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Uptown Live street festival returning to New West this summer

"It’s almost like attending an outdoor event is a symbol that life has returned to normal.”
Uptown Live 2019
Uptown Live (seen here in 2019) was first held in 2012. It's returning to New Westminster this July after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus.

Good tunes, interactive activities and a chance to be a rock star – those are just some of the things you’ll be able to enjoy at this year’s Uptown Live.

After a two-year hiatus, this summer’s free summer street festival in New West will feature performances on three stages, an artisan market with more than 50 vendors, 30 food trucks, three licensed areas around the entertainment stages and interactive activities.

It’s taking place in the uptown business district around Sixth and Sixth on Saturday, July 16 from noon to 9 p.m.

“It’s going to be bigger and better than ever,” said Douglas Smith, managing partner of the Blue Coast Event Group. “We have had so much response that it looks like we are going to expand the footprint.”

Bands, food truck operators, artisans and sponsors are “incredibly excited” to see the return of events like Uptown Live, Smith said.

“There is no doubt that the response has been incredible,” he said. “People are very enthusiastic about getting back out and celebrating. I think they feel safe now in celebrating in an outdoor environment, maybe not so much indoors, but certainly outdoors. I think there is an anxiousness just to have fun and to be entertained, and to feel that life is back to normal. It’s almost like attending an outdoor event is a symbol that life has returned to normal.”

Past Uptown Live performers have included The Zolas, Hey Ocean, Daniel Westley and the Boom Booms.

“We spend a lot of time with the curation of the music on all of the stages,” Smith told the Record. “I think Uptown Live has gained a reputation as a music event that really showcases the best of the B.C. music scene. We have uncovered artists over the years that have gone on to really establish themselves in the industry.”

This year’s event will feature entertainment on three stages – including a new stage at Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue, which will feature urban R&B artists. The main stage, which will be located at Sixth Avenue and Fifth Street, will highlight indie-type bands. An electronic stage, focusing on DJs and electronic music, will be set up at Seventh and Belmont streets.

“If they are young or old, it doesn’t matter; they are going to get to be able to see some really good music and they are going to be entertained, and it’s going to be a really good experience,” Smith said. “That’s really what we are trying to achieve.”

Organizers are finalizing the final contracts with performers and will soon be announcing this year’s lineup.

“I think we are really moving away from this idea of having a headliner. Some of the largest crowds are during the day, not at 8 o’clock at night when the headliner comes on,” Smith explained.

“We are always going to have really good acts at the end of the day but … I think what we are trying to do is to have as many stages as we can and showcase as much talent as we can, curate it really well so that people know, even if they haven’t heard of the artist, they know when they come to Uptown Live, any stage they go to they are going to see really good music.”

Licensed areas featuring craft beers, specialty wines and spirits will be set up around each of the stages. Artisans, food trucks and a variety of interactive experiences will add to the day’s fun.

One of the festival’s interactive activations will be provided by The Gaming Experience, which will be setting up a 20- by 50-foot tent on Sixth Street, between Belmont and Fifth Avenue.

“It’s an e-gaming, e-sports experience,” Smith said. “You are going to be able to go in there and play e-games and have a great time in there. Really interactive. And that’s all new.”

Douglas College, which has supported past events, is returning and is creating a special activation for this year’s Uptown Live.

“They are going to have a really cool activation, where people are going to be able to go into their booth and have their photo taken as a rock star. So they are going to be able to dress up like Elton John or different rock stars, with props and the whole nine yards. You’ll be able to have your picture taken,” Smith said. “It’s everybody’s opportunity to feel like a rock star.”

Building a sustainable festival

Launched in 2012 as a music festival, Uptown Live is adapting to challenges created by COVID-19 and rising costs in its quest to build a foundation that makes the event relevant and sustainable for years to come, Smith said.

“We have been off for three years. A lot has changed in three years. People have come and gone. The industry has really changed too. The cost of doing things has escalated significantly,” Smith said. “I am sure anybody that is producing events these days are very concerned. It is going to be really challenging for anyone producing events; it is going to be very challenging to meet the increased costs.”

As an example of rising costs, Smith notes that the cost of porta-potties for the last Uptown Live in 2019 cost around $2,500. That same service could cost $7,000 this summer.

“We are trying to kind of create a plan for the event that will sustain it long-term,” he said. “How can we create a really diverse, vibrant event at a very challenging time? … Expanding the footprint is certainly something that is going to need to be done. Seeking out new revenue streams and new sponsors and providing value to our partners is really of high importance to us. We have got to be able to deliver value to our stakeholders and partners and make sure we are providing the community and the region with an event that is going to attract people from throughout the region.”

The Uptown Business Association recently announced the TD Bank Group is returning as a title sponsor of this year’s event.

“TD is a valued corporate partner,” Smith said. “TD has a widely recognized reputation for supporting the arts in communities across Canada, and we are thrilled to have TD’s continued support. Their generous sponsorship support helps ensure the continued growth and success of the event.”

Smith said he’s thrilled that the founding partners – the Uptown Business Association, Royal City Centre, Westminster Centre and the City of New Westminster – have stuck with Uptown Live for 10 years.

“We are proud that we have been able to sustain this because a lot of these events come and go,” he said. “We have been able to make it work. That’s pretty cool.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said Uptown Live attracts residents and visitors alike to New Westminster.

Bart Slotman, chair of the Uptown Business Association, is also thrilled to see the return of Uptown Live.

“I would love to get that festival atmosphere back on the street,” he said. “I think a lot of people are looking forward to that. We have been out of it for two years, obviously, because of COVID. To see it come back will be fantastic.”