If you thought organizing a non-shitty house party for 30 of your friends was stressful, imagine organizing a massive three-day outdoor festival for thousands of rabid music fans. That’s the life of CEO and co-founder of HUKA Entertainment, A.J. Niland, also known as the main man responsible for bringing us the Pemberton Music Festival, July 16 to 20.
This glorious event is stacked with top-notch artists from Outkast and Soundgarden to Blondie, Modest Mouse, Kendrick Lamar and more that will make any music fan drool out of pure joy. With such a varied and diverse line-up, it’s bound to be an amazing time. However, with a great line-up comes great responsibility and Niland knows this all too well.
Shortly after the tickets went on sale, BeatRoute sat down with Niland to discuss how he pulled together such a mega-venture – planning it out not only as a businessman, but with the enthusiasm of a live music fan. He tells us all about understanding doubts as a result of their late line-up announcement, and his excitement in seeing all of the hard work finally come together, both offstage and on, for what will undoubtedly be one of the most beautiful festival sites this summer.
BeatRoute: Since you announced the festival lineup what sort of response have you received?
A.J. Niland: The response has been tremendous. It validated the hard work and extra time it took to put together.
BR: We would imagine the amount of people vying for online tickets today came close to crashing the server. Was that ever a concern?
AN: It’s always a concern. We work very closely with our web team and server hosts as well as with our ticketing partners to do our best to prevent and mitigate those risks. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it still has its flaws.
BR: There was a moment where a lot of people weren’t sure what was going on with the Pemberton Festival. What do you have to say to anyone who had any doubt?
AN: It’s easy to understand their doubts. The previous festival didn’t have the best track record since 2008 in terms of returning. On top of that, we are not well known in the region as producers or promoters. But what people will soon learn, as we have shown in other parts of North America, is that we deliver — not just in terms of the world-class lineup we have presented, but the festival experience as well. We love the challenge and we are super-excited for July. Most importantly, there’s now no denying a top-tier music, comedy and camping festival has returned to one of the premiere sites in the world.
BR: Was it stressful pulling a lineup of the calibre you are known for together in such a remote part of Canada?
AN: The remote aspect of the location wasn’t much of a concern — the issues of the past festival were much more the concern. The remote aspects of the Pemberton site are what appeal to us: hundreds of wide-open-breathtaking, pristine natural acres to enjoy and have an experience of a lifetime.
BR: What are you personally most excited about for the Pemberton Festival?
AN: The entire package. I love the way the sum of the parts total more than expected; the site, the music, the experience. The site is incredibly beautiful, one of the most beautiful festival sites in the world. The lineup is out; the music is going to be great. For the experience we are working on all of the non-music elements like comedy, parties, amusements, special moments and happenings. I’m really excited to see it all come together. That’s what I am looking forward to.
BR: Can you please tell us a briefly about your memories of the first festival you ever went to?
AN: I recall being very young sitting atop my father shoulders watching a sea of people dancing, and that memory has never left.
BR: How has your concert-going experience changed since you started booking festivals? Do you appreciate the music more now that you work in the industry or is it difficult to remain unfazed by the hardships of the music industry?
AN: I love music more than just about anything. Live music especially. I don’t get to see as many concerts as I did before I started promoting. But when I do, I try to let go of my industry mind and let the fan in me come out.
BR: The economic impact around the festival’s surrounding areas has been significantly measurable. What in particular do you think this festival will be able to bring Pemberton and its neighbouring communities?
AN: When a population as large as a festival moves temporarily into any community there is an economic impact. Hotels, gasoline, groceries, airfare, rental cars, tax revenues — to name a few — all see a spike. We try our best to help further that by promoting the amenities of surrounding areas as well as encourage and incentivize patrons to stay longer.
BR: I am aware they are not related, but were you or anyone from your team at the first Pemberton Festival in 2008?
AN: I was not, however a few members of our team were there.
BR: Do you think there’s anything from that event that you learned from and intend to improve on?
AN: First-year festivals always lead to adjustments in the following years. All first-year events are well planned in theory. Then it happens… there are quite a few lessons from 2008 and from our other events that are being implemented for this year. We have made great strides on the traffic planning and the waste management aspects of the event. Those are two standouts, but there are a number of things we are focused on to give the best experience possible.
BR: There’s no beach for this festival, as with Hang Out. Are you looking forward to bringing a party to the middle of the BC wilderness? How do you think it will be different?
AN: The beaches and the mountains for us are more similar than one would think. For us we look for sites that one would want to go to and hang out even if there wasn’t a festival. But in the same way we amplified the beachy aspects of our beach festivals, we intend to amplify the rugged outdoors of the Pemberton region. Instead of palm trees and jet skis its more Douglas firs and mountain bikes.
BR: What is your five-year plan for the Pemberton Music Festival? Is this going to be a reoccurring event each year?
AN: We have a 10-year plan already sketched out. We intend on this festival occurring annually for as long as the community and the fans will allow.
BR: What are the top three most listened to tracks on your iTunes right now?
AN: That list changes frequently. But I just looked at my most played list on iTunes as I write this and the top three right now are “Fool in the Rain” – Led Zeppelin, “Juicy” – Notorious B.I.G and “The Wire” – HAIM. Pretty much all over the place.
BR: What is one thing you want everyone in Canada to know about you and your intentions with this festival?
AN: We intend to push the boundaries of how music festivals are perceived. That’s our mission with every festival we do.
By Katharine Sawchuk and Glenn Alderson