Or­ga­niz­ers cite ris­ing pro­duc­tion costs, pro­lif­er­a­tion of com­pet­ing events around B.C.

Times Colonist - - Front Page - MIKE DEVLIN

Ris­ing pro­duc­tion costs, mar­ket over-sat­u­ra­tion and an un­favourable ex­change rate have re­sulted in the post­pone­ment of an­other pop­u­lar lo­cal mu­sic fes­ti­val.

Port Ren­frew’s Tall Tree Mu­sic Fes­ti­val will not pro­ceed in 2018, the Times Colonist has learned. The largely vol­un­teer-run event was ex­pected to en­ter its ninth year in June, but or­ga­niz­ers were set to an­nounce this morn­ing that they will be tak­ing the year off to en­sure the fes­ti­val’s fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity.

It’s the sec­ond high-pro­file Van­cou­ver Is­land fes­ti­val to go dark in less than a year. Or­ga­niz­ers of Col­wood’s Rock the Shores fes­ti­val skipped the 2017 edi­tion and have said they ex­pect to re­turn to full strength in 2018.

“It’s the right de­ci­sion for us,” said Mike Hann, Tall Tree co-founder and fes­ti­val di­rec­tor. “I’m not re­gret­ting it at all. It’s not a closed door — we’re tak­ing a year off to re-eval­u­ate.”

A weak Cana­dian dol­lar is be­ing cited as an is­sue, as many artists get paid in U.S. funds, Hann said.

How­ever, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of fes­ti­vals big and small is also hurt­ing the bot­tom line of es­tab­lished fes­ti­vals in the prov­ince, he added.

Last year, Tall Tree drew its largest au­di­ence to date, with more than 2,500 peo­ple at the Brown’s Moun­tain site through the week­end (it also hit ca­pac­ity in each of its seven pre­vi­ous edi­tions, but those years op­er­ated with a smaller ca­pac­ity.) It still wasn’t enough.

“These events cost a lot of money to pro­duce,” Hann said. “The hid­den costs that come along with them would blow peo­ple’s minds.”

The fes­ti­val, which in the past has at­tracted acts such as Mother Mother, Shad and Pick­wick, has grown steadily to be­come one of the most pop­u­lar sum­mer events in the area. Part of its ap­peal is the site’s treed set­ting and stun­ning vis­tas — rare for an event of this size.

The fes­ti­val re­lo­cated to Brown’s Moun­tain in 2011 from the for­mer Wild Coast Cot­tages grounds in Port Ren­frew, where the fes­ti­val got un­der­way in 2010.

The four-day fes­ti­val is run by a core team of 30 or­ga­niz­ers, with an ad­di­tional 200 vol­un­teers and 200 crew.

Stag­ing the event on a moun­tain in a re­mote area makes life dif­fi­cult for all in­volved, Hann said. “I’d say it’s one of the more lo­gis­ti­cally chal­leng­ing events around. The costs we bear would be above and be­yond a lot of other fes­ti­vals.”

Tall Tree brass drew head­lines across the prov­ince in May when they of­fered tick­ets to those left out in the cold by the Pem­ber­ton Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, which was can­celled af­ter its or­ga­niz­ers de­clared bank­ruptcy.

Pem­ber­ton’s demise fol­lowed the can­cel­la­tion of an­other largescale B.C. mu­sic event, the Squamish Val­ley Mu­sic Fes­ti­val, which ceased op­er­a­tions in 2016.

“I hope fes­ti­val­go­ers are pay­ing at­ten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing.” Hann said.

“The rate at which these fes­ti­vals have been hap­pen­ing, and what has be­come the sta­tus quo, is not sus­tain­able. In a mar­ket that’s sat­u­rated, you need to stand out. But with that, your costs go up.”

The Tall Tree fes­ti­val will re­turn in 2018 with a new mind­set, Hann said.

It may be smaller, or look dif­fer­ent, but those who have sup­ported it in the past will not be dis­ap­pointed in 2019, he said.

“It’s not like that com­mu­nity of peo­ple is go­ing to go away. The Tall Tree vibe and the Tall Tree com­mu­nity will still be there. It serves everybody bet­ter by us tak­ing some time to eval­u­ate ex­actly what we’re do­ing.”

Tall Tree or­ga­niz­ers are still mov­ing for­ward with Song & Surf, their win­ter fes­ti­val in Port Ren­frew. The event is set for Feb. 9-11 at var­i­ous venues.

Last year, Tall Tree drew its largest au­di­ence to date, with more than 2,500 peo­ple on site at Brown’s Moun­tain through the week­end.

Dancers en­joy warm, sunny weather dur­ing last year’s fes­ti­val.

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