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Osheaga co-founder Nick Farkas says ticket sales are up compared to pre-pandemic years due to pent up demand after the festival was cancelled in 2020 and scaled back in 2021.Courtesy of Osheaga/Handout

When pre-sale tickets for the electronic dance music festival Veld, held at Toronto’s Downsview Stadium, opened on Feb. 9, product designer Cindy Cheng didn’t hesitate to click ‘buy.’

“I was really excited,” recalls Ms. Cheng. The EDM festival is scheduled to run from July 29 to 31. “It’s been so long since I’ve been able to listen to live music.”

Ms. Cheng had attended Veld every year since 2016 until the pandemic hit. She had tickets for Veld in 2020, but they were refunded after the festival was cancelled due to COVID-19. This year, she paid around $350 for pre-sale tickets, alongside her boyfriend and his brother, who normally attend as a group. But as word spread of the festival’s return, Ms. Cheng says she’s seeing friends not normally interested in EDM, or that have never been to a music festival, show interest in joining.

“A lot of people that I know who are not really into [EDM] are more encouraged to go to Veld this year because the lockdown has been so boring for them,” Ms. Cheng explains. “They’re like: ‘We’re going to live this summer to the fullest.’”

With the country’s widespread vaccination uptake and lower hospitalization-to-infection rates seen in recent surges of the pandemic, there’s reason to believe that summer 2022 will be the triumphant return of big, multi-day festivals in Canada. Osheaga, one of Canada’s largest outdoor music festivals, is back this year, from July 29 to July 31. Osheaga was cancelled in 2020 and scaled back to a two-stage, 5,000-person event in 2021.

Osheaga co-founder Nick Farkas feels optimistic that this year’s festival will happen as planned with six stages and up to 55,000 attendees per day. “I think there’s confidence from the fact that people are triple- or quadruple-vaxxed,” Mr. Farkas explains. “We’re able to do shows now indoors, so we’re hoping that outdoor [shows] will be permitted as it is currently.”

Mr. Farkas says that ticket sales are up compared to pre-pandemic years. “People have been waiting for two years and there’s definitely a pent-up demand,” he explains. “Our sales are stronger, comparatively. We’re ahead of where we were in 2019.”

Should public health regulations be reinstated at the time of the festival, such as mask mandates or vaccine passports, Mr. Farkas says that the festival will be prepared. “We’re flexible, and we’re ready,” he says. “We just want people to feel safe and ready to come.” Festival-goers like Ms. Cheng believe there’s a risk involved with attending concerts, but it’s one she’s willing to take. She has been to a handful of indoor concerts this spring, since the post-Omicron reopening. “I feel like when [people] are attending, there is an understanding that it’s going to be crowded. They know that they could possibly catch COVID, but they’re willing to accept that risk.” At Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, chief executive officer Darrell Brown says they’re making changes to create a safer event space for guests.

“One of the challenges we face is when you’ve got 150,000 people on a Saturday, you don’t get necessarily good coverage on cell phones and we don’t have full Wi-Fi access across the entire site,” Mr. Brown explains. “This year, we want our vendors to be able to tap and not exchange money wherever possible. So, we’re trying to expand Wi-Fi coverage and require all our vendors and concessionaires to process on that basis.”

The CNE also plans to add touch-and-enter technology to reduce interactions, widen aisles and create one-way traffic flow to further reduce congestion.

With a history dating back to 1879, when it was then known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, Mr. Brown says the CNE has seen its share of major challenges and cancellations. “We’ve had two polio epidemics, we had SARS, we had a blackout in 2003,” he says. “Every time something like this has happened, the next year has been a boom year. People have just flocked to the fair. So, part of us is hoping that we get the same kind of reaction this time around.” After two years of cancellations, major summer events will need a boom year to recoup losses and ensure their longevity. “If we have a bad year weather-wise, or the attendance is substantially lower than what we would hope, there will be really significant financial challenges to getting to 2023,” Mr. Brown admits.

If the past few months are any indication, Mr. Farkas, whose organization host concerts and events year-round, has no reason to be worried. “We’re not seeing any reticence whatsoever from the ticket buyers right now,” he says. “We’ve been doing a lot of shows, clubs, arenas and the shows are selling as good or better than I’ve ever seen in my life. So that’s an encouraging sign.”

The best of the fests

Here are just a few of the major multi-day festivals returning in summer 2022 across Canada:

Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, Calgary, June 22 to 26

Escapade Music Festival, Ottawa, June 24 to 26

Montreal International Jazz Festival, June 30 to July 9

Cavendish Beach Music Festival, Cavendish, P.E.I., July 7 to 9

Winnipeg Folk Festival, July 7 to 10

Calgary Stampede, July 8 to 17

Country Thunder Saskatchewan, July 14 to 17

Hillside Festival, Guelph, July 22 to 24

Veld Music Festival, Toronto, July 29 to 31

Osheaga, Montreal, July 29 to 31

Pacific National Exhibition, Vancouver, Aug. 20 to Sept, 5

Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Aug. 19 to Sept, 5

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