

The community got answer at a standing-room only public meeting at the Pemberton Community Centre on Sept. 11. Hundreds of Pembertonians gathered to provide feedback as festival director Shane Bourbonnais and Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy took questions and comments.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s one of the biggest events, or the biggest single event, short of floods, that’s ever taken place here in Pemberton,” Sturdy said of the July 25-27 music festival that brought 40,000 people to the valley.

Bourbonnais, standing with Sturdy in front of the audience, acknowledged that there were several problems encountered during the festival — and finances weren’t the least of them.

“We lost a lot of money,” he said. “We expected to lose money and we lost a lot of money.

“We lost money because we didn’t have enough time to produce the event. And when you get into problems producing an event, how do you fix a problem? You throw money at it.”

When approached after the meeting, Bourbonnais would not say how much money festival organizers Live Nation lost.

Responses to the festival ranged anywhere from outright praise to reservations that not all parties were adequately consulted. Ruth Dick, a councillor with the Mount Currie band of the Lil’wat Nation, told the meeting, on her own behalf, that the presence of drugs and alcohol at the festival should be addressed in discussions about a future event.

“I’m hearing stories about people draining their water bottles and filling them with vodka right in the middle of town to bring to their campsites,” she said. “We’ve banned or whatever, concerts in our community because of that specific issue and it causes a real problem for our young people to go out and get deeper into the drugs or alcohol.

“I’d like to know what’s being done regarding all the drugs and alcohol.”

Bourbonnais responded immediately, saying that the presence of drugs and alcohol ultimately comes down to security.

“The security didn’t do their job, it was a free for all,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with Mount Currie and it’s been positive so far.”

Dick then interjected as Bourbonnais spoke, saying that he had only spoken with Daniel Sailland, the administrator of the Mount Currie band.

“You had conversations with Daniel, our administrator, and he hasn’t had a conversation specifically with us at the council table, or with the community,” she said.

“We put out a survey that got 23 responses, and the responses didn’t specifically say that we’re all gung-ho on it. He kind of put a positive spin on it without letting us review the surveys with him, and without asking our opinions.”

Bourbonnais then said that he had spoken with Sailland as well as Greg Bikadi, president of the Lil’wat Business Corporation, and Lyle Leo, former lead negotiator with the Lil’wat Nation. He also said he would be coming to Mount Currie council on Sept. 23.

Dick then said he should speak with the Lil’wat Nation before he submits another non-farm use application to the Agricultural Land Commission to hold the festival on the same site next year. Scattered applause followed Dick’s remarks.

In August it was revealed that a new location may need to be found for the Pemberton Festival because the ALC only approved use of the farm field site for one year. Colin Fry, executive director of the ALC, told Pique at the time that the agricultural authority has “specifically refused” to have the festival on the same site in the future, calling it some of the best agricultural land in the province.

Bourbonnais, however, said after last week’s meeting that public opinion about the festival could likely to sway the ALC to allow it in the same place if it happens next year. He also said that organizers would be filing another non-farm use application to the ALC the following morning.

Reached at his office on Monday afternoon, Fry did not confirm whether public opinion could sway the commission one way or the other, adding that the ALC has not yet received any further applications from festival organizers.

“All I can say is that the commission has not seen the matter before them,” he said. “There’s no application, so speculating the outcome would be inappropriate.”

Fry also said that an application to the ALC for a site in Pemberton must first go through the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District before reaching the commission.

Most other comments at the meeting heaped praise upon the festival and the impact it has had on Pemberton.

Rod MacLeo said he feels like a “rockstar” when he hears his town’s name.

“I wasn’t planning on going to the festival, I ended up going and it was one of the highlights of my last several years,” he said. “I travel a little bit, and if you try and get a hotel, the young lady at the desk sees Pemberton, it’s like I feel like a rockstar.”

Bourbonnais also told the meeting that he recently met with a manager for rap artist Jay-Z, who said he added a lyric about Pemberton in one of his latest singles.