Sea-to-Sky corridor music festival – Take 3

Planners promise Constellation will be smaller, more manageable than predecessors

Photo from the bankrupt Pemberton Music Festival, which was last held in 2016.

By starting small and focusing locally, the operators behind the Squamish Constellation Festival believe they can bring a major music festival back to Squamish.

“We really sat down and thought about the way that we could do it without stressing the community or stressing ourselves financially, and to have a business model that we can continue for years, past even the five-year point,” explained Tamara Stanners, one of four directors at Aquila Constellation Productions Inc., which is running the festival.

“I think that we’re heading into it with the example of Pemberton really fresh in our mind, and understanding exactly how that happened.”

Constellation is the latest attempt to sustain a major music festival in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. 

In 2017, the operating company behind the Pemberton Music Festival declared bankruptcy, owing $16.7 million to creditors. BrandLive and Live Nation pulled the plug on the Squamish Valley Music Festival the year before.

Constellation promises to be different in several respects. 

Notably, it is targeting a fraction of the fans that attended past festivals in the region. Over the course of the July 26–28 festival, Constellation is planning for 7,500 attendees per day. By Year 4, attendance will be capped at 15,000 daily visitors. 

By comparison, the Squamish Valley Music Festival – which ran for 15 years – welcomed tens of thousands of guests a day.

“All of the places that they were using for camping and parking for a 37,000-per-day festival have now been eaten up by development,” said Stanners, whose group has turned to BrandLive partner Paul Runnals for mentorship.

Stanners declined to reveal festival budget specifics but noted that she and co-director Kurt Larson have contributed financially to the endeavour, as have investors from the North Shore. The festival was also awarded a $125,000 grant from Creative BC’s Amplify BC live-music program.

Constellation will be held at Hendrickson Field, which hosted the Squamish Valley Music Festival in its earlier iterations. Local pubs and restaurants will offer music after festival hours. The festival will not be accommodating camping, and Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott said the district is expecting local hotels and restaurants to benefit as a result.

“That’s different than what some of those larger music festivals offered to the community, and I think it makes a real difference here.” 

Elliott added that municipality staff will provide planning and logistics support to the festival. The district is also leasing the festival grounds.

“This time around we’re working with a group of locals,” she said, “and I think that makes a big difference.”

It has been nearly two years since the Pemberton Music Festival LP declared bankruptcy, and the proceedings continue to be plagued by legal challenges.

In August 2018, the BC Supreme Court allowed U.S. ticketing company Ticketfly to proceed with its attempt to recover $7.9 million – the amount Ticketfly paid in chargebacks from credit card companies that reimbursed ticket holders.

Two BC Court of Appeal cases are outstanding: one was initiated by the trustee after the above court ruling; the other was launched by Pandora Media Inc. (NYSE:P), which owned Ticketfly at the time.

Last November, Business in Vancouver reported that businesses that had supplied the festival with goods and services were expecting pennies for every dollar owed. At the time, Truffles Fine Foods Catering founder and president Nin Rai, one of four bankruptcy inspectors tasked with representing creditors, estimated that in a best-case scenario businesses would get $0.04 for every $1 owed.

In total, there were 119 creditors, including the Canada Revenue Agency, in addition to ticket holders.

The Squamish Constellation Festival, which has no connection to the Pemberton Music Festival, could be held before any of the creditors see any funds. 

Case trustee Kevin Brennan, senior vice-president at EY, said he is hoping to have direction on the file before the court’s summer recess. •