By Keith Lacey
The two best friends who started the Ponderosa Arts & Music Festival simply can’t believe the festival is ready to celebrate its fifth anniversary in a couple of weeks.
Kris Hargrave and Kia Zahrabi thought about putting together their own music and arts festival back in 2012 after Zahrabi’s parents allowed them to throw a weekend party for family members and friends on Zahrabi’s family farm in Oliver.
They spent months looking for a site and settled on the Rock Creek Fairgrounds site adjacent to the gorgeous Kettle River. Zahrabi and Hargrave, who have both called Vancouver home for many years, are both looking forward to returning to Rock Creek in a couple of weeks. While the 2017 festival – which will run from Friday, Aug. 18 to Sunday, Aug. 20 – will mark year five, it will only be the fourth festival as Hargrave and Zahrabi were forced to cancel the 2015 event after wildfires raged out of control in the Rock Creek area, destroying dozens of homes and structures.
As they originally planned before the first festival in 2013, slow and steady growth has happened and this year’s festival promises to be the best yet, said Hargrave.
“If you had asked me when we started this if we would be happy with where we are going into year five, I would say, yes,” said Hargrave. “It was tough having to cancel back in 2015 only a couple of days before the festival was set to begin, but we really had no choice, but we bounced back nicely with a great festival last year and I’m really happy with what we’ve put together this year.” Zahrabi agrees. “You really don’t know if you will see year five when you first begin a small festival like this, but the bottom line is we’re here at year five and we’re both really happy with how things have come along,” he said. “The best news is the core of our audience is the same people who keep coming back year after year because they have such a great time. They bring along their friends and those friends start coming back every year. That’s the biggest reason the festival continues to grow.”
While there is organizational and financial stress in organizing a festival that should host more than 2,000 music fans over the course of three days, Zahrabi and Hargrave agree their friendship has only grown since staging the first Ponderosa festival back in 2013.
“We’re both kind of chill guys and we’ve always gotten along really well and we still do,” said Zahrabi. “There is a lot of stress and anxiety, but we know each other so well that we don’t let any of that stuff effect our friendship. “I’d say putting together Ponderosa has made our friendship even stronger.”
The setting on the Kettle River is majestic and a large percentage of festival visitors spend some time floating down the river over the course of the festival, said Hargrave. The vast majority also opt for the camping option, meaning they don’t have to leave the area for the entire three days once they arrive in Rock Creek, he said.
“Having the festival right beside the Kettle River is definitely one of our biggest assets,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting.” Zahrabi pointed out Ponderosa is “family friendly” and a lot of parents are bringing their young kids to enjoy the music, scenery and friendly atmosphere that defines this festival.
This year’s lineup of musical talent is arguably the best yet with headliners including psychedelic New York rockers Psychic Ills on Friday night, electronic rockers Austra on Saturday night and acclaimed Montreal alternative rockers Wolf Parade wrapping up the festival Sunday night.
This will be the only B.C. appearance for Wolf Parade, who will be the opening act for over a month for Canadian rock superstars Arcade Fire during a world tour that starts in early September, said Hargrave.
“To get a band of that caliber to our little festival is pretty amazing,” he said. A new feature this year will be a VIP Friendship Tour that will shuttle dozens of people from Vancouver to Rock Creek.
The bus will stop at the Dubh Glas Distillery just north of Oliver on Friday afternoon, before another stop at the Firehall Brewery in Oliver on their way to Rock Creek. More than 30 patrons from Vancouver have signed up for this package at just under $600, which includes VIP tickets for the entire weekend, full camping and transportation to and from Vancouver.
The most popular Tier II weekend ticket packages are selling for $179 and include three nights of camping and access to more than 20 bands and performers throughout the weekend. About one-third of festival goers come from the Lower Mainland, about one third from the Kootenay region and several hundred from Alberta and parts of Washington State, Oregon and California, said Hargrave. They would like to see more people from the Okanagan attend.
“We get our fair share from Osoyoos, Oliver and Penticton, but we’re trying to spread the word to get people from across the Okanagan,” he said. “We think we have put together a pretty special little summer festival and we’ve always known that if they come once, most will come back again.”
For tickets or more information about the 2017 festival, visit www.ponderosafestival.com.