Hastings Park neighbours angry with outdoor concert noise give PNE officials an earful

A meeting Nov. 22 heard a variety of complaints about area residents selling parking, the PNE’s removal of trees, lack of access to parts of Hastings Park during the annual fair and the impact of concert sound on small animals and migratory birds that frequent the Hastings Park Sanctuary.

A young man leaps from a drinks tent at the Breakout Festival at Vancouver's PNE, which erupted into chaos Sunday, Sept. 18 after rapper Lil Baby failed to perform. The Sept. 17-18 Breakout Festival was also the loudest weekend of the summer for many East Vancouverites who say they can’t enjoy their patios and backyards due to live shows with deep bass and amplified profanity emanating from the PNE Amphitheatre | Photo: sarahjsmithh/TikTok

Pacific National Exhibition officials got an earful Tuesday night from Hastings Park neighbours, two months after a weekend hip-hop festival ended in a riot. 

The Sept. 17-18 Breakout Festival was also the loudest weekend of the summer for many East Vancouverites who say they can’t enjoy their patios and backyards due to live shows with deep bass and amplified profanity emanating from the PNE Amphitheatre. The venue is earmarked for a $70 million redevelopment by 2026. 

“I will not say that there will be no multi-day shows,” PNE president Shelley Frost said to the meeting of 250 people. “I will say that if there are multi-day shows, they would have to hit a particular type of sound genre and there would have to be other considerations. Multi-day events are not necessarily the devil, the types of music that can be played in a festival, like Breakout, was problematic.”

Breakout ended violently after headliner Lil Baby cancelled at the last minute. Tipsters have led Vancouver Police to identify eight of 10 suspects accused of causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to venue fixtures and food and drink vending kiosks. VPD appealed Thursday for the public to help identify another 15 suspects, who are also accused of taking their violent spree into area neighbourhoods.

Karen Massicotte, the PNE’s vice-president of sales, marketing and business development, said that the Breakout Festival sound team was “extremely difficult to work with” and the festival is not welcome to return to the PNE. 

Massicotte explained that when pandemic restrictions ended last spring, the PNE was faced with a pent-up demand from concert promoters to rebook cancelled shows and pent-up demand from the public, which had been without concerts for a couple of years. 

The meeting heard a variety of complaints about area residents selling parking, the PNE’s removal of trees, lack of access to parts of Hastings Park during the annual fair and the impact of concert sound on small animals and migratory birds that frequent the Hastings Park Sanctuary.  

But the present and future use of the amphitheatre dominated discussion. 

Last year, city council approved building a new outdoor venue under a roof on the site of the 1960s era amphitheatre, which was previously used for demolition derby and logging sports shows during the annual fair. 

Revery Architecture was hired to design a venue to hold events for crowds of 1,500 to 10,000. The project will happen simultaneously with the long-awaited daylighting of a stream. Massicotte said the intention is for the new venue to appeal to both touring concerts and community festivals. 

“By putting in the right infrastructure, we will appeal to a wider range of artists. We will be able to host family shows and other types of events,” Massicotte said. “The purpose of redevelopment is not to over-program it with concerts of the same calibre as we're hosting now. We want to offer a venue that is inclusive, accessible and vibrant for the community with a positive experience for the neighbourhood.”

Damian Doria, founder and acoustics services lead for New Jersey-based Stages Consultants, is the expert hired for the project. He told the meeting that the PNE has directed him to “explore all reasonable methods of reducing sound transmission beyond the audience areas.”

The roof will play a primary role to direct sound to the audience and not the area beyond, he said. 

“We're exploring areas directly around the amphitheatre that can be shaped to further contain soundscapes around its perimeter,” Doria said. 

After the roof system and landscape design, he will work with the manufacturer of the house sound system “to keep sound closer to audience members at a pleasing level while not directing as much sound in any other direction.”

Several neighbours suggested the venue be reoriented so that speakers face Hastings Racecourse and the North Shore, though Frost said that was not going to happen.

A neighbour who spoke at the meeting called September’s concert noise “the worst ever” and another said it was “horrendous.” A proponent of the new amphitheatre was pessimistic about PNE management, saying “I don’t think you’re going to be very good stewards about it.”

Ian Gregson, a professional sound engineer and musician, said he heard PNE concert sound travel for the first time to his home of 28 years near Adanac Park.

“It got my attention,” said Gregson. 

He said the selection of bands or music is key in avoiding a repeat of the Breakout riot. 

“Those kids were pissed off, and they had a lot of energy to expend and this is where it all took part,” Gregson said.

As for a new venue, he suggested the PNE take its inspiration from the design of the Expo Theatre. The open air Expo 86 venue had a fixed roof and sound mitigation measures.

“The city is dying,” he said. “Its soul is being lost, music venues are disappearing, left, right and centre, just because of higher prices for clubs, for venues.” 

Plans for interim sound mitigation at the existing PNE Amphitheatre are scheduled to be presented to the Dec. 1 open meeting of the PNE board, under new chair Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung.