The Vancouver Folk Music Festival, a staple summer event at Jericho Beach Park for more than four decades, will not be moving ahead with a 2023 edition – and its future is in doubt because of rising production expenses.
The VFMF’s society on Tuesday cited the need for an extra $500,000 to produce a festival this summer in its explanation of this year’s cancellation.
“On top of costs continuing to rise, we are also facing new financing challenges which makes the production of the festival unsustainable,” says a statement from Mark Zuberbuhler, president of the VFMF board.
Like many folk festivals across Canada last summer, VFMF returned after two years of COVID-related shutdowns to find that the live music landscape had changed. Not only did the festival face inflationary pressures, but it had to compete with several industries in British Columbia – including film production companies, developers of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and other music festivals – for the same equipment.
“Many of our service providers and suppliers had completely disappeared, which necessitated herculean efforts and massively increased costs just to cover the basics of production, like stage, fencing and tents,” Mr. Zuberbuhler said. “We had a great festival, but we did not break even.”
As with most festivals of its kind, VFMF depends on volunteers. Its two permanent staffers have been given notices of layoff.
Not only has this summer’s event been cancelled, the not-for-profit, charitable organization that runs the festival may be disbanded altogether. The board of directors of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival Society will ask eligible members to vote on dissolution of the festival at their annual general meeting on Feb. 1.
The festival’s inaugural lineup in 1978 included Bruce Cockburn, Odetta and Stan Rogers. The 2022 edition featured Allison Russell, Taj Mahal and Lennie Gallant among other performers over the three-day event that typically pleases the Birkenstock crowd with an eclectic mix of folk, blues and pop music.
Emerging from COVID-related lockdowns, live music presenters faced an uncertain summer because of high costs and labour shortages. Still, many folk festivals had a standout 2022 as audiences returned in droves. The Mariposa Folk Festival, for example, sold out its tickets for the first time since 1988. According to the VFMF, its event did well at the box office last year.
“I don’t think the problems at Vancouver Folk Festival indicate any doom and gloom for the scene overall,” said Richard Flohil, a music promoter, publicist and veteran festivalgoer. “Festivals may need to increase ticket prices, but they’re still very, very, reasonable.”