Interstellar Rodeo drops out of Winnipeg, blames impact of free concerts

Interstellar Rodeo has saddled up and bid adieu to Winnipeg, indicting free concerts in the city for creating an "unexpected challenge" to its bottom line.

Edmonton event set for 2018 and organizers not ruling out a return to Winnipeg down the road

Interstellar Rodeo's producer says the music festival won't be coming back to Winnipeg in 2018. (Interstellar Rodeo/Instagram)

Winnipeggers will have one less music festival to choose from next summer.

Interstellar Rodeo has saddled up and bid adieu to the city, indicting free concerts in the city for creating an "unexpected challenge" to its bottom line.

"​After three stellar years at our second home at The Forks in Winnipeg, Interstellar Rodeo announces that its time in Winnipeg has come to an end," festival producer Shauna de Cartier posted in a statement on the festival's website and on social media Thursday.

Shakey Graves performs at Interstellar Rodeo in August 2017. (Interstellar Rodeo/Instagram)

The annual three-day outdoor event was established in Edmonton in 2012 by de Cartier and expanded to Winnipeg in 2015. The decision to pull out of Winnipeg "really just comes down to dollars and cents," de Cartier told CBC News.

"We didn't see the growth we were hoping to achieve and made the call that we couldn't afford to continue to develop the festival [in Winnipeg]."

In 2017, organizers boosted production and talent budgets — bringing in superstar Beck as a headliner — to draw larger crowds but still struggled to do so.

They hoped to draw 6,000 for each day of the festival to make it viable but only managed to get 3,000-4,000. Tickets for adults ranged from $99 for a single day to $240 for a weekend pass ($75-$150 for youth and seniors).

"While we're not a company to shy away from competing against other ticketed events, it's not realistic to expect that we would have been able to achieve these targets when contending with the unexpected challenge and impact of two weeks of free, like-minded programming in the same venue right before our own festival," de Cartier said, referring to celebrations to mark the Canada Summer Games that also ran at The Forks earlier in the summer.

"That really hurt us," de Cartier said, noting Interstellar organizers didn't know the free Canada Summer Games concerts were going to happen until they had already booked everything for their festival.

"It was obviously disappointing when we learned about the Canada Summer Games programming."

Although there are no summer games in 2018, and de Cartier acknowledges that new festivals usually don't hit a break-even point until the five-year mark, the costs of running the Winnipeg event became too prohibitive, she said.

"It's a matter of how much resources and investment can you make? The losses that we suffered from 2017 just made it impossible for us to go forward in 2018."

The festival will continue to be held in Edmonton, where production costs "are a lot lower," de Cartier said.

The venue there includes amenities such as fencing, toilets, a stage and canopy. All of those needed to be brought in and set up in Winnipeg.

Organizers would like, however, to see the festival go to other cities and are exploring those options, de Cartier said.

"There's a lot of interest in the brand in a lot of different markets, so we're looking at those opportunities."

She's also not ruling out a return to Winnipeg down the road.

"I guess that's possible. We worked really hard for three years to build Interstellar Rodeo in Winnipeg.… I wouldn't want to close to the door to say that we would never come back and try it again," de Cartier said.

"It's just not in the cards for 2018."