The view out Kirsten Andrews' living room window in Valleycliffe could be an advertisement for Squamish — the floor to ceiling glass reflects on the entire Stawamus Chief with Howe Sound glistening in the far corner of the window frame.
On the day The Chief visited, Andrews was in the middle of packing for a move to her new home downtown, so items of her life were stacked here and there, waiting to be transported to their new beginning.
Like for the town outside her window, much is happening for Andrews these days.
In addition to the move and being the mom of two active teen daughters, she is in the midst of preparing for the inaugural Squamish Constellation Music Festival, which takes to Hendrickson Field July 26 to 28.
The Chief sat down with Andrews on her comfy lime-green couch, with mason jars of water to sip — her cups were packed for the move — for a chat about her journey to Squamish, music and planning the festival.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: Obviously, our readers know you from when you worked at The Chief as a journalist. How is it to be on the other side as an organizer of the Squamish Constellation Festival, and talking to the media?
A: It is interesting. I have always put people in front of the microphone. Fortunately, one of my partners, Tamara Stanners, is a broadcaster and is happy to take that role out front. So, for the most part, I don't have to do it that much.
Q: You are originally from Winnipeg, how did you end up in Squamish?
A: I left Winnipeg in 2001 and went to Vancouver and started up a publicity, marketing and artist management company with Sam Feldman, who does a lot in that world. We had that company for seven years. Then, when I was expecting my first child, [my then-husband and I] were renovicted — it was everything everyone in Squamish has been going through in the last few years. We moved here because we wanted to buy something. Having a house versus having a condo with a den with no windows was an easy choice.
Squamish was almost like it was a gut choice. I didn't have the intention of living in a smaller town. I didn't want to commute, so I was changing my life completely. Now, I just can't imagine being anywhere else. I love it.
Q: Back up and tell me how you got into the music industry to start with?
A: That was in Winnipeg. I was working in journalism at a daily newspaper and it was really at the beginning of all the media layoffs, in 1996. I was given the option of going to half time or leaving, so I left. I started working for Paquin Entertainment doing publicity for them, then artist management, then I got into bigger aspects of the company. It was a natural progression. My partner at the time was a musician and I had been working in and around musicians since I was 17 years old. Music and live music, in particular, has always been a huge part of my life.
Q: Were your parents really musical?
A: Yes. My mom was a professional singer at one point, and an actor. My dad used to say the only thing he could play was the radio, but he was an audiophile and has beautiful, high-quality stereo stuff. He is now well into his 70s and still introduces me to new artists. He's one of the people I look to who organically gives me new stuff to listen to.
Q: You go to a ton of live concerts and festivals and always have. This is an unfair question that I will ask anyway, what really stands out about a concert or festival you have been to?
A: It is the smaller shows, definitely. Like seeing The Tragically Hip on the band’s first and second tours, when it was like, "Holy, these guys have some magic." Those are the moments that stand out. I saw Adele at The Red Room in Vancouver with maybe 60 people. You can instantly see that they have it and there is magic there.
Q: And now you are planning the Squamish Constellation Festival. What is something that people maybe don't realize about planning something like this?
A: The commitment, resolve and the amount of time it takes are huge. The four of us worked on it for free for an entire year before we started earning a bit of a salary to keep us going. It is from our hearts. We are really building this for the community because we feel so strongly about it.
It is not going to meet everybody's goals in terms of artists they want to see, but it is something we want to offer the community. The Squamish Valley Music Festival was a huge experience and it had a big impact — both good and bad. By and large, it was one of the most memorable moments of our summers. So we want to bring the magic back on a much smaller scale. We want it to be the cornerstone of people's summers — music and fun under the sun and the stars here, in Squamish.
Q: What is the toughest challenge of planning this festival?
A: My area is talent buying and we have had ups and downs with that. You think you are going to go one way with an artist and then having it not work out. That has personally been one of my challenges. On the logistics side, because we are on District land there is a lot of bureaucracy and making sure we are ticking all the boxes. That takes a long time, working out the details. It is all time and perseverance and making sure everyone is happy with how it is going to work out.
We’re just going to leave this here: “@hellobegonia has one of Canada’s most extraordinary voices, and thankfully she uses it to obliterate the misery from this world one live performance at a time. Begonia is the place where synth-pop meets old soul and scrappy meets sexy." Thanks NPR Music for summing the magic that is @hellobegonia up so perfectly 🙌🏼 Catch her Sunday, July 28 at Squamish Constellation Festival 🌈🌙 #constellationfest ___________________________________ #begonia #beats #creativebc #manitobamusic #manitobafilmandmusic #musicfestival #summerfestival #pastellife #indiemusic #alternative #nprmusic #canadianmusic #canadianartist #supportlocalmusic #squamish #britishcolumbia #dance #festivallife #festivals
Q: What are you most looking forward to when the festival begins?
A: My main goal for that is just to be present to it. To take it in and not be working through it and so focused on work that I am not appreciating what is going on around us.
I think of the moment when I am standing from the side of the stage and seeing the artists and the audience taking it in, too.
I love all the artists we have programmed. I truly feel that some of my favourites are really early on in the day because they are amazing and they need to be seen by more people. Begonia, for example, is brilliant. This is her new solo thing. She has amazing vocal capacity and she is vulnerable and is so easy to connect with. I just hope people are there to see all the artists, not just the headliners.
I also hope people take in everything else the festival has to offer. There's so much art that we have planned. There are interactive art and people doing live-art — big murals. There are amazing vendors and local craft breweries, and cideries.
I am very excited we have a site-wide liquor license. Personally, I think it is going to allow for more of a relaxed atmosphere where people can just hang out at their blanket and have a glass of wine or beer. Rather than having everyone clustered into a big [beer] garden of mayhem.
Q: You take your girls to a lot of live concerts and festivals. Why was the family-friendly aspect of this Squamish festival so important to you?
A: Because music is a life-long thing. Introducing children to live music is important. There's an energy exchange when you are there with the musicians who are creating music in front of you, for you, live and in person. The opportunity to be up close with the artists creates a dynamic element — they need an audience for their art and what you get as an audience member, in your soul, is inexplicable: to be there and dance or sway. To have that in your life from a young age is critical.
Q: What else do you want people to know about the festival?
A: I encourage people to have an open mind. Music is a really personal thing and I feel like festivals are one of the best ways to introduce yourself to new artists. I look at the festival weekend as a time to fill your gas tank. As we go through summer we have these experiences to fill us up before we go into that dark winter when we need something to draw upon. These are the moments I draw upon, for sure. Come for the whole thing.
For more on the festival, go to www.constellationfest.ca/.