Ponderosa Arts & Music Festival is an annual arts and music extravaganza that takes place in Rock Creek, BC (about 2 hours from Kelowna). The 3-day fest was created by Kris Hargrave and Kia Zahrabi. Back for its third year, 2015’s edition of Ponderosa takes place from August 21st to 23rd.
Ahead of this year’s fest, I put some questions to Ponderosa’s founders...
Vincent Jones) How did Ponderosa Arts & Music Festival get started? Did you have any previous music booking/festival organizing experience before you started the fest?
Kia Zahrabi) The first talks of the festival took place back in the summer of 2012. I hosted a weekend camping party at my dad's orchard in Oliver and we had a solid crew of friends that came in from Vancouver (where both Kris and I live), Calgary, Montreal, Kelowna and from parts of the South Okanagan, where we both spent time growing up. I rented a couple outhouses, built a couple showers connected to my dad's groundwater well, and got a couple kegs from our buddy Sid at Firehall Brewery in Oliver. [I] also rented some speakers from Long & McQuade, built a very modest wooden stage/platform and had a few friends DJ'ing. We had around 70 people camping over the weekend waking up to fresh, juicy peaches right off the tree. Needless to say, people had a great time and were raving about the weekend.
Kris and I started talking about the festival around this time... Kris grew up on a farm in Bridesville (between Osoyoos and Rock Creek) and he had suggested it as a potential location for hosting the party. We ended up having the party at my dad's farm but it lead to more talks about putting on another party, one we were planning to take to the next level.
Kris' ties with Bridesville and Rock Creek are what brought us to the site. We both have a love for music, and also had a desire to bring more friends out to experience this beautiful part of BC We both also have friends in Vancouver that are in bands and thought it would be a sweet idea to get them involved. Matt Lyall from Gold & Youth, Tristan Orchard of BESTiE and Brandon Scott of Yukon Blonde were some of the ones that we started speaking with early on. Matty was actually one of the first guys we met with to talk about our idea of starting a festival.
The next thing you know we secure the fairgrounds in Rock Creek and we're calling agents to start booking our lineup. All with little to no prior booking/festival planning experience. The only thing is that although Ponderosa is a full-on arts and music festival, to us it feels like a big outdoor house party. Our focus has always been on maintaining an intimate and personal environment...
Check out the Ponderosa 2015 promo video:
VJ) This is your third year running Ponderosa, what's the biggest thing you've learned from organizing the festival?
KZ) We've learned more than a few things these past three years: website design (our first site was amateur at best), graphic design, marketing, booking, branding, writing press releases... one skill that we have strengthened in the process though is building relationships. We've been fortunate enough to meet some great people in the industry and have always made sure to treat people with respect. I think that's something that people (festival-goers and bands alike) feel when they come to Ponderosa. So to answer your question in an indirect way, I would say that the biggest thing we've gained from Ponderosa is developing all these amazing relationships.
VJ) For people who have never been to Ponderosa before, how would you describe it - what's your elevator pitch? What makes Ponderosa different from all the other festivals out there?
KZ) I think I've been alluding to it in previous responses, but simply put, it's the vibe that separates us from the rest. As hippie-esque as this may sound, the vibe that is created at Ponderosa is truly unique and infectious.
By no means am I downplaying or minimizing the talent that we bring out to Ponderosa. The music, the site, the other artists, local vendors and artisans... they all contribute to creating that vibe. No matter how much I try to explain this to people though, they will never truly understand it until they come and experience the festival firsthand. We're working hard to create a sense of community that will encourage people to come back year after year.
Backstage at Ponderosa (photo cred: @ponderosafest)
VJ) I imagine the process of organizing and booking Ponderosa is fun, but rather long, can you tell us roughly how much time goes into it? When did the planning for this year's edition of the fest start?
Kris Hargrave) It has been such an amazing process full of highs, lows, sacrifices and successes. Kia and I both work full time non-Ponderosa related jobs so our free time has literally vanished. To be honest the last three years have all sort of blurred into one big Ponderosa roller coaster; and it doesn't really stop. There is definitely a slower period over the winter months but we have found we use this time to update logos and files, make changes to the website, even meet with agents to talk about bands for the next year! And to add to it this year, we organized a jean shorts themed lineup launch party in Vancouver and are planning on attending events almost every weekend from now until Ponderosa to promote, including Sled Island in Calgary and Khatsahlano fest in Vancouver.
