The clock is ticking for Manitoba's largest summer festivals in 2020.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting government bans on public gatherings, it has already struck for the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. Organizers announced Monday they were postponing the 31st annual edition (June 11-19) until further notice.
Three shows the festival has scheduled for the Burton Cummings Theatre — Jim Cuddy Band on June 11, Faouzia on June 13, and Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals on June 17 — remain on the calendar, but further updates are forthcoming, organizers said.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Red River Ex, scheduled to run June 12-21 in Winnipeg, is out of its hands and threatened on multiple fronts, said chief executive officer Garth Rogerson.
"If we have to cancel, we'll cancel," he said Monday in a telephone interview with the Free Press. "We're 2 1/2 months out; let's not jump the gun."
On March 27, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman announced the suspension of special event permits until the end of June.
Rogerson is waiting for further directives from the city, as he said such permits do not apply to the Red River Ex. It does have to obtain other permits, such as noise and pets, and without those the Ex would have to either postpone or cancel, he said.
If provincial guidelines on public gatherings due to the novel coronavirus threat stretch into late June — only groups of 10 or less can get together in Manitoba, as of Monday morning — it would call a halt to the 69th edition of the Ex, Rogerson said.
Also, if border restrictions between the United States and Canada remain in place, there would be no way for the U.S.-based carnival midway and rides to get to Winnipeg — which is the start of an annual carnival tour that includes stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, and Toronto, he said.
A cancellation would have a "significant impact" on the Red River Ex's finances, Rogerson said. The Ex has a $3-million budget for 2020, but the annual fair has a $20-million economic impact to Winnipeg and Manitoba, he said.
For instance, the midway and its collection of rides and carnival attractions usually arrives in Winnipeg in mid-May for prep and maintenance; while here, employees stay in city hotels and eat at city restaurants, he said.
If the Ex were to be cancelled, the organization's staff — Rogerson is at the office in Winnipeg, while seven other employees work from home — would have to move quickly recoup deposits from performing artists, stage-equipment providers, caterers and hotels.
"We pay 50 per cent up-front for the acts," Rogerson said of the mainstage lineup. This year's roster includes actor/rocker Kiefer Sutherland, country artists Madeleine Merlo and Don Amero, and pop artists the Trews and Olivia Lunny. "Our small group would get on the phone to get our money back."
Organizers of events scheduled for July, such as Dauphin's Countryfest, the Winnipeg Folk Festival and Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, are also waiting for further instructions from governments and the progression of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
"We're kind of in that bubble period," Rob Waloschuk, Countryfest general manager, said Monday. "We're three months out... but in the next couple of weeks, we're going to have to think about making the next step."
Countryfest organizers are considering different scenarios, but Waloschuk said postponing or cancelling the annual music showcase (set for July 2-5) will be just as difficult as putting the event together.
"There's so many moving parts, from every artist to every person behind the scenes, especially if you're doing a postponement to a later date," he said. "It becomes very difficult to reschedule."
On Sunday, Joe Diffie, one of those scheduled to perform on the final evening of the 2020 event, died in Nashville from complications due to COVID-19. He was 61.
"I know a few days ago, he tested positive, but (when Diffie died) it was a bit of a shocker to us. I didn't know what to say after it happened," Waloschuk said. "My goodness, this thing is for real."
The effects of the coronavirus have also hit home for the Winnipeg Folk Festival. One of its 2020 headline performers, Americana legend John Prine, 74, was in critical condition due to symptoms of COVID-19.
"Like everyone else, we’re trying to move forward the best way we can with the information we have," Lynne Skromeda, the July 9-12 festival's executive director, wrote in an email.
The fringe, which runs July 17-28, will wait until the end of April or early May to decide on the 2020 edition of the event centred in Old Market Square, said festival producer Chuck McEwen.
Arts and Life Editor
Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.
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