Iceberg Alley: St. John’s coolest concert venue is a big blue tent

On Thursday night in St. John’s, The Strumbellas hit the stage to open a brand-new music festival. The headliners thrilled the crowd, many of whom already had tickets for the festival’s other nights, featuring the Arkells, Sloan, Big Sugar and more top Canadian talent.

But despite the big names on the bill, the biggest star of the festival is turning out to be the venue itself: a big blue tent near Quidi Vidi Lake.

The Iceberg Alley Performance Tent is a nine-day, 12-concert music festival.

But it’s also a really cool tent.

And while the music is what people are coming to see, it’s the tent that people want to know more about.

What’s up with that tent?

“The buzz that was created [Thursday night] was something that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else.” said Seamus O’Keefe, the festival’s event manager.

“We wanted to show something that people had never seen before. And a big-top, 25,000 square-foot tent in the heart of Quidi Vidi is something that’s never been done before.”

For several months this spring, curious citizens of St. John’s watched as the giant tent slowly took shape.

Was it a circus? A car show? A really, really rich person’s wedding?

Eventually, word of a music festival got out. But even when the bands were announced and tickets went on sale, no one in the city knew what to expect when they walked inside.

O’Keefe says the promoters knew people would be surprised.

But what they really wanted was for people to be wowed.

“Many of the people I work with have been around the world and seen different venues and different festival settings.” he said.

“And we thought, why don’t we go and try to do something that’s just as good or better.”

Inside the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent on a quiet afternoon before the big show. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

‘All about the patron experience’

The tent was sourced from a seller in London, England. It was loaded into crates and shipped across the Atlantic, along with the support structures and 800 bleacher seats.

Everything else under the canvas was custom-built for the festival, from the enormous plywood floor to the elevated lounges and VIP areas. Local food vendors serve tacos and smoked brisket at both ends of the tent. And libations flow from three separate bars: one for wine and spirits, one for draft beer, and speed-bar selling beer cans only.

Seamus O’Keefe is the event manager for the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

O’Keefe was the longtime head of George Street Association, the group that manages events…

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