“We immediately started doing the math,” says Salvi. Refunding all of its 1,400 passholders would cost well over $200,000 – financial suicide for the tiny organization.
Passholders were offered their money back, but were also asked to consider forgoing the refund – or donating it to Sled Island through a local crowdfunding platform. They had a month to decide. As the deadline neared on that last day, Salvi hovered over her computer, hitting refresh repeatedly.
Only 30 per cent of passholders asked for a refund.
“Purely financially it was a huge relief,” says Salvi. “But also it was a very strong message to us.… That was the first really big step for our recovery.”
Also key: Artists who sent deposit money back to Sled, deducting only their hard costs; and suppliers who forgave any payment beyond the deposit. The Calgary International Film Festival offered passes to the first 200 people to forgo their refund, and challenged other arts organizations to join in. Several did.
The whole thing brought the arts community together in a new way, and also boosted the festival’s profile. “The funny bright side … is it really put us on the radar,” says Salvi. “Some people have now heard of us because of the flood.”
Eager to move forward, the team considered not referencing the flood at all in this year’s marketing, but also felt they couldn’t pretend it never happened. In the end, they came up with a tagline they felt was just right – defiant yet positive, with a splash of whimsy: “Nobody rains on our parade.”
A national wake-up call
The near-death of the music festival has sparked an urgent conversation. “Sled Island’s experience was a wake-up call to all of us,” says James Boyle, executive director at Halifax Pop Explosion – also a multivenue urban festival. “If it could happen in Calgary, it certainly could happen in Halifax during hurricane season.”
Knowing that if something happened to knock power out in Halifax for four days, they would not have adequate insurance, the festival upped its coverage.
As planning began for Sled Island 2014, organizers considered whether to bring back all the acts that were unable to play last year. They chose not to – too complicated, too backward-looking – although they did bring Plaskett back.
Jerusalem In My Heart was back too, hitting the stage late on opening night with the performance that never happened last June, that was re-shaped at the NMC this week, and that will likely form the basis of their next album, If He Dies if if if if if if.
“It was amazing how many people came up and said, ‘I was there last year and I was really bummed, and we just had to be here,’” said Moumneh on Thursday, on his way back to Montreal. “It was like someone just hit pause for a whole year.”