If you visit the Bass Coast Festival website today, you’ll notice, right off the bat, that its creators take design seriously.
The home page is dark and empty, save for the festival’s logo and a beautiful, startling, grid of animated dots that scatter into wide circles when touched. If you leave them alone, they churn around each other with a frenzied energy, and then slowly return to the gridded formation they started out in.
Designing a Festival
There seems something deliberately metaphorical about Bass Coast using this design. The festival has garnered a reputation for its grandiose, energetic presence in the festival world, its leave-no-trace mentality towards the environment, and its respect for local communities.
It has managed to achieve these goals while growing at a notable rate while attracting musicians and artists both from British Columbia and around the world.
The festival is running for the ninth year this July, and enthusiasm keeps growing as well. This year, tickets sold out long before the festival’s line-up was even announced.
The Eyes and Ears of the Festival
Since its founding in 2007, Bass Coast has been intimately tied to the Sea-to-Sky region. Andrea Graham and Liz Thomson, the festival’s founders, both live in the Sea to Sky Corridor and found it an ideal location to set up shop and to source artistic talent.
“The Sea to Sky attracts individuals with a deep love of adventure,” Thomson says, “and these people are drawn to the festival’s commitment to exploration, art and community.”
Liz has been called the eyes of the festival, and Andrea the ears. You see, not only are these women the founders, they are creatives in the show as well.
Liz is the artistic director and is responsible for the memorable branding, stage design, and pretty much anything visual within the festival.
Andrea, on the other hand, has become a well-known Dj who plays extensively throughout North America under her moniker, The Librarian. She also curates the line-up for the festival and has a knack for spotting trends in sound, which guarantees the festival is on point every year. A sweet job for a music buff, no doubt.
In The Beginning
In its first few years, the festival took place on a picturesque riverside beach in the Squamish Valley.
The inaugural festival, in 2007, drew around 450 attendants, mostly friends within Graham and Thomson’s network in the Sea to Sky, or members of the regional electronic music and art communities.
But Bass Coast’s intimate size didn’t last, as word about the unique festival in the beautiful location spread quickly.
It grew yearly in creativity, calibre, and attendance.
Bass Coast – The Destination Festival
By 2012, the festival had outgrown its original home. The decision was made to move it to Merritt, BC. This new home would be the same arid riverside location made famous by the Merritt Mountain Music Festival.
Compared to Squamish, Merritt is relatively difficult to get to, leading some to call Bass Coast a “destination festival”—a festival that exists in an otherwise remote environment (think Burning Man, which is held in the middle of the Nevada desert).
In fact, Graham and Thomson have fielded comparisons of their festival to Burning Man for years.
“Each year we attend new festivals for research,” Thomson said, noting that Burning Man has been only one of many sources of inspiration over the years.
“Something about the people we attract makes Bass Coast events a destination regardless of our location,” she added.
Squamish Creatives Still Deeply Involved
Some of Bass Coast’s early and local adopters worried that the festival’s Sea-to-Sky identity would change with the festival’s decision to shift location, but neither organizers was concerned.
Graham notes proudly that Squamish artists, sculptors, welders, DJs, sound techs and dancers have been involved in the festival since the beginning.
“Because we are so deeply ingrained in the Squamish arts community,” Graham added, “this bridge will continue regardless of the festival’s location.”
A Gathering of Creatives
Bass Coast continues to draw eclectic and talented acts and is known for pushing the boundaries of what people expect in a festival. They seem to be rewriting the playbook, and people like where they are headed.
While mixing big names with local talent is common to most all music and art festivals, Bass Coast has created a unique environment for its performers.
According to Graham, it’s common for artists to benefit from Bass Coast’s diversity just as much as the rest of its attendees.
When artists from otherwise disparate circles meet at Bass Coast, new and surprising collaborations spring up that help to push at the edges of the event’s fast-moving music and arts culture.
It’s an environment that works to subvert the traditional hierarchies of the arts and build a unified community at the event.
This community-building mentality is an integral part of what makes the festival so appealing.
Graham explains that at the festival, “everyone is a participant rather than a member of the audience.”
The ground plans, programming, yearly theme, and curated artworks and installations all factor into this.
“We often hear feedback that many ‘favourite’ moments from the festival are the result of new acquaintances, new experiences with friends, or personal growth gained from acceptance,” Graham adds.
One Big Art Installation
Bass Coast also promotes a communal symbiosis between music and the arts, particularly through its massive art installations and cooperative stage designs.
Thomson describes the festival’s yearly art installations as tools to “deepen the relationship between art and sound.”
This is apparent in the stage design as well, which Thomson plays a large role in, ensuring that each stage is both wholly immersive and—by using up-cycled materials in its construction—environmentally friendly.
By extensively involving young artists and collaborators, Thomson also tries to give back to the art community.
“My goal,” she says, “is to not only fund young artists but to strengthen their skills and develop more meaning behind their art.”
Despite undergoing major changes throughout the years, Bass Coast has insisted on staying as accessible, sustainable, and creative as ever.
For many of its yearly attendees, the festival has managed to constantly exceed expectations.
As Andrea puts it: “There is something for everyone to discover and appreciate at Bass Coast.”