Nfld. & Labrador

Musicians, artists, festival organizers prepare for quiet summer

Artists and event organizers are trying to salvage what they can of Newfoundland and Labrador’s robust summer festival season after the province announced large gatherings will not be able to go ahead this summer into the fall.

Some festivals planning on holding events online

This will be the first time in 36 years the George Street Festival has not taken over the street. (City of St. John's/website)

Artists and event organizers are trying to salvage what they can of Newfoundland and Labrador's robust summer festival season after the province announced large gatherings will not be able to go ahead this summer and into the fall.

"We were disappointed.… We had a great lineup ready to go," said Joella Lomond, who was in charge of planning this year's George Street Festival. 

"But from a safety standpoint, we certainly understand why the government made that decision," she said.

The government announced Thursday that residents will have to be prepared for life without mass gatherings for the foreseeable future. 

"That means festivals and other large events planned for this summer and early fall will not be able to go ahead," said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health. 

Like other events across the province, Lomond said they are in the process of cancelling acts and vendors, and will be refunding tickets.

"It's a huge loss. Now that our festival is cancelled it's going to be tough. It's a tough year for a lot of folks."

The Barenaked Ladies headlined the first night of the 2013 George Street Festival. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

She said she's pleased to get some clarity from the government, as she has received a number of calls from people who have already booked flights and hotels wanting to know what is going on. 

The George Street Association will also be cancelling its Canada Day events, which would have included a pyrotechnics show above George Street.

"It's a pretty huge deal for us that it has actually been cancelled," she said.

Although the celebration that brings thousands of people onto the street is cancelled, the association is already starting to plan for next year.

"We want to make sure that we come back next year bigger and better, not just for us but for all the people who come and enjoy spending time on the street," said Lomond.

As for the the oldest continuing sporting event in North America, the Royal St. John's Regatta, the regatta committee said it will provide an update at the end of the week.

Virtual events

Organizers of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival said although there will be no festival in Bannerman Park this year, they are looking at ways of carrying on with the event in the form of virtual programing.

"The game plan now is to start thinking about … what kind of programming can we offer the community under those public health guidelines," said Erin Whitney, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society. 

The rain didn't stop this crowd from getting good seats at the opening of the 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival. (Submitted by Alick Tsui)

"The first phase of our program will be digital in nature."

The board of Winterset in Summer, a literary festival held in Eastport, is thinking up similar alternatives. 

The festival was cancelled a few days prior to the official government announcement as authors from around the country were wondering about the status of the festival.

"We were quite anxious to hear what we finally heard [Thursday]," said Kathy Hodder, chair of the Winterset in Summer board. 

Margaret Atwood was one of the literary artists who was scheduled to perform at Winterset in Summer Literary Festival. (CBC)

Hodder said the board is looking at ways of posting videos and audio online, rolled out from August to October on their social media platforms and website. They plan to keep the online content free. 

They also will be paying all of the literary artists who were scheduled to perform.

 "It's so very important that they don't lose from this," said Hodder.

Rural Newfoundland will suffer

Rural communities like Eastport, located on the northeastern border of Terra Nova National Park, will be hit particularly hard, said Hodder, explaining that those events bring in guests that might never venture there otherwise.

"The impact to the small communities that have festivals, that is the big cost right there," she said. "That's a huge economic hit to rural Newfoundland. We are just a little piece of that story."

The Town of Lewisporte can relate, as its Mussel Bed Soiree will also not be going ahead.

Although the town does not make any money off the event, and has even lost money in the past, Mayor Betty Clarke said the seven-day festival has been essential for the businesses in the community. 

"A lot of people come into town. Those people spend money here and it was one of the best economic benefits we had for the town for a number of years," Clarke said.

Artists left in lurch

Shanneyganock drummer Brad Tuck would normally be packing up, ready to hit the road for a summer of performances. Instead he's painting his mother's house in Hant's Harbour.

"It's unfortunate. You just kind of take it with a grain of salt and you adapt and you try to overcome it by doing something a little bit different," he said.

Shanneyganock performing at the George Street Festival in August. The lineup included, from left, Ian Chipman (bass), Craig Young (guitar), Chris Andrews (guitar, vocals), Brad Tuck (drums), Mark Hiscock (accordion, vocals) and Patrick Moran (fiddle). (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Tuck said the band was going to release an album in a few weeks and had tour dates lined up across the province and country, but now that he is stuck at home, he plans to participate in some online shows.

"It won't replace the feeling of playing live music, the speakers, on the bus, and everybody having a great time but in the meantime that's all we can do so we will just work with what we have for right now."

Financial matters are also a concern with no events to play. 

Brad Tuck is a traditional Newfoundland musician and the drummer for Shanneyganock. (Brad Tuck/Facebook)

"You have to be frugal with your money because at any moment something like this could happen and then you are kind of stuck for a while," Tuck said.

"It's not easy on any of us.… It's a big hit for everybody involved."

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