In the five years since the founding of the Squamish Valley Music Festival, the landscape has changed profoundly for event promotion. If past festivals tended towards concentration of one genre of music over all others, the modern “European” version is a sonic smorgasbord.
Presented by Virgin Mobile, Live Nation Canada, brand.LIVE and blueprint, Squamish has expanded this year from 32 to 81 acres and from capacity of 19,000 to 35,000 daily attendees.
To do that kind of business means you need to bring in the marquee artists. The three day-long event is banking of Bruno Mars, Arcade Fire and Eminem as its heavy hitters with Arctic Monkeys, Broken Bells, the Roots and such to keep it going.
Has the growth in festivals nationwide put a crunch on talent buyers?
“Everyone does tend to gravitate towards the same acts if they are a festival, be it in North America or internationally, and that has made it extremely cost and availability competitive for those name acts you want at a contemporary festival,” says Live Nation Canada VP of Talent Erik Hoffman. “It’s a fascinating process, but we are fortunate in being in the conversation year-round as a major promoter in the region so we can keep what is or isn’t on the menu in mind and be in discussion all the time.”
Getting Bruno Mars and Eminem was a specific goal that started, in some cases, years ago.
“Eminem negotiations began almost three years ago,” says Hoffan. “Bruno Mars is only playing one major North American festival this year and that is here.”
So the headliners of this stature aren’t part of any talent-agent roster bidding war. Does it come to that with the lower-tier acts? Hoffman says not for Squamish.
“With the increase in festivals getting dropped into places by major presenters without any operations in the area, that can happen, and sometimes it works,” he says. “But since the founding, Squamish has been curated to represent the tastes of what Vancouver and B.C. likes, with, admittedly, some self-indulgent desires like mine for the Roots this year.”
He goes on to note that because of audience tastes here, you don’t see festival veterans such as Dave Matthews Band or Widespread Panic on stage. Instead, you’ll get The Head and the Heart or Atmosphere, who consistently sell out in town.
“And don’t forget the local artists who can do that too, which we have so many of every year,” he says. “But I won’t deny that the process of deciding who to put onstage to build the mood until that 11:01 Friday night Bruno Mars set leaves people completely blown away can be an annoying one. Hopefully, that includes blowing people away with Black Joe Lewis or Tune-Yards, who they might not know.”
It’s a learning process even with this many years in the game. Hoffman admits that the region might be hitting saturation where it was underserved three years ago. It can put incredible stresses on smaller festivals which he feels are critical to the development of talent.
Like any moment it time, there will be market corrections.
Squamish Valley Music Festival is well-positioned to keep on rolling towards bigger goals. It just might mean booking headliners for the 10th year now.
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