Rock the Boat's Friday shows cancelled but COVID-conscious festival resumes Saturday

Two kilometres of snow fence will help keep music fans safely distanced, as P.E.I. hosts an ambitious mass gathering this weekend.

Rain led organizers to cancel Friday night's shows at the last minute

'There's definitely some pressure,' says Adam MacLennan, president of Rock the Boat music festival. The festival, with space for up to 2,000 people, is back after skipping last year due to COVID-19. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Two kilometres of steel barricades and snow fence will help keep music fans safely distanced, as P.E.I. hosts an ambitious three-day rock concert starting Friday.

Uh... make that an ambitious TWO-day rock festival.

Heavy rain led Rock the Boat organizers to cancel Friday night events at the last minute, posting: "It is always our best interest to ensure the safety of our concertgoers as well as the acts on stage. Recharge tonight because we will be making up for lost time tomorrow!"

The festival is set to handle up to 2,000 visitors daily at Green Park Provincial Park, near Tyne Valley.

But unlike outdoor festivals in the freewheeling days before COVID, fans at Rock the Boat '21 will be corralled by all that fencing into cohorts of 200.

"There's definitely some pressure," said organizer Adam MacLennan, as the community of Tyne Valley lays out the welcome mat, after cancelling the event last year. "I think that's the one thing that people will say when they get here, is 'look at all that fence.'"

Concertgoers can sit or stand, but they'll be fenced into cohorts of no more than 200 people. Some mixing of cohorts will take place in the food and merchandise sales areas. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Organizers are working with provincial health officials as they prepare for what MacLennan calls the "first large show in Atlantic Canada" since the pandemic hit.

Each of the 10 fenced cohorts will have its own entry and exit points, washrooms and hand-wash stations.

People buying tickets are asked to provide information for contact tracing if there's an outbreak. Performers from the mainland were arriving early, to get tested if necessary and to isolate in hotel rooms as needed.

VIP seating sold out

"We're doing everything that we can on the guidance of the public health office to hopefully alleviate any cause for concern," MacLennan told CBC News.

This year's musical lineup includes The Recklaws, The Trews, Jess Moskaluke, The East Pointers, and more. The venue's three VIP seating areas are now sold out. Ticket sales to visitors from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are picking up speed, according to MacLennan.  Those off-Island concertgoers are being advised to get a PEI Pass from provincial health authorities before they cross the Strait.

Stage-crew member Kyle Gallagher of House Front Productions performs a sound check on drums in preparation for the festival's kick-off. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Face masks, as per provincial guidelines, are optional.

"People are encouraged to wear masks," said MacLennan. "If they choose not to wear masks, that's OK as well."

Shuttle service to the concert site is operating once again, from Charlottetown and Summerside. Overnight camping is available in the provincial park but for health purposes, park staff are putting a cap on numbers; no more than four people per site.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign: Fans will see frequent reminders there's still a pandemic on. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

On the concert grounds, some mixing of cohorts will take place in the food and merchandise sales areas.

Rock the Boat isn't the only big event in western P.E.I. that will test COVID management plans this summer. The Tyne Valley Oyster Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks.

Rock the Boat's COVID plan — and its results — will be shared with other concert and event organizers, on P.E.I. and across Atlantic Canada.

"There's a lot of eyes on this festival," said MacLennan. "It's exciting to see everything coming together."

Proceeds from Rock the Boat support the local arena. It burned down a few years ago and was recently re-built.

More from CBC P.E.I.


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