'Inevitable' that Cavendish Beach Music Festival would be cancelled, organizer says

The Cavendish Beach Music Festival has been cancelled this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Festival has been a top attraction in Cavendish for 11 years

The Cavendish Beach Music Festival draws tens of thousands of fans over the course of a July weekend. (Kevin Baillie)

The Cavendish Beach Music Festival (CBMF) has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's disappointing," said Jeff Squires, president of the CBMF.

"We take so much pride in celebrating P.E.I. around Cavendish Beach Music Festival and the people that come from all over the world to the event, but in perspective right now it's all about being safe."

It's the latest in a list of cancellations that includes the Indian River Festival, Festival of Small Halls, Charlottetown Festival and others. 

"You get to that point where you know it's inevitable with regards to public safety," Squires said. "We're at that time with everybody else, what they were doing to make the decision to cancel."

The festival has been a summer attraction in Cavendish, P.E.I., for 11 years, drawing tens of thousands of fans over the course of a July weekend. Squires said it will be a big financial loss for the community as well as the festival, which is a year-round operation to plan and execute.

Miranda Lambert and Dan + Shay were among the artists scheduled to perform this year. Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Lambert's ex-husband Blake Shelton have performed at the festival in previous years. 

Ticket buyers will be emailed directly for a refund, or they can put their ticket toward the 2021 festival, Squires said.

Local businesses affected

For some of the tourism-related businesses in the area, the cancellation of the festival was another blow to an industry already facing a tough summer ahead.

"I think for other businesses, we're talking about between five and 15 per cent of their season was maybe hinged on this event," said Matthew Jelley, president of Maritime Fun Group, as well as the mayor of the Resort Municipality of Stanley Bridge, Hope River, Bayview, Cavendish and North Rustico.

Some businesses are already feeling the effects of CBMF's cancellation. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Businesses in the area are looking at how they can adapt and be flexible, he said, as public health measures change and are adjusted. Some businesses may also make the hard choice not to open at all this year.

"There's been a lot of talk already of support from Prince Edward Islanders, but the tourism market is about 10 times larger than the population of P.E.I. in a traditional year," he said.

"We are having discussions every day about how our business model may look and how our attractions may look, which food outlets may make sense, which ones no longer do."

In 2019, 75 per cent of attendees were from off-Island, according to festival organizer Whitecap Entertainment. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

He said he has been part of discussions with other operators in the area to try and decide how to proceed this year in the hopes of preserving their businesses for the future.

"In some cases, the best way to preserve themselves will be to open," Jelley said. "Each business is going to have to approach this a little differently and there is also an element of risk about what you spend to get ready for an uncertain season."

Other businesses are already seeing the impact of the cancellation of the festival.

"It will mean that those reservations, 90 per cent of them will be gone for 2020," said Sandi Lowther with Fairways Cottages in Cavendish.

Eighty-five per cent of the guests Fairways Cottages in Cavendish welcomes are repeat customers, says owner Sandi Lowther. (Audrey-Anne)

Lowther said they are a small business with 25 cottages and have good relations with all their guests over the summer, including those who have returned each year for the Cavendish Beach Music Festival.

She said the festival has been good for the tourism industry in the area.

"They have done an amazing job of promoting a first-class festival, highlighting our province and most specifically the Cavendish beach resort destination," Lowther said.

"I mean, this decision wouldn't come lightly but what has me most proud is the fact that health and safety is number one and that's what we always have to stay focused on."

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With files from Angela Walker