Not any more

Bluesfest takes over Folkfest

In Canada on November 12, 2010 at 09:35

In what amounts to a friendly takeover, Ottawa Bluesfest has bailed out the financially troubled Ottawa Folk Festival.

The Citizen has learned that the surprise move, instigated by Ottawa Bluesfest executive and artistic director Mark Monahan, means the Folkfest will likely move from its current location at Britannia Park.

Monahan says the site is too remote and too difficult to reach by public transport, but won’t reveal which alternate site he has in mind.

That decision will be made within the next six weeks.

Monahan is promising an infusion of cash that will double the $150,000-$200,000 the Folk Festival now spends on artist fees.

The Folk Festival will continue to be staged the third weekend in August.

A signature aspect of the Folk Festival are workshops where musicians sit informally with each other swapping tunes and communing with audience members.

Those will stay, promises Monahan, who sees the deal as a win-win.

“The debt was hampering them to the point where they couldn’t make good decisions,” he told the Citizen Thursday.

“You have to be able to invest in talent. This will be good for both festivals and two great festivals will be good for the community.”

A vote by the Folk Festival board of directors Wednesday night sealed the deal, which has been in negotiation for about three weeks in a series of half a dozen meetings.

Folkfest board member Bob Ledrew told the Citizen Thursday that the festival had tried numerous ways to get out of its financial hole, but none came close to offering the financial stability that the Bluesfest deal has.

“This way we can take the festival where we all want to take it without walking a financial tightrope,” he said. “If we were to move forward without this, we would have needed everything to go right for six or seven years to have any hope of being a stable financial situation.”

Three Folkfest board members will stay with the festival with four current Bluesfest board members joining.

Monahan will have no official title other than “festival adviser,” but will be involved in both the business and artistic aspects of the Folk Festival.

In return, the Bluesfest will pay off the Folk Festival’s debt, which is in excess of $150,000 — a loan with no fixed repayment date.

Monahan says the new Folkfest board will be considering numerous cross-promotional ideas, including the possibility of one pass for both festivals.

The Folk Festival will certainly get high-visibility promotion during the July Bluesfest.

Until this year, the Folk Festival had enjoyed two relatively successful years with brisk advance sales driven by Rufus Wainwright in 2008 and Bruce Cockburn in 2009.

Both those years were boosted by good weather that typically increases last-minute day pass sales.

By comparison, the 2010 version was a disaster, both financially and naturally.

The lack of a crowd-pulling headline act resulted in poor festival pass sales — fewer than 400 — and the Britannia site was saturated on the final Sunday by a day of torrential rain, effectively killing chances of a financial boost from last-minute ticket sales.

Monahan, who has developed the July Bluesfest into one of North America’s most successful music festivals, has promised to maintain the ethic of the Folk Festival, which prides itself in the promotion of humanitarian, educational and environmental causes and a grassroots approach to music.

The Ottawa Folk Festival in its current incarnation was founded in 1994 as a one-day event at Victoria Island and moved to Britannia the following year as a two-day event.

Financial problems have plagued the festival and it narrowly escaped collapse in 1996 before heading into a few years of relative stability.

While no acts have yet been considered, Monahan says artists at the level of Lyle Lovett would be a good illustration of what Folk Festival goers might expect next summer.

“Musicians who could sell out Southam Hall at the National Arts Centre,” he said.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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