The face of the festival scene has dramatically changed in the Okanagan in the last few years and we want to get people excited about a different kind of music festival experience happening right in their backyard. We are super passionate about Ponderosa and all the positive feedback we have received really motivates us to push on. Our goal is for Ponderosa to grow into a summer event that is eagerly anticipated year after year.
VJ) Out of all the acts that you've got coming out to this year's fest, who are you personally most looking forward to seeing?
KZ) Hard to say because we hand select each and every one of these bands. Man, I know this is a lame answer, but I'm really excited for all of them. The tough part with organizing is that we don't always get a chance to check out all the acts. In my opinion though, a good host should always be making sure that his/her guests are well taken care of and that they are having a great time. It might sound like we don't get to enjoy the festival, but the thing that we get a kick out of is when we have people coming up to us saying, "Man, that last band was amazing!" or "Dude, thanks, this was one of the best weekends of my life" (we had a couple of those comments last year). That's what it's really all about.
Get the scoop on the lineup for Ponderosa 2015 here:
VJ) If funds were no issue, who would be your dream headliner for Ponderosa?
KH) Oh, an easy one. I'd line up Chris Cornell for Friday, Modest Mouse headlining the Saturday and Neil Young for Sunday. And maybe add a surprise appearance by Keith Richards! Oh wait I keep forgetting, I would have to squeeze Michael McDonald in there too. Maybe Ponderosa 2016?
VJ) For acts who would like to be considered for next year’s fest, what’s the application process?
KH) The Ponderosa lineup is fully curated by Kia and I. We have discovered bands in all sorts of unique ways. We have a pretty clear idea of what we are trying to accomplish and are looking for something specific for each time slot. A lot of time is put into how the music for the entire weekend will flow together from start to finish. There may be a band we would like to book but it just doesn't quite have a fit so we add it to next year's list!
This year we received a record amount of email applications which was very exciting for us. In response we created a submissions page on our website where bands could post their videos and music. It is our hope that other event organizers and venues can also use this listing to discover and book local bands for their own shows. There is also a rumour floating around that a contest is going to be held in the coming months and three bands from that submissions page are going to have a chance to win the last slot available at Ponderosa...
VJ) What are you passionate about outside of music?
KZ) I'm a civil engineer by trade. That's what I studied at school and I guess you could say that I am really passionate about the environment and about people. I work on a variety of projects to do with providing services that the general public takes for granted, like clean drinking water and treatment of wastewater before it gets discharged to our rivers and oceans. But one part of my work that I really enjoy is once again building those solid relationships with clients. Similar to putting on a great event, it's really gratifying to help someone with getting an important problem solved and helping them build their communities.
VJ: Are you both musicians yourselves?
KH) If dashboard drumming and shower singing count, we are rock stars! I fumble with a guitar but Kia's rap covers of Dr. Dre's early albums are almost better than the original recordings! Fortunately for all, none of these music endeavours will be showcased on a stage at Ponderosa.
KZ) Not yet anyway...
Festival founders: Kris Hargrave (L) and Kia Zahrabi (photo cred: @ponderosafest)
VJ: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
KZ) I'd also like to add that we love Rock Creek and the people of Rock Creek. We were lucky enough to connect with them and to be welcomed back to host our third annual event at the fairgrounds. We've always said that we need to maintain a healthy relationship with the people of Rock Creek in order for this event to be a success. Kris' roots to the community is what brought us to this beautiful part of BC and we've been working hard to contribute and to help grow with the community, at a pace that they are happy with. We want Ponderosa to grow into a niche, intimate festival, and not for the reason to show off, be exclusive, and to sell overpriced tickets. We want to attract people that truly love music and all other forms of art and to show them that there's an alternative to the popular types of festivals that are pumping us full of irrelevant corporate advertising, making us wait in long lineups, charging us through the teeth, and not really caring about whether or not we have a good time. Basically, we have the view of creating a kick-ass independent festival that emits nothing but goodness, and we feel like this is a rare find nowadays.
You can find Ponderosa Arts & Music Festival online via the fest’s official website.