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I first met Kevin McIsaac through the Taste of Fernie. At the time I wasn’t aware of the level of his involvement, but it dawned on me as the event grew and evolved just how much he and his cohort of volunteers (and friends) invested into this event year after year. From vendors to beer gardens to an impressive music line up to the infamous BBQ Cook Off (which became an event in itself), the Taste of Fernie was a community event that a wide spectrum of residents and visitors enjoyed immensely.
Unfortunately when Kevin felt ready to retire his Taste of Fernie hat, there was no one to put it on. Fortunately, he had other plans brewing. At Freshies over coffee, Kevin would often discuss his ideas for a Fernie music festival, and it was obvious that he had put some genuine thought and time into it. From choosing a venue, a name and type of music, we knew that Fernie was in store for yet another great community event.
So how did a computer programmer become so passionate about community, music and the arts? Just after he moved to Fernie full time, Kevin took a writing course at the College of the Rockies with Angie Abdou. “I basically had spent the last 20 years writing for computers and thought I would try something humans could read. It kicked off an interest in arts, and I’ve always loved music, but was never involved, as I was always so busy,” he remembers.
He became a board member of The Arts Station, which led to his work with the Taste of Fernie left. With this experience, a history of successful music festivals in Fernie (The Gathering at Island Lake, Rocky Mountain Music Revival at Fernie Alpine Resort, and Fernie Fest), and a committee of individuals with a solid repertoire, Kevin was confident in a music festival’s success.
“The existence of those festivals prior and the amount of interest in them made me believe there was enough interest here. It was just about getting the details right. It had to be the kind of festival that a bunch of people in the Elk Valley would be interested in – kids and parents and grandparents. We had to pick a style and get the logistics right.”
Wapiti was born, and the decision was to go with an Indie theme. “It gave us a lot of room. We wanted to have the opportunity to pick from a wide spectrum of music. Music that could be listened to by the whole family and enjoyed with dancing and what not,” he says. They also focused on Canadian Indie because they know how difficult it can be for young bands to find big venues, “We thought we’re going to be a small festival we should try to create opportunities for them and create opportunities for people to see these bands before they get big. Like Shred Kelly – they’re on their way up,” he adds.
Kevin admits that Wapiti was always intended to be a smaller festival, growing slowly and conservatively, always cognizant of the impact it had on the neighbourhood, as the festival site is located in the Annex Park. “Our plan is to add a few hundred each year and if we feel it’s starting to get congested we’ll know it’s done growing. It was not our goal to create a giant festival. It was our goal to give people in Fernie a great festival, and tourists just another reason to come to Fernie,” Kevin says.
And Wapiti is definitely another reason to come to Fernie! When we sat for this interview, the majority of tickets were purchased from out of town, while all of us are planning on going! With only 1500 tickets available, I know I’m not leaving it to the Fernie “last minute” standard. I hope to see you there.
I would have to say 1998 – Lori, my spouse, brought me here. She came here to do a locum.
2. Where did you first live in Fernie? In the Annex.
3. What was your first impression? That the train was really loud, because Lori had rented this house at 13th St and 1st Ave – right at the train whistle. I was just here on weekends and it was frickin’ loud. We were going to buy a rental property, Lori informed me we were buying a house.
4. What keeps you in Fernie? Gravity? I would say the people and the climate.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? Lots of them. There’s almost too many. One of my favourite though is the Barney Bentall concert in the pouring rain at the Taste of Fernie. My first council memory was pretty memorable. That’s one of the reasons I stay here – you get as much out of community as you put in.
6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? I would say the fall, the weather is very pleasant, the valley is beautiful, fishing is great. I like the shoulder season… when the town breathes the sigh of relief after a busy summer, and everyone is anticipating winter.
7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? That’s a pretty short time frame. I expect to see most of the trends that have begun to continue. We’ll continue to see second home owners buying in Fernie, we’ll continue to see a lot of new young families starting up that will be really challenged to find accommodation to live in. Increased tourism, increased interest in semi-retired people. We have a much more active population of 50- to 60-year-olds looking for places to live and play, as well as the 30-year-olds. I would like to see stabilization in housing pricing to make it more predictable. And we’ll continue to see more active and cultural events in and around Fernie. I could go on for a novel.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Coffee and walking the dogs.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. My life’s an open book, there’s not too much surprising. I used to be a truck driver, and a meat cutter and a pipe fitter before I went back to school to study computers (amongst a whole bunch of other jobs).
10. Quote to live by: "I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food." - W. C. Fields