Manitoba

Winnipeg music festival's last-minute cancellation 'really, really hurt us,' artists' manager says

An artist management company is speaking out about how their musicians have been impacted by the last-minute cancellation of a Winnipeg music festival.

Current Festival organizers pulled the plug 5 days before event

Winnipeg band Mise en Scene, represented by Misfit Management, was booked to play Current Festival in August. The festival was cancelled days before it was set to open. (Mise en Scene)

A Winnipeg music manager says she's been left with more questions than answers — and without payment for the musical artists she represents — after the sudden cancellation of a Winnipeg music festival, just days before it was set to take place.

Organizers announced publicly on Monday, Aug. 8 they were pulling the plug on the Current Festival — a new event that was scheduled to run at The Forks from Aug. 12-14 — blaming low ticket sales.

Elise Roller from Misfit Management says artists were given little more notice than that.

"We received an e-mail the Sunday night [Aug. 7] before the festival began, so about five days before," she said in a Friday interview with CBC Radio's Up To Speed.

"It was just a blanket [statement] I think sent out to anyone involved just to say, 'Unfortunately we have to cancel the festival due to low ticket sales and we're bankrupt, and therefore unable to fulfil the artist contracts.'"

The cancellation email was the first indication she and her artists had that ticket sales were low, said Roller.

The festival didn't provide any proof of filing for bankruptcy, according to Roller. A search of provincial bankruptcy records by CBC didn't turn up a bankruptcy filing.

CBC contacted Current organizer Monica Derksen this week, but she declined to comment.

CBC also reached out this week to several of the festival's sponsors for comment, as well as to another music management company, which declined to comment.

Organizers previously described the festival, which was to run at CN Stage and Field at The Forks, as "the most Instagrammable festival Manitoba has ever seen," with a heavy focus on esthetics and luxurious decor. Single-day passes were $100, with full weekend passes starting at $170 for early-bird pricing.

In her Aug. 8 public statement on Instagram announcing the cancellation, Derksen characterized Winnipeg as "a city of last-minute decision makers. "

"We waited as long as we could to get an uptick in sales, but they didn't materialize, and the event is no longer viable," the social media post said.

That rationale doesn't sit well with Roller, who said in an Instagram post of her own on Thursday that none of Misfit's artists — Winnipeg's Mise en Scene, Super Duty Tough Work and Sierra Noble, all of whom were booked for the festival — have ever had a show cancelled because of ticket sales.

Furthermore, the contracts her artists signed said that a lack of ticket sales was not a viable reason to leave the contract unfulfilled, Roller's post said.

Winnipeg's Super Duty Tough Work, also represented by Misfit Management, was also booked to play the Current Festival. The group had to withdraw from an international opportunity in Germany due to the loss of income, says Misfit's Elise Roller. (Adam Kelly)

The cancellation of the festival has had a snowballing effect on Roller's clients, she told Up To Speed.

"To say, 'Sorry we disappointed you' — they did more than disappoint us. They really, really hurt us in a number of ways," she said.

The artists were paid a 50 per cent deposit, but Roller says that money often goes toward covering expenses for artists before their performance, like hiring additional musicians.

Bands who were booked to play Current Festival signed contracts that included proximity clauses, which meant they couldn't play locally for a period of time before or after the festival.

"It was in a range of about six to nine weeks in Winnipeg or Manitoba, and what that means is when we get other offers from shows and festivals around the area, we can't take that work," Roller said.

Those clauses are not uncommon, she said — but in this case, the loss of income from not playing the festival, combined with several weeks of no gigs due to the proximity clause, has led to her artists cancelling some of their fall plans.

Elise Roller, Artist Manager with Misfit Music Management, speaks with Stephanie Cram about the effect the cancelled Current Festival had on the artists she represents and what she would like to see come out this situation.

Super Duty Tough Work, a hip-hop jazz fusion ensemble, had accepted a business opportunity in Germany later this month, she said, but because of the loss of Current Festival income, they backed out of the opportunity.

Another artist had to reconsider their plans for a video shoot, as the initial budget included revenue from the event.

Roller said she sent an email three weeks ago to Derksen, asking to speak directly about the situation, but hasn't received a response.

Ultimately, Roller wants payment for her artists and accountability.

"The apology needed to go a little bit deeper and be a little bit more empathetic to the situation that they've now put us in," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenn Allen

Reporter

Jenn Allen is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. She studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch with her at: jenn.allen@CBC.ca.

With files from CBC Radio's Up To Speed

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