It’s time to bring some urban culture to Kelowna, says Scott Emslie as he prepares to hang up the phone after an interview to promo Kelowna’s newest festival.
He’s calling from New York and says his company, Wet Ape Productions, is still finalizing he lineup for Kelowna’s fifth Centre of Gravity festival, though it’s also just announced a whole new venture, the Keloha Festival. This new music-focused weekend will create a beach-themed paradise with light, largely indie pop artistry on the shores of Lake Okanagan.
“It’s a really busy time,” he says in a tired voice.
Aside from the Centre of Gravity, Wet Ape is responsible for internationally renown DJs DeadMau5 and Tiesto visiting this small Interior city and has established a solid reputation for its shows. This new venture dances with an entirely new look, though, and it is admittedly a step outside the box for Emslie and his crew.
“This is the festival for true music fans,” he explained. “This is the music I listen to and that most of my staff listen to.”
The staff portion is critical. Growing to a management team of 50 people, with a few hundred crew, in peak season, Emslie was originally looking to expand the Centre of Gravity to other cities in order to keep everyone in the machine employed. Unfortunately, plans to try their usual formula in Ontario fell through and, when they started looking at other options, the indie scene seemed like a prime opportunity.
In roughly 100 days they’ll unveil this unusual vision, which takes the quasi-hipster, light indie crowd and introduces them to an artsy tropical getaway.
The event was originally to be called Islandia, building on a vision of concert-goers crossing into a tropical island paradise as they walked across the bridge in the city’s Waterfront Park into the festival zone; however, as Victoria’s Rifflandia Festival targets roughly the same audience only a few months later, Wet Ape kiboshed the branding, though several months in, and went with a Hawaiian theme.
To say the least, the infamous Rhapsody statue, a tower of white fiberglass dolphins placed at the park’s entrance, will finally have found a niche in Keloha. Establishing Wet Ape in this new pocket of the music industry, apparently, wasn’t as natural a fit.
“We’ve booked really big artists before, but we didn’t have these contacts. So we had to just go out and show who we’ve worked with and what we’ve done and come at it that way,” said Emslie.
It didn’t take long for California’s Cold War Kids and Awolnation to sign on as headliners bringing in interest from other acts. As of Wednesday, when U.K. artists The Joy Formidable added their name to the list, the lineup was brimming with the type of indie fare that Canadian music fans have flocked to of late; every hour of the weekend is booked with populous acts that should appeal to a wide audience.
Dubbed the new Creedance Clearwater Revival, The Sheepdogs, who beat out a raft of indie acts to get a Rolling Stone cover shot last year, are on the bill. Listed for the same day, CBC super-fave Dan Mangan and East Vancouver’s internationally-flavoured party band The Boom Booms will also be joining the action. And local hits We Are the City, who won the first Peak Performance Project, will play Friday night with Tokyo Police Club.
The rise of independent music in general is well documented with iTunes leading the way to a new musical diaspora centered on musicians and downloading fans rather than music mega-companies and big labels. But Kelowna itself is also primed for this sort of festival, having just hosted BreakOut West and the Western Canadian Music Awards. Restaurants, coffee shops and local pubs are all starting to jump on the live music beat with establishments like the Streaming Café filling to the brim Fridays and Saturdays as new artists take their crack at performing for a live audience in the coffee shop and simultaneously on the Web. The concerts are streamed over the Internet.
The café will be expanding, as is Doc Willoughby’s Pub, to accommodate this new hunger for live, independent musicians. From Fernandos Taqueria to The Minstrel Café, some restaurants are even securing a space on the food scene with their indie fare.
But will this fly as a beach festival?
“It’s a bit of a leap of faith for us,” Emslie admits, though he’s pretty clear it’s calculated.
Volleyfest, which became Centre of Gravity, started with just a few thousand people and sold out at 24,000 by it’s fourth year (2011).
Some 15,000 tickets will be sold to Keloha, which will include a visual arts component as well.
The Wet Ape staff are just assembling the Art Avenue, an area with local art installations and musical instruments for kids to try.
Ticket sales begin this Saturday, March 24 with a three-day pass going for $89.50 and one-day at $39.50.
Artists include Awolnation, Cold War Kids, Tokyo Police Club, The Sheepdogs, Dan Mangan, The Limousines, Said the Whale, Shout Out Out Out Out, The Dudes, USS, Jon &Roy, Daniel Wesley, Hey Ocean, Dirty Radio, We Are the City, The Pack A.D., Michael Bernard Firzgerald, Devon Coyote, Acres of Lions, Thomas Kkjorven, and Aaron Nazrul and The Boom Booms.
The festival runs July 6-8; tickets available through the online.