Edmonton Folk Fest 2018 sees wacky weather, attendance drop

Another Edmonton Folk Music Festival has come and gone, this time with wacky weather and lower attendance than usual.

Attendance declined by about 15 per cent, festival producer says

Smoke hung over the festival grounds on Friday. (CBC)

Another Edmonton Folk Music Festival has come and gone, this time with wacky weather and lower attendance than usual.

Festival goers dealt with wildfire smoke and sweltering temperatures on Thursday and Friday, later to be replaced by chilling rain on Saturday evening and Sunday.

Festival producer Terry Wickham said they've dealt with unpleasant weather for the past few years but he thinks it's getting worse over time.

Terry Wickham is the festival's producer. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

"We never had to really deal with forest fires and smoke from B.C. before or from Alberta," he said. "We had extreme heat and we went from 35 C to 12 C, so it just seems to be getting a little more extreme on both ends."

Elizabeth Pattengale attended the festival at Gallagher Park for the first time this year, travelling from California to watch her son, Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids, perform on Sunday.

"I would take rain over smoke. That was a little disappointing," she said. "We were kind of depressed the first couple of days because we're having fires in California too, so it's just a global reminder of how atrocious it is."

Natalia Klawitter (left) and Agnieszka Klawitter came prepared for Sunday's wet weather, layering warm clothes with rain gear on top. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Folk fest veteran Natalia Klawitter said breathing in the smoke was uncomfortable.

"You literally couldn't even see downtown on Friday from here," she said. "It was just white."

Her sister, Agnieszka Klawitter, has attended the festival for eight of the past 10 years. The pair said the music and family-friendly atmosphere are what keeps them coming back, rain or shine.

"Most of the time it's actually really sunny but this year the weather has changed quite a bit," Agnieszka said. "But it's still worth coming out."

Lower attendance

Sunday saw rainy weather and temperatures hovering around 12 C. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Sunday's rainy weather didn't help with attendance, with smaller crowds than usual on the last day of the event. Wickham said beer sales likely took a hit and fewer music fans bought tickets at the gate.

Overall, attendance dropped by about 15 per cent this year, he said. But while fewer people came out, those who did were willing to pay more for a single-day pass.

"Saturday, there were no tickets available. So what we're finding is on the Thursday and Friday, our sales are going down but on the weekend they're still very strong," Wickham said.

"It's a strange pattern. You know, we bring in the same amount of money but there's less people. So maybe that's the best of both worlds where it's not as crowded."

Wickham thinks attendance declined due to the cost of living and because some people couldn't commit to attending a four-day festival.

HUNKS sketch comedy group: why protect yourself with a garbage bag, when a folk fest poncho will do? (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Festival won't sell weed

At least one thing will be different at next year's festival: marijuana will be legal.

Wickham said several other festivals will have to deal with legalization as well, and he'll keep an eye on them to see how they handle it.

He's sure about one thing, though — Folk Fest won't sell pot.

"Why would we? Other people are selling it," he said. "We're not going to take on that liability. And that I think might be a bit of a public relations problem, you know if we start selling it and then some 15-year-old gets their hand on it."

People will be allowed to smoke at the festival, however.

Wickham said it's likely there will be two types of smoking areas — one for cigarettes and one for marijuana.

The first two days of the festival were scorching hot. (CBC)