No one advocates “one more for the road” any more, but those attending the forthcoming Jazz on the Mountain Festival in Whistler will also be denied “one for my baby.”
Organizer Arnold Schwisberg has declared the event as dry as a martini without the gin and vermouth, after B.C. liquor authorities refused to grant the festival a permit for on-site drinking, except in a roped-off beer garden.
That’s not what Mr. Schwisberg had in mind for the first-time, Labour Day weekend festival, featuring jazz luminaries Gary Burton, Oliver Jones, Stanley Jordan and Kevin Eubanks.
He envisioned a family oriented event with spectators at Whistler’s large new, grassy venue being allowed to have a drink where they sit.
“We wanted to offer festival goers a chance to buy a beer and a snack, take that onto a blanket with their family and listen to jazz,” said Mr. Schwisberg. “But on Friday, the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch [LCLB]told us it was a beer garden or nothing.”
Accusing B.C. of having the most archaic liquor laws in Canada, Mr. Schwisberg said Sunday he decided to withdraw all liquor licence applications for the festival, rather than accept such confined access to alcohol.
“Only in B.C. are jazz festivals subject to this kind of restriction. So the event will go ahead, but our main, ticketed venues will be alcohol free.”
The problem with beer gardens, said Mr. Schwisberg, is that families stay away because minors are not permitted, and less revenue is generated for the festival to finance its free performances. Yet overhead costs of policing and security are the same.
He said Montreal’s famous jazz festival has blocks of fenced-off areas where parents can have a drink, while with their kids.
And Ontario, he noted, just changed its liquor laws to give communities the right to broaden areas where alcohol may be served on special occasions.
Mr. Schwisberg asked British Columbians to support the jazz festival’s decision. “We’re doing what we feel is right. We feel B.C.-ers should not be left in the dark ages, when Ontarians can do what you cannot do.” An LCLB representative could not be reached for comment, but the branch’s letter to Mr. Schwisberg cited “public safety” as the reason alcohol consumption must be limited to a beer garden.
“We will not permit patrons to carry liquor within a large area, given the public safety risk,” ruled Cheryl Caldwell, deputy general manager of licensing and local government liaison for the LCLB.
Her letter provided no details of the risk to the public.
Whistler Councillor Tom Thomson said he was disappointed to learn the LCLB had turned down the application for a more flexible liquor licence, which council had endorsed unanimously in June.
“What are they fearful of? What would this open up? People sitting on a blanket, having wine and cheese, and listening to music. How much better can it get?” wondered Mr. Thomson. “It can be a wonderful family opportunity. The LCLB should get with the times.”
A staff member of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, who asked not to be identified, said he was not surprised Mr. Schwisberg’s application was refused.
The Vancouver festival, too, is restricted to beer garden alcohol, despite the large number of families that flock to the free concerts at David Lam Park.
“People should have the option of being with their family and having a drink. By and large, it’s a mature audience,” he said. “But we’re kind of Victorian. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Mr. Schwisberg, meanwhile, said he hoped the absence of alcohol would not imperil ticket sales.
“You can still have an absolutely fantastic time listening to jazz without drinking an alcoholic beverage. On the other hand, for better or for worse, serving alcohol has been part of jazz for 60 years, the proverbial smoky night club and all that,” he said.
“We are hoping people will recognize that we are taking a principled stand and support us.”