A Weekend at Wapiti

Author: 
Jesse Bell
In: 
Outdoors

I'm wrapped in my sleeping bag on the dewy grass beneath the stars outside the glow of street lights. There is dirt in my nose, and between my toes, and my hair is dishevelled from the day. This weekend is Wapiti Music Festival in Fernie, and though the music has stopped and the crowd dispersed, friends and I decide we aren't ready for the night to end—it has been far too good. Armed with sleeping bags, and past midnight, we bike from the festival in search of a quiet place to watch a meteor shower.

If every music festival started in the mountains, and ended with star-gazing and grassy naps, I would never do anything else.

Fernie is most notably a ski town, where mismatched houses and brick storefronts converge with glorious mountains. But there is a summery side to Fernie; coffee shops, bike trails, and mid-day river floats. There are mountain markets and patio cocktails. And now, in its seventh year, there is Wapiti Music Festival.

In January of 2012 I moved back to Fernie. By the time summer arrived I had a small collection of friends, a larger collection of new adventures, and a new appreciation for home – it hadn't really changed that much, but I had. I'd left the city, and unplugged from a busy life.

Wapiti was something I only heard whisperings of; a new weekend-long music festival in the Annex Park; the park where I would play as a kid until the streetlights came on. And so, I buy myself a ticket, and on the Friday of the festival meet friends for drinks at a backyard patio. It is a quick five-minute walk to the park.

Indie beats blend with a light breeze as I enter the festival gates; fairy lights glitter in the trees. People are scattered amongst the grass – kids wearing earmuffs, young 20-somethings speckled with stick-on jewels. It's funny how music has a way of bringing people together.

Born Ruffians, an indie-rock band, plays Little Garcon, and no sooner do they begin than I feel nostalgic. For a little mountain music festival, this moment feels big. My feet move a little, a lot, and I sway in the grass.

I grab a drink, and visit with a rowdy group of soon-to-be Fernie friends. I am happy to add Wapiti Music Festival to my list of things I have never done, and now to check it off.

The next day, following a float the river in a blow-up boat (the water is icy cold, but incredible against sun-kissed skin) we head back on our bicycles to day two of Wapiti. The park is close to nearly everywhere in town, all trails connect here. But we aren't the only ones who've decided that biking is brilliant; 100 other townie bikes with baskets, and mountain bikes are jammed between bike racks, their owners 100 feet away. The hot heat and great music have brought everyone out.

Before leaping into the beer tent I peruse the vendors; crepes, sushi, and ice cream tempt even the least hungry crowd-goers. I order a melty-cheese, gravy-smothered Cook's Cabin poutine, alongside a bubbly cold Coke. Followed by a Fernie Brewing Co. beer, and I find myself feeling a little tingly, a lot more confident.

I head to the front of the stage for Five Alarm Funk. Excited because I have never seen them live, the eight-man Vancouver-based funk band pushes me into a dancing rampage. Trumpets, saxophones, and guitars vibrate against the ground. As though the music were contagious, the crowd jumps, foot-stomps, whirls. The stars twinkle – a little magic overhead. And my heart flutters for Fernie, and Wapiti.

Much later, away from the festival and in a field in the dark, I stir in my sleeping bag. It feels good to be home. The sun lightens the sky – we fell asleep beneath the meteor shower. I wipe the dew from my face, pack up my bed, and gently nudge my friends to do the same before biking off in different directions on quiet streets.

There is dirt in my nose, and between my toes, and my hair is dishevelled, tangled, even filthy, from the night. But I can't wait for the next Wapiti.

For tickets to Wapiti, or for more information, visit Wapitimusicfestival.com.