On August 1st to the 4th, I was lucky enough to attend Bass Coast Music Festival in its sixth year running. The drive up had us pulling out of Vancouver and cruising down the Trans Canada Highway alongside towering mountain landscapes for about two and a half hours, with a quick stop in Hope for gas and a slice of pie at my favorite road house, Home. This being my first year of attendance, I had my expectations, but put simply… it was impossible for me to be prepared for the sights to come. Once we made it into Merritt, the drive was a short ten minutes through rolling hills of golden grass until we found ourselves pulling up before a carnivalesque gate; red and white striped banners stretched tight in a preview of the decor to come. Multiple lanes brought us to the front pretty quick where we were waved through to descend into the waiting oasis.
We were pleasantly surprised to find many shade structures already constructed throughout the camping grounds, which consisted of two vast fields flanked by a long, meandering river. Peering through the trees, I could see many attendees had already taken to the fresh water on everything from air mattresses to inflatable dolphins. Once settled, it was time for us to explore.
A bridge crossed this river at the entrance to the festival grounds, instantly bringing into view a shady and relaxed cafe. At $4 for a 16oz iced coffee, I was taken by how reasonably priced the vendor items were. Even the on-site ATM gave us a good deal – a mere $3 service charge, which I contrasted with the $6 charges which robbed me all too often in Vancouver’s nightclubs. A fountain had been set up for dispensing spring water and just before the main stage came into view I spotted Sanctuary, a well-lit tipi and beacon of harm reduction, with blankets, pillows and good energy abound.
On Saturday night the Main Stage was absolutely the place to be. The Fungineers introduced us to a babe named Pizza Goddess. The Librarian was off the chain. A Tribe Called Red brought us to a whole new place with their subversive tracks, and had us talking about them for hours after. Commodo and Taal Mala explosively brought things at the Main Stage to a close, sending partiers to disperse into the other two stages.
Following the path past the main stage brought us to the magical forest village, wherein the food court came into view. Taco Justice served killer tacos while blasting some of the best tunes all weekend, with Blender Bender offering deals like $2 cold pressed juice just next door. At the Japanese Bistro you had your choice of rice bowls or tofu salad, and across from there you could find everything from ice cream cones to shrimp pad thai. Rounding the corner we encountered the first of two more incredible stages: Pirate Radio.
This stage, a nod to the pirate radio of old, was an uptempo playground surrounded by wooden structures to swing and dance on all through the night. A bouncy net was tied up in the trees for those looking to take a break from the hype. This stage was what one might imagine a jungle gym for adults would look like.
The final stage, nestled next to river between Hammock City, the Hookah Lounge and a row of endlessly talented vendors, was the unstoppable Slay Bay. Stepping underneath the canopy of taut fabric felt like stumbling into an alien nightclub. This tricked out space had otherworldly vibes like none other, as the first stage to start blasting music at around 1PM. Mat the Alien and Sweater Beats brought in huge crowds with their Saturday afternoon jams.
Connecting each area of the village was an open wood which housed an endless amount of interactive art installations, most of which incorporated creative ways to play with light. During the night time these shone out from between the trees in grand spectacles of shifting color. It was easy to get trapped in the Magical Forest, which was something straight out of Alice in Wonderland with its toadstools, miniature castle, snug blankets and outstanding visuals.
I talked to a number of returning attendees, and the general consensus was that this year’s set up had blown all previous efforts out of the water. In 2013, Bass Coast organizers were tasked with the challenge of a creating a layout at a brand new location, but entering their second summer in Merritt it sounded as though most could agree that the festival had since grown into its new space. One thing I heard over and over again was that the project had vastly improved its general infrastructure, emerging as a world-class festival which, according to many, managed to keep its vibe mature and intimate for all by capping the headcount at 4000 people.
If attendees ever made it out of the village and into the expansive campgrounds (which some didn’t, as I learned near the end), they discovered some of the most elaborate and luxurious personal campsites I’ve ever seen. Two geodesic domes provided highlights. One was dark and filled with hammocks for campers to escape into for afternoon naps. The other was bright and colorful, strung up with nets above Persian rugs and a lavishly decorated trampoline where I often made my way over to continue sleeping after waking up in my 100 degree tent. Known as Areola 51, this geodome had a bar complete with a tray on a pully to serve drinks to those relaxing in the hammocks ten feet above, accessible either by climbing up the triangular sides or taking the hanging wooden stairs.
At first I wondered how it could be worth putting so much effort into a campsite that would have to be taken down in 3 days time. What I realized soon after was that the ritual was akin to that of the radiant Eastern mandala, painstakingly drawn into the sand with great detail only to be swept away after one last fleeting glance. There’s always a moment where festival goers think to themselves, “I wish this could last forever”. This is always followed by the realization that part of the beauty is in the transience of it all, the temporary nature which allows people to let go so effortlessly and embrace change the way life forces us to.
Mutiny against fear of judgement. Mutiny against waiting until you get to know someone before telling them that they’re beautiful. Mutiny against doing anything except that which you love to do. Bass Coast Project, thank you for an experience that was completely out of this world – I’ll see you again next year.
- All pictures belong to their respective watermarks.