The Canadian summer festival landscape was rocked this week by the cancellation of Roxodus Music Fest, a four-day rock-music colossus that was to be headlined by Aerosmith, Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blondie, Nickelback, Alice Cooper and Billy Idol. On Wednesday, just more than a week before Roxodus was to begin on July 11, festival promoter MF Live posted a notice on its website that blamed the cancellation on “tremendous rainy weather” that had rendered the venue at Edenvale Airport (near Stayner, Ont., north of Toronto) unusable.
Representatives of Roxodus are not speaking publicly on the abandonment of their first-year festival. An initial note about forthcoming information on ticket refunds has now vanished from the Roxodus website. On social media, some ticket-holders are alleging that the promoters may be using wet weather as an excuse to trigger an “act of God” clause in their various agreements. As a result, ticket-holders expecting refunds and performers expecting payments could be out of luck. Area subcontractors and hotels might be out of pocket.
It may be that the promoters simply ran out of money. Because MF Live is not a known commodity, agents for prominent acts such as Aerosmith and Kid Rock would have demanded and received their full payments in advance. However, the alt-rock band Still Eighteen, featuring former Platinum Blonde singer-guitarist Joey Ciotti along with his wife and daughter, was supposed to be paid after its performance. According to the band’s drummer, there were no clues anything was amiss with Roxodus. “We’re disappointed and shocked like everybody else,” Kathy Ciotti said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “Up to the point of the cancellation, we were dealt with very professionally and graciously."
Many of the Canadian acts on the Roxodus lineup had received a deposit representing one-half of their fee, according to Bernie Aubin, founder and president of booking agency Canadian Classic Rock. He received an e-mail the night before the morning announcement of July 3, notifying him of the impending cancellation. “Everything seemed legitimate up to that point,” Aubin told The Globe.
Aubin is the drummer in the band the Headpins, scheduled to perform at Roxodus. His agency represents such retro acts as Honeymoon Suite, Lee Aaron, Prism and Saga, all booked to play the festival.
One day after the Roxodus news, another Ontario rock festival cancelled. The inaugural hair-metal event Hair in the Fair, in Welland, Ont., will not happen, owing to “financial hardship and extremely low ticket sales,” according to organizers. The event was to take place on the same weekend as Roxodus.
Weekend plans of thousands of music fans are wrecked, but there are long-term effects as well. Among those damaged are other summer music events.
“The definition of a festival continues to be used and abused, and there are consequences for everyone in this orbit,” said Sam Baijal, long-time artistic director of the Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont.
Hillside, which this year is headlined by Bruce Cockburn, Alan Doyle and Steve Earle, will take place on the same weekend Roxodus was to. “The true definition of community as it applies to festivals is a sacred and nurtured thing, and should never be taken for granted,” Baijal said. “It’s at the heart of what makes us tick.”
Veteran promoter and organizer Derek Andrews agreed. “There’s a strong appeal to the festival experience across generations and genres," Andrews said. "But some producers have failed to understand their community or don’t have one at all.”
Without grassroots affinity, new festivals are at a distinct disadvantage. In 2014, when Edmonton’s annual Interstellar Rodeo was just in its second year, the festival’s first night of three was cancelled because of severe weather. “It was a miserable day," recalled Shauna de Cartier, the festival’s director and the founder of roots-rock label Six Shooter Records. “All of our tents were in disarray or destroyed, our merchandise was ruined, the grounds were flooded.”
Because de Cartier had weather insurance – “as any good promoter should have, obviously,” she said – bands were paid and ticket-refund requests were honoured. But she took the extra step of adding a Monday concert to make up for the Friday washout.
“On Saturday, I walked up and down the entrance lineup with a handmade sandwich board announcing our new Monday-night lineup,” de Cartier said. “People were thrilled. Only about 20 per cent of ticket-holders asked for a refund, and the rest came out on Monday and enjoyed one of the most memorable Interstellar Rodeo nights we’ve ever had.”
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