East Meets West: Summer of Festivals Series- Bass Coast Volume 1

I’d never festival’d before. Yes, festival IS a verb. Sure I’d sang “Ziggy Zaggy Oi OiOi” in Kitchener at Oktoberfest. I’malso told I had a great time at George Street Fest. (I would like to take this moment to offer thanks to Dionysus, the god of madness and pleasure that a) I survived  b) no smart phones were around when I was having plastic cup after plastic cup of Lamb’s, rum because I have no doubt in my mind that I was the farthest thing from picture perfect.)

The Summer of 2018 found me changing the tides; in two months I found myself at three music festivals. Each with their own personality. I present to you, part one of Bass Coast:


“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high there's a land that I've heard of once in a lullaby”

I’d heard nothing but good things about Bass Coast. The look that people get in their eye, the swoon that takes over them before they utter the official motto “take me to Bass Coast”, it’s visceral. The memories of those golden summer days encompass them. “Steens, you’ve got to get your ticket!” my rad yoga teacher/DJ pal prompted me way back in October 2017. I trusted my girl. I wanted golden summer days of reveling and I would have them. Fast forward to July 2018, it was finally time for this Alice to go to Wonderland.

Hold the phone; what IS Bass Coast? Billed as an “independent international exhibition of electronic music and art”, Bass Coast is the brainchild of artists Andrea Graham and Liz Thomson. The ethos of the festival includes community, open-mindedness, harm reduction, and RESPECT. Most significantly, respect for Indigenous people, their culture and land, as a result since 2014, war bonnets have been banned from the festival and festival goers are challenged to educate themselves and take responsibility for the particular items they wear, and the reasoning behind it as costumes are dress up and play are such huge components of Bass Coast.

Art is expressed in the dozens of installations set around the grounds, but also in the workshops to energize the brain and body. Workshop topics have covered the gauntlet of Ayurveda, Harm Reduction, and “Event Consent Culture in the #metoo Era”, for the brain. The body is energized through Twerk shops, various incarnations of yoga, such a heavy influence on alignment, activating one's chakras, or partner work through Thai Massage and Acroyoga.

 Each year, the festival has a theme, which indicates how the stage will be decorated as well as helping to influence your costume choice. Past themes have been “Mutiny”, “Space”, and “Gold”. The theme of Bass Coast 2018 was“Prism”. Brilliant. Raise your hands if you were captivated as a kid by sunshine filtering through pieces of clear glass as it burst into a glorious rainbow of light. This is Bass Coast, the invitation to be supercharged and shine all the essence and share the various hues of yourself.

Even the drive itself to Bass Coast was steeped in good vibrations; BC in the summer is glorious. It’s even better when you have a view of the mountains and flanked by trees bombing down the highway in a green ’74 VW bus named Sparky blasting tunes while waving and smiling to traffic with your homegirl (hey Britt!).

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The first few years of the festival took place in beautiful Squamish (about an hour from Vancouver), but success found the numbers swelling and in need of a new venue. In 2013, Merritt BC, a three hour-ish drive northeast of VanCity became the new home. The town itself has a population of just over 7000 and features murals of country stars everywhere. The juxtaposition of “yeehaw” vs rave culture made me giggle.

The grounds for the festival are beautiful. A hilly field leads to a lone tree that marks a road, which descends to the valley where revelers set up their camps.  This year boasted numbers of 5,500 (almost the entire population of Merritt), including performers and volunteers. A freshwater river (where salmon actually spawn), bisects camping from the festival playground. And oh what lay just beyond that river…

It was a 20-minute walk or so from my campsite to the main entrance. A walk filled with tightly parked cars and tents, numerous hippy vans and busses, steamers, lights, biodegradable glitter, and so much laughter. A giant electronic rainbow entices you to cross a bridge over that freshwater river, a bridge to enter Bass Coast. Joyful Bacchantes: start your engines.

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Upon entering the grounds, the first thing I noticed was a giant moon. A 3D sphere so large it would take multiple people to encircle. There was a roller rink with silver streamers fluttering the breeze. An assortment of food trucks bursting with delicious nourishing food; buckwheat pancakes, Thai food, organic salads and smoothies and of course really boss pizza and burgers.  

This all occurred in the first of the two festival sections. This portion of the valley featured a wide space surrounded by mountains and was home to two of the four stages including the Cantina, which is excellent for dancing during the day and features alcoholic beverages. Then there is the main stage, the sweeping front-runner stage where the evening’ headliners play featuring insane lights again more streamers that all make the madness seem somehow, intimate. Additionally, there’s also a practice studio where yoga and workshops take place, which reminded me of the best day in gym class where you got to play with the giant parachute and held the parachute about your head only to run under the inflated mushroom you created.

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The second portion of the venue and my favourite is the Forest. Live mural installations, dozens of vendors, beautiful tall trees, two stages and all the art. Radio Stage resembles a pirate ship and tree houses, home to Bass Coast Radio, which broadcasts live for the duration of the festival and features a fuzzier version of Astroturf as many of the aforementioned workshops, yoga classes are held there. The farthest edge of the tree, beside the river, which you can drift down on your pineapple or unicorn floaty is the stage Slay Bay. Winding through the trees is the art, giant drippy glowing mushrooms, and an old time-y cash register; a much-beloved staple, which only opens when you hit the right sequence. A tower with skulls and lush fabrics that would make Merlin feel right at home.

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I’m barely scratching the surface of all the innovative and dreamy-thought provoking pieces that were there. Everything pulsed and glowed. The art seeped into the people which undulated back into the creativity and burst into the sky, and it was all informed with that ever-present throb of the bass; the music…

*Summer of Festivals Series- Bass Coast Volume 2 will be availble next week.*