It’s been a long pandemic.
Dancing in a crowd and camping with more than just your bubble have been forbidden by public health guidelines for most of the last two years. Summer 2022 marks the first time since the pre-COVID-19 era that people in British Columbia can attend large concerts and music festivals. It goes without saying that many are looking forward to the return of this experience.
Bass Coast, one of the province’s major multi-day festivals, is also getting ready to welcome back attendees after a two-year hiatus. For many people in the music, events, and entertainment industries, the past two years were marred by uncertainty for organizers — coupled with a record-breaking atmospheric river that put part of the festival grounds underwater.
Daily Hive spoke with Bass Coast co-founder and music director Andrea Graham about how the festival has persevered over the last two years and what’s in store for its grand comeback this summer.
Pandemic hit with 2020 festival locked and loaded
Bass Coast runs on a 12-month production cycle, and the world shut down in March 2020 — three months before the festival was scheduled to go ahead. The lineup was set and tickets were sold when everything came to an abrupt halt.
“The initial announcement of cancelling the festival was one of the hardest things we’ve ever gone through,” Graham said. “It was very, very challenging to unwind the festival and, obviously, it had a big impact on our financial state and our staffing.”
They pared down to a skeleton staff, allowed customers to defer their tickets to a future year, and launched Pixel Virtual Festival to take place on the weekend that was supposed to be Bass Coast.
“It was actually a really beautiful way for everybody to connect because it had been a very tight lockdown up until that point,” Graham said. “It was beautiful to see everyone come together online and artists contributed from all over the world.”
Giving up was never an option
Although it was challenging for the small team to carry a larger-than-usual workload, Graham said they never thought about abandoning the festival.
“It was never a question that we would come back,” she said. “We just need to find a way to move past [these challenges] because Bass Coast has a long-term plan and we plan on being here in the future. So it just didn’t cross our minds.”
Organizers used the downtime to revamp aspects of the festival’s back end, improve their equity planning, and attend to other details.
Pandemic restrictions in the winter of 2020-21 meant they didn’t get enough lead time to plan a successful festival that summer, and BC didn’t lift restrictions as planned to allow for dancing because COVID-19 cases kept rising.
But by October 2021, things were looking up enough that the team launched into full planning mode for a 2022 festival.
BC floods put Merritt underwater
About six weeks into Bass Coast production, a record-breaking atmospheric river dumped a month’s worth of rain on the South Coast in one weekend. Merritt, the town where the festival is held, was completely evacuated as floodwaters streamed into the community.
Graham lives in Squamish but has friends whose properties were seriously damaged in the flooding.
“It was really sad to see what was happening,” she said. “It was a very difficult time.”
Bass Coast had also planned to launch ticket sales on November 15, and organizers had to pull the plug.
It took weeks for Merritt residents to be allowed back to their homes, and Graham’s team saw there was a great need in the community for financial support. Members of the Bass Coast community organized a fundraiser, and attendees and artists together raised $21,000, which they donated to support groups in Merritt and the surrounding area.
In addition, they put together a music compilation where artists donated their music and 100% of the proceeds went to the Nicola Valley Food Bank.
“While this devastation was happening, it was great to see the support from the network of people that appreciate Merritt,” Graham said. “There’s a lot of love for that town, and it will take the town some time to recover.”
Part of the festival grounds were submerged in the floods, and the following week, temperatures dropped below freezing. Repair work has begun now that it’s thawed out, but the festival layout has changed this year to avoid using the damaged areas.
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Music festival returns for summer 2022
Bass Coast prides itself on being a women-founded festival with no corporate presence. Graham started it back in 2009 alongside co-founder and art director Liz Thomson as a way to bring an arts and music festival to the coast that focused on local Western Canadian artists.
Bass Coast’s curated and immersive feeling is really what sets it apart, Graham said.
“We’re looking for artists … that are bubbling up. They may not be household names headlining major festivals, but they’re the ones that influence those headliners,” she said.
In addition to new stages and art installations, Graham is excited for artists to be able to share the new material they’ve been working on while everyone’s been separated.
“It’s going to be one of the best feelings in the world to have everybody together again, and to be enjoying music and art together,” she said. “I have a feeling there will be some happy tears.”