Folk Fest 2017 a 'weather wake up call' after windy start

Organizers are reviewing Folk Fest safety procedures after strong wind forced an evacuation on opening day.

'What I want to do is a real safety check and go around and learn all the lessons,' says festival producer

Weekend tickets for Edmonton's Folk Fest sold out for the 23rd year in a row. (CBC)

Organizers of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival are reviewing safety procedures after strong winds forced an evacuation on opening day.

"We certainly got a weather wake up call," said Terry Wickham, the festival producer. "It was a rough start."

Thursday's storm cost the festival an estimated $100,000 in ticket refunds. The wind also damaged a hanging Jumbotron.

"Fortunately we've had a lot of good years," Wickham said. 

"We used to say we're saving some money for a rainy day but actually we were saving it for a windy day."

Tickets sold out Saturday and Sunday, which helped offset the cost.

'I'm very proud of this festival,' Folk Fest producer Terry Wickham said on the last day of the 2017 festival. (CBC)

The storm uncovered a number of safety hazards, Wickham said. For instance, on-site video screens weren't secured tightly enough.

"If you look at it that way, it was a fairly cheap safety check," Wickham said about the storm.

"The big stuff all stayed in place," he added.

Newly installed steel towers stabilized the main stage Thursday.

"Who knows, that might have saved a lot of people," Wickham said.

He plans to review the festival's safety procedures more closely before next summer.

"What I want to do is a real safety check and go around and learn all the lessons we learned from that wind."

'We always fine tune'

Every summer is a learning curve for the festival, Wickham said.

In addition to safety, organizers are considering a number of logistical improvements.

"We always fine tune," Wickham said. "I'm always looking for perfection."

Fan feedback could translate to more single-day ticket sales in 2018.

The popular beer tent will also be reviewed after a 20-foot extension this summer changed the way customers used the venue.

Wickham said that when LRT construction ramps up in the river valley, the festival may tweak its layout to ease traffic and parking.

Relocating the main entrance would keep the festival's 80,000 annual visitors flowing around construction.

Organizers are also working with the city to increase how much electricity the festival can use, Wickham said.

"The audience wouldn't notice it but it was a little stressful for our volunteers," he said. "There's a lot of asks and need on site."

Musically, Wickham said this year's Folk Fest couldn't have been better.

"It was a rough start but I think it's gone really well," he said. "I'm very proud of this festival."

This year's event was the 38th annual running of the festival.