Organizers pull plug on upcoming Current Festival


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A new Winnipeg music and culture festival announced its cancellation Monday morning, mere days before the event was set to begin.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/08/2022 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A new Winnipeg music and culture festival announced its cancellation Monday morning, mere days before the event was set to begin.

With four days until the music started and drinks were poured at the first-ever Current Festival, organizers announced Monday the Winnipeg event was axed, owing to low ticket sales.

The festival was set to run from Aug. 12-14 at The Forks. With a lineup of all-local artists including Begonia, Royal Canoe, William Prince, the Bros. Landreth, and Super Duty Toughwork, among others, it was billed as a summer festival with “less camping, more chandeliers and cocktails — more sparkle!” Organizers seemed to face an uphill battle from the get-go, postponing scheduled events in both 2020 and 2021 and laying off staff in the pandemic’s early stages before going all-in on 2022.

Organizers announced Monday on Instagram the Winnipeg event was axed.

“Ticket sales for a new festival are crucial, and we know that Winnipeg is a city of last-minute decision makers,” a post made on the festival’s Instagram read Monday morning. “We waited as long as we could to get an uptick in sales, but they didn’t materialize, and the event is no longer viable.”

Just last week, festival director Monica Derksen told the Free Press she was hoping to see between 3,000 and 5,000 people at the age 18+ festival each day, and seemed optimistic. “It’s been quite the trip,” she said. “And I’m feeling confident that this is an even better festival than we could have imagined in 2020.”

Requests for comment from festival organizers Monday yielded no response, and on the Instagram post announcing the cancellation, the comment function was disabled. Direct messages sent over Instagram from the Free Press were seen, but not acknowledged, and emails were not returned.

“So many of you — ticket buyers, suppliers, supporters, musicians, businesses — believed in this dream with us, and we are so sorry to have disappointed you,” the post read. Ticket holders were told to check their emails, presumably for news about refunds.

If the planned festival was one thing, it was ambitious: a music showcase in the city, with an all-local lineup of performers, alongside vendors serving only local beer and wine. Organizers contracted Firesign Design Build — a local firm in restaurant design — to create the festival environment, which included a pop-up restaurant by Winnipeg chef Ben Kramer, a luxury lounge, a food hall, and a “disco forest” for VIP ticketholders. Also on the schedule were mocktail-making workshops, lawn games, body painting and hoop-dancing lessons, among others.

But according to the festival’s cancellation post, all that ambition was not met with equivalent zeal from consumers, who organizers said did not buy enough $100 day passes or $200 full weekend passes for the event to go forward. There were other critiques levelled against the cancelled festival for muddled, scattered marketing and messaging, which often focused on the “luxurious” elements of the festival’s aesthetic. The festival also invested in “cashless wristbands” which could be preloaded with funds, and was set to run as an entirely cashless event.

Artists were reasonably upset about the cancellation, and the rather late notice they were given.

Red Photo Co. Festival director Monica Derksen.

Ila Barker, who was scheduled to play Saturday afternoon, posted their concerns. “Super disappointing news,” the artist wrote on Instagram, saying how excited they were to play in Winnipeg. “As an artist, this is a big hit. I invested hundreds into merch to have for sale this weekend. I’ll be selling these directly off of Instagram and Facebook soon to try and recoup a bit of the investment made for this show 🙁 .” Others in the music community were equally upset about the short notice given to artists, who have to plan their shows months in advance, and now find themselves with an unexpected gap in their schedules, which comes with missed income and engagement opportunities, and time they cannot recoup.

In the post announcing the cancellation, there was no indication the event was being rescheduled for a later date, and a note attributed to Derksen at the end of the post put the festival in the past tense.

“CURRENT Winnipeg was a business, but it was also a dream. It was something I put everything I had into, mentally, emotionally and financially,” she wrote. “I wish, more than anything, that I’d be seeing you at the Forks next weekend. To those who supported this dream: thank you. From the very bottom of my heart.”

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Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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