This past weekend, the Pemberton Music Festival made its long-awaited return after a disastrous and awesome debut back in 2008. Which brings back a few memories…
Though the acts we came to see weren’t due on stage until later in the day, Eric wanted to be there early to catch a new buzz band about which he’d been hearing a lot of good things: The Airborne Toxic Event. Weird name. I’d never heard of them.
We reached Whistler within two hours, as expected, and then continued north for what should have been another 20 minutes to the small town of Pemberton. Unfortunately, we were as unprepared as the festival organizers were for what happens when tens of thousands of people attempt to descend upon an isolated location via one single-lane highway.
When traffic ground to a halt, we weren’t too concerned. After all, we still had three hours till that Airborne Whatever took the stage, and we were almost there. How long could it possibly take?
An hour later, in which time we hadn’t moved more than a few feet, we began getting a little more worried. And when people started leaving their cars on the side of the highway and hiking towards the concert site, supplies on their backs, it was clear that the time had come for drastic measures.
Eric wasn’t too keen to abandon his vehicle, but he really wanted to see the Toxic Whatchamacallits. Me, I didn’t really care. I still had time to spare before Death Cab for Cutie’s set. So Eric joined the exodus, while I slid over behind the wheel. We’d meet up once I got there.
Eventually traffic started moving, albeit painfully slowly. By the time I finally rolled to a stop in a mud and gravel parking lot and made my way into the venue, past the crowded porta-potties that would soon become a major festival talking point, I was just in time to catch the final song by another band that was unknown to me, Vampire Weekend.
I reconnected with Eric, and asked him how the Toxic Airbornes were. Unfortunately, he had started walking too late, and missed them.
Ah well. At least we got to enjoy the bands that had brought us here. After the night ended with memorable sets by Death Cab, Jay-Z and Coldplay, we trudged back to the car in the darkness… only to find out that the parking lot was going to be as painstaking to exit as it had been to enter.
Four hours later, in the dead of night, I stumbled into the Whistler hotel room that would be my home for the next few days, falling into bed to catch a few hours sleep before my work conference was due to start – hoping that in the morning I’d be able to wash away the stench of marijuana that clung to me like a second skin.
A week later Eric sent me a link to a playlist he’d put together, comprised of bands that had played Pemberton. Vampire Weekend was on there, and even though neither of us listen to much rap, so was Jay-Z.
Oh, and there was also a song called “Sometime Around Midnight.”
In the ensuing weeks, that track wormed its way under my skin. Soon after, I would have the debut album of The Airborne Toxic Event on repeat, anxiously anticipating their next visit to Vancouver.
Wouldn’t you know it, my next opportunity would fall on October 28, 2009 – a date that had been circled on my calendar for months, for other reasons. That was the day that my beloved U2 brought their 360 spaceship to Vancouver, meaning I would again miss my chance to see Airborne. But U2 was non-negotiable.
By the time The Airborne Toxic Event finally rolled through town again, on June 7, 2011, I was a full-fledged fan. Coincidentally, I had caught U2 again earlier that week, three days prior in Seattle. And though the Irishmen had not disappointed, that was the week when the unthinkable happened: The Airborne Toxic Event wrested away the title of My Favorite Band.
They were so worth the wait.
*Incidentally, the Pemberton Festival has its own special place in TATE lore. The various musical performers were offered the opportunity to helicopter into the venue at their own cost. Despite the fact that the band was fighting hard to establish themselves and earning peanuts at the time, they figured what the hell, and were one of just two bands to take advantage of the offer. It cost them all their earnings from the festival. That helicopter ride was immortalized in the video for “Happiness is Overrated.” Classical Geek Theatre penned a revealing behind the scenes account of the whole day.
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.