As a regular reader of my weekly messages, you know how much I love live music. You also deserve a medal if you remembered that my favourite activity each year is the Pender Harbour Blues Festival that no wedding, funeral, torrential downpour, or even meeting with the Premier can stand in the way of my joining pals on the first weekend in June to rock out on the spectacular Sunshine Coast.
Blues happens to be my favourite genre whereas other family members and close friends prefer country, classic rock, hip-hop, pop, jazz, grunge, classical, or folk. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s live music at a decent venue, I’m game to go. There are countless others like me who regularly attend concerts of all types in small clubs, city parks, big arenas, and in neighbourhoods around the province each year.
So it stands to reason that genuine music fans of all stripes were disappointed to hear that the Vancouver Folk Festival has been cancelled due to rising costs for goods and services such as fencing, port-o-potties, and stages. Ironically, it wasn’t the artists whose performance fees went up even though many sat idle or played for free to virtual-only audiences during the pandemic.
Recently I learned of other festivals hanging on by a guitar string and facing the same predicament. From what I’ve been told…following COVID…regular attendees have chosen to either stay cocooned in front of their big screen televisions or purchase fewer tickets to fewer events than prior to the crisis. Furthermore, companies have been bailing from or failing to renew sponsorship commitments at an alarming rate.
In the face of gathering restrictions and other impediments during the pandemic, the province stepped in to support festivals and others in the arts and culture sector with grants that helped many societies and companies stay afloat. Most festivals managed to retain core staff and plan for the eventual return of live music or theatre. At the same time, some annual events, like the Vancouver Folk Festival, still incurred significant debt since grants and other forms of assistance didn’t quite meet their monthly operating expenses.
I recently spoke with government about the issue and am working with a producer to gather more information on the extent of the liquidity problem within the music festivals sector in particular, to possibly present a case for intervention by a variety of stakeholders. Why…you might ask?
For starters, the arts and entertainment sector directly or indirectly supports the livelihood of thousands of residents in our province, including many in the tourism industry. What’s more, festivals are an integral part of every community’s culture. They attract both locals and visitors, people from all walks of life, ages, ethnicities, and classes. Music and all manner of festivals add to the vibrancy of a place and generally evoke a sense of pride and pleasure as people gather to dance, watch, and listen to talented artists from other parts of the country or globe. Last but not least…local music festivals are generally more affordable than the big act concerts in stadiums at $300 or more a ticket.
As I alluded to earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of more festivals folding their tents but I sincerely hope not for the sake of the millions of residents and visitors to communities across British Columbia each year.
For now, I’ll keep a keen eye open for when tickets go on sale for the Pender Harbour Blues Festival, Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival, Nanaimo Blues Festival and other events in Metro Vancouver, the Okanagan, Vancouver Island and elsewhere in the province. I trust you will too.