'It's just killing us': Low loonie keeping U.S. acts away, Canadian festivals say

Summer music festival lineups will likely have fewer American headliners as the low loonie forces the costs of booking U.S. acts up.

Harder to afford American headliners as dollar dips below 70 cents U.S.

Aretha Franklin performed at the Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 28, 2014. (CBC)
The falling loonie means summer music festival lineups will likely have fewer American headliners than normal, organizers are warning.
Catherine O'Grady, the executive producer of the Ottawa Jazz Festival, says the low Canadian dollar is forcing the festival to invite fewer American artists. (CBC)

Ottawa Jazz Festival organizers are "running into extreme difficulties" as they make offers to American performers, who are paid in U.S. dollars, said executive producer Catherine O'Grady.

"We just don't have access to the kind of money, once the conversion is made from U.S. into Canadian dollars," she said. "It's just killing us."

Many of the 600 artists organizers usually invite to play the festival, which ran for 15 days last year, are from the United States — like The Roots, Aretha Franklin and Earth Wind & Fire.

"Jazz is an American art form," O'Grady said. "Our audiences really want to see some originators of the music come and play at the festival."

This year, the festival will "celebrate Canadian artists" in a bigger way than in previous years, she said.

Loonie hovers at $0.69 US.

Alex Martel, founder of Amnesia Rockfest in Montebello, Que., said he may also invite more Canadian bands this year but also hopes to find creative ways to offset the cost of paying American bands to come.
Amnesia Rockfest founder Alex Martel says the slumping loonie is having a "really big" impact on music festivals. (Radio-Canada)

The loonie has been hovering around $0.69 US but analysts predict it could continue to slide.

"The impact is really big for Rockfest but also for all the Canadian promoters because now the American bands are costing us, like, 40 per cent more than they used to," Martel said.

More than 50 of the roughly 100 bands that played last year's four-day festival were from the United States, including The Offspring, Pixies and System of A Down. More than 30 bands were Canadian last year, including Skinny Puppy, Propagandhi and Tom Green.

Fewer American artists at festivals could also mean fewer American tourists coming to Canadian festivals, O'Grady said.

"We can't buy U.S. advertising and pay in Canadian dollars," she said.


  • An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Aretha Franklin performed in Ottawa in 2015. In fact, she performed in 2014.
    Jan 20, 2016 7:29 PM ET