Alberni’s Five Acre Shaker starts Friday

What: Five Acre Shaker Music Festival featuring Swollen Members, WiL, Sirreal, Illvis Freshly, JP Maurice and others
Where: McLean Mill Historic Park, 5633 Smith Rd., Port Alberni
When: Friday through Sunday
Tickets: $40 (Friday and Sunday) or $50 (Saturday) daily at; $100 for a weekend pass
Note: Free for children 12 and under

Port Alberni might have bigger, more established annual events — the 15th annual Thunder in the Valley drag race, for example, or the 73rd annual Alberni District Fall Fair — but this weekend’s Five Acre Shaker has quickly become the city’s highest-profile music event.

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Festival organizer Lance Goddard, an electrician by trade, started the three-day festival in 2014 on his five-acre property in Beaver Creek. The event — BYOB during its first year — began as a memorial for Port Alberni musician Zakkaree Coss, who was killed in a 2013 car accident near Duncan, at the age of 22. The first festival, produced by Goddard’s Five Acre Productions, drew 500 people, a success given its modest budget. Coss’ band, North By Nature Collective, was one of 20 acts to play the debut, his vocals piped in during songs as a way of honouring the talented rapper and writer.

Goddard donated the profits to members of the Coss family, which runs the Zattzoo Project, a non-profit founded by Zakkaree’s mother, Kimberly Blake. The charity stages an annual battle of the bands competition for Vancouver Island musicians under the age of 25, with proceeds from the festival. Winners receive prizes such as studio time, merchandise and a spot at a future Five Acre Shaker. Port Alberni artist Sean Lyons, this year’s winner, will perform at the Shaker on Saturday.

“All the money we donate each year goes back to the musicians,” Goddard said. “To keep the energy of music in the Valley alive.”

In its second year, the festival — once again held at Goddard’s property — drew another sizable crowd. But it was clear the festival’s long-term future was in doubt. Goddard didn’t stage the Five Acre Shaker in 2016, so he could devise a new, financially secure plan, which involved moving the event to a public site. “The city actually approached us and offered us McLean Mill [Historic Park] to host the festival. At first, we said no. It was not the right area. We couldn’t see the vision at first. But once we did a site walk through, we thought we could pull it off. It honestly is the best place in this area to host a music festival.”

Goddard said the Five Acre Shaker had 1,400 fans through the gates of McLean Mill’s picturesque 32-acre parcel of land last year. He’s expecting 2,000 this weekend once programming gets underway Friday. “But ticket sales are notoriously last minute for such an event, so it’s hard to even guesstimate at this point.”

The property is owned by the City of Port Alberni, but falls under the stewardship of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. Gooddard said that the involved parties believe the Five Acre Shaker is a significant step forward for the area, and this year he has the lineup to prove it: Headliners include multiple Juno Award winners Swollen Members, WiL, Sirreal, Illvis Freshly, and JP Maurice, among others. Woodstock tribute My Generation, the Joe Cocker Experience, and the Hip Replacements, a tribute to the Tragically Hip, will also perform.

The festival, now in its fourth year, is the perfect example of community-building from the ground up, Goddard said.

“[The Mill] has been a bit of a money pit for the city, and it has been undergoing its own transitions. The board of directors who look after McLean Mill have changed their strategy and focus dramatically, and a lot of that stemmed from seeing what the Five Acre Shaker did last year. It was the first time the property had ever been used like that.”

The event is family-friendly for the first time this year. Goddard said he wanted to transition the Five Acre Shaker after the first instalment, and is pleased that families can now enjoy bouncy castles and outdoor movie screenings, among other offerings. Children under 12 are admitted free, with a paid adult.

“We wanted to make sure we naturally grew into it, and had all the steps in place to mitigate the risk. We want to provide a safe environment for families and kids. It’s not that we didn’t have that the first couple of years, but it was easier for us as organizers learning the ropes to keep it 19-plus.

“It has turned into a community event, so we wanted to open our doors. Moving forward, we’re super happy and proud to be able to offer that for our community.”

Camping has proven to be a welcome addition after being introduced for the first time ever at the McLean Mill festival last year. More than 250 campers set up on site for the weekend, which has now resulted in a permanent campground, Goddard said.

“We’ve been able to get [Mill management] going with some revenue-generating opportunities. It has been a synergistic relationship. Everyone is really receptive to everything that is happening out here. It’s breathing some fresh air into the community and we want to make this thing grow each year. This property can realistically facilitate 5,000 people, and I want to get to that size.”

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