The Atlin Music Festival may have moved into the town’s old morgue, but the event is still very much alive.
It needs to be noted that, before the move happened, volunteers did a bit of redecorating.
The tiny storefront, which had last been used as an addictions and counselling office, had been empty for a couple years.
But before that, undertaker Edward Pillman used to gussy up corpses there and hawk groceries from the same hearse he transported dead people in.
Now the morgue’s lively new tenants have painted a formerly drab fence candy-colour shades of green, pink and yellow. And art bursts out the front window.
Sitting back in a chair made from bent pieces of willow, Atlin Arts and Music Festival organizer Rick Newberry looks comfortable in his new digs.
The new headquarters is the only physical presence the festival has had in Atlin this summer.
“We took a break for awhile, but we’re still alive,” said Newberry.
Festivalgoers feared the worst when organizers decided not to host the popular arts and music event this year.
But the organizers weren’t considering pulling the plug on the festival forever. They were simply taking a rest.
“The festival has grown to the point where it’s full-time work year-round,” said Newberry.
“Each year it just got more and more demanding.”
Newberry spent the summer re-grouping and planning for next year. He also went fishing.
“I’m having the time of my life this summer,” he said.
“Usually leading up to
the festival I’m just focusing on planning and then afterwards I’m so exhausted I can’t do anything – it takes months to recoup.”
Volunteer burnout was becoming unavoidable. The 400-person town only had so many people to shoulder the weight of the festival, said Newberry.
The organizers decided it was time to hire a year-round producer.
They started looking at how other similar-sized festivals were run and that’s when the group realized they were asking too little for the price of the ticket, said Newberry.
For an $80 weekend pass, last year’s festivalgoers could gorge themselves on 18 musical acts, 17 different visual artists and six movies.
“People were telling us that for what we do we were giving the festival away,” said Newberry.
Volunteers were also given handsome honoraria of up to $1,500. When told about the idea to hire a full-time producer, all the volunteers offered to have their honoraria cut in exchange for flling that position.
Atlin residents have always been extremely supportive of the festival, said Newberry.
Part of that is because it continues to have such a good reputation.
The festival, which floods the tiny town with more than 2,000 people every June, has never had any serious crimes or hard arrests to deal with, said Newberry.
Artists love playing the festival and tourists who by chance end up there, keep coming back, he said.
He’s met a couple from Victoria who stumbled across the festival a few years ago and have returned every year since then.
Newberry’s own introduction to Atlin happened to be serendipitous.
While surfing the internet with his wife from their home in Michigan, they came upon a photograph of Atlin.
That picture was all it took to convince them that they needed to visit.
When they finally made it up to Atlin, they rented a houseboat for a week and fell in love with the town. The following year, they quit their jobs and toured North America in a travel trailer. Their last stop was Atlin.
They wanted to stay into the fall, but couldn’t find work to keep them there.
The day they were supposed to head back to Michigan, Newberry came across a job posting in the grocery store for a community counsellor.
“I couldn’t have written my own job posting better,” he said.
“We got our wish – I applied and got the job.”
When the couple settled into Atlin they realized the town would be perfect to stage a festival in.
Newberry had co-ordinated festivals in Michigan and was a big music lover.
When he spread the idea around town, people jumped on it.
Seven years later, that interest has grown exponentially.
Now, the festival is able to support a year-round headquarters which doubles as an art and music store on the weekends.
Handcrafted pottery, quilts and furniture beckon from inside the store.
Festival posters and merchandise hang on the walls and the back table features stacks of CDs from past performers.
Three weekends ago, a group of fiddlers spontaneously started playing music there.
It’s lots of action for a festival that didn’t actually see any musicians travelling to Atlin this summer to play.
It just goes to show that there is still lots happening with the Arts and Music Festival lately, said Newberry.
“The festival isn’t gone; we’re not dead.”
Contact Vivian Belik at