From David Friend, the Canadian press

Music fans stroll through Birds Hill Park at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July 2019. (COLIN CORNEAU / CHRISD.CA FILE)

TORONTO – Summer 2021 should mark the triumphant return of Canadian music festivals. Instead, it heralds another season of disappointment.

As COVID-19 cases rage across the country, many of Canada’s most popular summer music events are falling like dominoes as organizers give up hope of a return this year.

Since the beginning of April RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa, Country Thunder Festivals in Craven, Sask. and Calgary and Winnipeg and Edmonton festivals were among those who announced cancellations.

And in the coming weeks, several other major music events are expected to make the final call on their own prospects for a 2021 festival season in the shadow of strict health guidelines.

Republic Live Executive Vice President Todd Jenereaux is one of the organizers facing an upcoming deadline. His company operates Boots & Heats in Oro-Medonte, Ontario, and as one of the largest music festivals in the province, it stays on the calendar for the long weekend in early August.

But he’s seen the prospects of hosting this year’s country music extravaganza weaken by the day.

“If you can’t have more than 10 people in one place right now in Ontario, it’s a long way to go to 30,000 by August,” he said.

“We must of course face the reality of an impending deadline that will be very difficult for us to meet. We just know that there is nothing we can do until things change. This is an industry that doesn’t turn a penny on either. We cannot give the starting shot on Tuesday and be open on Friday. “

Festival organizers across the country say they face similar uncertainties as the provinces give summer plans a low priority as they grapple with rising cases of viral variants and a sluggish adoption of vaccinations.

Aside from the large gathering allowances, a myriad of other pieces must fit together for a successful music festival to progress, such as water stations and plumes of portable toilets – common accommodations that some planners believe are worrying health officials.

However, the most pressing deadline concerns the performers who take the stage.

Most Canadian festivals rely on big US acts to attract ticket buyers, and many of these artists book their North American festival stops a year in advance when planning larger tour plans for the summer.

With the US-Canadian border still closed, the festival organizers couldn’t predict whether bands and their crews would even be allowed to travel north with their equipment in tow.

“I don’t know how many times in the last year we have had conversations with agents (asking),” When are they going to open the borders? “Well, I have no idea,” said Mark Monahan, director of RBC Bluesfest.

“There were so many factors out of our control that at one point all you had to do was throw in the towel.”

Terry Wickham, producer of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, said his board had waited another month in hopes of a turnaround in the COVID-19 numbers. Eventually they decided that moving forward with so many health concerns wasn’t realistic, including asking volunteers to put themselves in a vulnerable situation.

“If I thought things were going to change in the next few weeks, I would have persevered, but I just don’t see it,” he said.

“A lot of people feel that the show has to go on. Sometimes that’s not the case, ”he added.

Outside of Canada, a music festival learned the hard way how precarious it can be to make plans for the future.

In late March, Australia’s Byron Bay Bluesfest was blind when health officials blocked the event from moving forward after a single COVID-19 infection was detected in the area a day before the festival began.

Evelyn Richardson, director of Live Performance Australia, told local media that the aftermath of a last minute cancellation would have left the festival with a potential loss of $ 10 million (Australian).

These risks could hit any festival hoping for brighter days this summer.

The Montreal Osheaga Music and Arts Festival is still on the calendar for late July despite an ongoing nightly curfew in parts of the province.

Evenko organizers declined interview requests but said in a statement: “It’s too early to talk about our summer festivals as Montreal is still in a red zone, but we continue to monitor the various elements.”

The Calgary Folk Music Festival management also declined to be interviewed, but said they remain “cautiously optimistic and adaptable” as they approach four days of events beginning July 22nd.

Instead of sitting outside this year, Myles Rusak and his team are attending the Sound of Music Festival in Burlington, Ont. drew up an alternative plan.

Instead of holding the usual nine-day festival, the executive director said they would revise the structure and expand it over three months. The Sound of Music Festival’s Return to Live series consists primarily of concerts performed on patios, in restaurants, and around by primarily local Canadian musicians.

“We had to stop thinking about what we couldn’t early on – and that was the full-blown festival,” he said.

“So we thought, what can we do?” he said.

While many details are still in the works, like the cast line-up and seating arrangements, Rusak said he’s been watching closely how other countries are steering their own live music rollouts.

“I refuse to say, ‘No, we’re done, let’s just call and wait,” he said.

“We try to plan the worst and hope for the best.”