'Deeply disappointing': Edmonton Folk Fest cancelled over COVID-19

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'We are truly sad to announce the cancellation of our 41st annual festival'

Thousands of music lovers flock to the Edmonton Folk Music Festival every year. (Edmonton Folk Music Festival)

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival is the latest summer festival to be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual outdoor event, set to take place August 6-9 in Gallagher Park, will not go ahead as planned this year, organizers confirmed in a statement Tuesday. 

"On behalf of the volunteers, board and staff of the festival, we are truly sad to announce the cancellation of our 41st annual festival," reads a statement.

"In light of the global pandemic and the implications it has for large gatherings, the decision, though deeply disappointing, was necessary."

Established in 1980, Folk Fest is a four-day celebration of food, art and live music. Thousands of tarp-hauling music lovers flock to the festival every year, lining up for hours in an attempt to secure the best stage-front real estate for their tarps.

Even though this year's lineup had not been announced, the event had already been dealt a painful blow by the deadly virus, festival producer Terry Wickham told CBC News.

Beloved folk singer John Prine had been booked as a headliner, and would have taken the stage in the final performance of the four-day festival, Wickham said. 

Prine died on March 29 due to complications from coronavirus. He was 73.

Prine had been set to close last year's Folk Fest but had to cancel at the last minute to undergo stent surgery.

Organizers were looking forward to seeing him grace the folk festival stage once again, Wickham said.

Prine's death, along with escalating concerns over community spread, made the final decision to cancel an easy one, Wickham said. 

"I think that gives us a bigger perspective than the disappointment," Wickham said. 

'All the dominoes were falling'

Wickham said about 60 of 66 artists had already been confirmed for this summer's festival. Organizers stopped booking new artists when South By Southwest, an annual music, media and film festival in Austin, Texas, was cancelled in early March.

After that, large festivals across the world have pulled the plug on summer events. 

"All the dominoes were falling," Wickham said. "It was pretty well inevitable. I think it will be a while before we get large crowds together again, in whatever setting." 

Wickham said he is negotiating to rebook as many of the artists as possible for a future year's festival.

"There is no guarantee on next year either," he said. "I've got my fingers crossed." 

As the health crisis continues, it's shaping up to be a festival-free summer in Edmonton.

COVID-19 has already caused the cancellation of most of Edmonton's summer festivals including the Fringe Theatre Festival, the Freewill Shakespeare Festival and the Edmonton International Jazz Festival.

NextFest will move its events online. The Whyte Avenue Art Walk has also been called off in favour of small art displays in the windows of shuttered businesses.

'Good neighbours on the hill'

In Tuesday's statement, Folk Fest organizers said artists and vendors who usually serve the festival will likely need help from the community to stay afloat during this "very challenging time."

"As a not-for-profit, volunteer-driven organization, we know the importance of a strong community," reads the statement.

"Our focus will turn to the community and the search for areas where we can help. 

"You are good neighbours on the hill, and now you have a chance to be a 'good neighbour' all year and to bring that folk festival spirit to your community, your family and your friends. Until we return, keep listening to great music."


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