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Why Canadian Music Festivals Are Having Trouble This Summer

The Canadian summer is sweet but very, very short. There are only so many weekends where it makes sense to stage a music festival–and therein lies the problem. Not only is the competition among festivals fierce–for example, this weekend pits the second WayHome event against the 33-year-old Hillside Festival in Guelph–but there are other factors that are making life difficult for promoters, performers and fans. (Thanks to Joel Rubinoff’s article in the Toronto Star for the thought-starters).

The sad state of the Canadian dollar.

  • If you had a choice between playing a Canadian festival in where you’re paid in Canadian dollars versus an American gig paid in greenbacks, which would you choose? Yeah! I thought so. Toronto has been left off the Riot Fest list this year because it just wasn’t financially feasible. Big Music Fest in Kitchener is history, too.
  • If a Canadian performer wants to lure an international act to a festival, chances are the currency of record will be American dollars. This inevitably means either higher ticket prices for the punters or fewer international acts on the bill.

Oversaturation in Ontario

  • How many festivals can a country the size of Canada handle, especially when a significant number of high-spenders blow their budgets on Coachella, Bonnaroo and others? If we mark the start of festival season with CMW in May, we’re hit in quick succession by Field Trip, NXNE, Urban Roots Festival, Digital Dreams, Bestival, WayHome, Hillside, KOI Fest, Elora Riverfest, Ottawa Blues Fest and a ton of others. There are only so many acts to go around, especially when Europe is in full festival mode, too. Add in contractual blackout dates–often a performer has to agree not to play other gigs within a certain geographic radius for a certain number of weeks–and you have a scheduling nightmare.
  • There’s competition from non-festival concerts–Guns ‘N Roses, the Peter Gabriel/Sting tour and whoever else might come through town–draining money away from festivals.

The Quebec Factor

  • Quebec is blessed with two megafestivals: Festival d’été de Québec and Osheaga, both of which attract well over a hundred thousand people. That sucks up not only fan dollars but available performers. (This would also be a good time to mention BC’s Pemberton Festival, which had admissions of 180,000 this year, an all-time record. We can discuss the stabbing another time.)

Festival Fatigue

  • This could be a cyclical thing involving demographics. When the latest surge in festivals began a few years ago, they were embraced by music fans. Now that we’ve had them for a while, fatigue has set in, especially with Millennials who now find themselves interested in doing something other than standing in a field three days. Will Gen Z pick up the slack? (Historical note: Gen X went nuts for festivals for 5-6 years back in the 90s before things went back to normal.)

Your thoughts on the state of music festivals in Canada? Leave ’em below.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38346 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “Why Canadian Music Festivals Are Having Trouble This Summer

  • Definitely over saturated. There wasn’t even a RiotFest stop this year. Last year they were giving away tickets like candy on different radio stations.

  • I don’t blame bands for playing festivals as it is often a big, guaranteed paycheque but I find it irritating that when one of my favorite bands comes to town or within driving distance that I have to see them at a festival for 45 minutes or an hour instead of seeing them play a real show in a club that isn’t filled with people yaking and taking selfies.


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