Go North, Young Man

A cross-border cultural exchange

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Living here, I sometimes wonder if we’re all in an abusive relationship with Mother Nature. For the majority of the year, she shows us the coldest of shoulders and, just when we can’t take another cold, wet, dreary minute, she dazzles us with one postcard-perfect summer day after another. We are smitten, all past injury is forgiven, and the cycle begins anew.

Given that, we are sometimes reluctant to leave our piece of paradise here in the upper left-hand corner of the country during the fleeting months of summer. But if there’s anything that can lure us, it’s the promise of worthy entertainment we can’t source locally, in locations that are as postcard-ready as our own.

Two such entertainment options are on the near-term horizon, both of which come in the form of music festivals and both of which will require you to dust off your passport and make a run for the border.

Although the two festivals in question—the Pemberton Music Festival and the Vancouver Folk Music Festival—are close enough, geographically speaking, to qualify as staycations, the fact that they take place in a whole other country gives them a slightly more exotic vibe. While “exotic” might not be the first word that comes to mind when one is thinking of Canada, crossing international borders is always good for a thrill.

A massive undertaking, the Pemberton Music Festival has its roots in another, earlier incarnation that shares a name with this year’s event, but little else—and for good reason. The inaugural run of the Pemberton Music Festival, which took place in 2008, was an unqualified success in the number of people it drew to the breathtaking Pemberton Valley venue—and an epic logistical disaster to such an extent it was deemed fundamentally flawed and festival organizers opted out of future festivals there. More than 40,000 people flocked to the pristine piece of Lil’wat Nation tribal land, resulting in too many concertgoers and not nearly enough campsites, bathroom facilities and general infrastructure.

Fast-forward to 2012 when a new organizer toured the site, and not only saw its potential, but was also willing to invest—to the tune of $18 million in infrastructure improvements—to ready the venue and assuage the tribe’s understandable worries. They’ve spent the past several months doing just that, and now the area is ready for the impact that an estimated 25,000 weekend visitors will bring.

That’s all well and good, but what about the musical talent?

Aiming to be the “Coachella of Canada,” the multi-day affair, which takes place July 16-20,  features a roster of talent deep with big-name acts. Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden will use the Pemberton Music Festival as a stop on their summer-long tour, and they’ll be joined by Deadmau5, Outkast, Kendrick Lamar, Modest Mouse, Frank Ocean, the Flaming Lips, Snoop Dog, TV On the Radio, Chance the Rapper, Violent Femmes, Randy Newman, Minus the Bear, Sloan, Dinosaur Jr., and roughly a googolplex of other artists and musicians. As if that weren’t enough (and it’s plenty), the festival will also feature comedy by the Trailer Park Boys, Bob Saget, Lisa Lampanelli, and more.

Slightly closer to home, smaller in scale and now a beloved summer tradition for many, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival also takes place this coming weekend, from July 18-20 at Vancouver’s Jericho Beach Park.

Closing in on its 40th year, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival brings together artists from all areas of folk—regardless of style, era or geographic locale—for what seems a frivolous enough purpose—entertainment—but is, in actuality, a vital part of maintaining the worldwide tradition that is folk music. Although it can be tough to pin down what exactly folk is (as genres go, it comes with few rigid rules and much forgiveness of differences in approach), what is universally accepted is that it’s a musical form that is handed from one person, generation and culture to the next, each of which will honor what came before while adding their own music to the tradition. In this way, it is a living, breathing, wide-ranging document of musical history, something that can be fully appreciated at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.

It’s with this spirit in mind that performers are chosen for the festival, and this year’s lineup includes the legendary, inimitable Joan Baez (who will also play a Sun., July 20 show at the Mount Baker Theatre), as well as Andrew Bird, Ozomatli, Wintersleep, Alejandro Escovedo, Mary Lambert, Tift Merritt, and more. However, with music from sunup to sundown on six different stages, so much of the magic of the Vancouver Folk Festival comes in the act of discovery. It’s impossible to attend the event without being exposed to a whole world of folk music, with many of the musicians being not just accessible to the crowds, but becoming part of the audience and taking in the other talent on the festival stages as well. If folk begets folk, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival is vital link in an endless musical chain.

So, if you must leave the paradise that is our neck of the woods during this most magical time of the year, rest assured, there’s plenty of magic to be had, just a border crossing away.

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