WEATHER ALERT

Finding our way through a fest-less summer

When it comes to seasonal entertainment, Manitoba has long punched above its weight. That’s one of the things that makes the province’s summers so special. Manitobans love their festivals, and their support has helped give rise to one of the nation’s most jam-packed event calendars.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/05/2020 (949 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When it comes to seasonal entertainment, Manitoba has long punched above its weight. That’s one of the things that makes the province’s summers so special. Manitobans love their festivals, and their support has helped give rise to one of the nation’s most jam-packed event calendars.

Consider the festivities annually on offer: Manitoba is home to the world’s longest-running folk festival, its third-largest fringe theatre festival, and the juggernaut that is Folklorama, which is both the oldest and most popular shindig of its kind. And that’s just in and around Winnipeg: venture farther beyond the Perimeter, and you’ll find a host of beloved rural events that draw key tourism dollars to their communities.

Now, with the province clear that it will not be lifting restrictions on large gatherings anytime soon, those festivals are cancelled. For many of them, the financial hit will be dire. And as organizers look anxiously toward 2021, fans are left trying to imagine what a Manitoba summer will look like without its familiar attractions.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILE There will be no mainstage crowds in Birds Hill Park this summer.

This will be a year like no other. As Manitobans begin to transition out of the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis, they’re left looking ahead to a blank slate of a season. Provincial campgrounds will soon open, and beaches may eventually follow; but there will be no beer tents at Old Market Square, no dashing between Folklorama pavilions, and no nibbling on cobs at the Morden Corn and Apple Festival.

For many Manitobans, these losses will be felt keenly, and not just because it means not having something to do on a warm Saturday night in July. Many of these events are deeply woven into our sense of community and cultural identity; they also generate significant economic benefits and are a key income source for many workers, from musicians to food-truck purveyors.

A profound sense of loss will also be shared by the armies of volunteers — many with decades of faithful service to their credit — who keep all those festivals running. For them, being part of an annual event is a labour of love that helps to define a season — or perhaps even a self.

Even harder to think about is what may — or may not — happen in the future. Festivals don’t tend to be flush with cash; most rely on a handful of days each year to sustain operations. The employer wage subsidy might help, but without ticket sales and concessions, some events will struggle to stay afloat until next year’s hopefully safe and unfettered summer festival season.

There are ways for fans to support their favourite events. On Thursday — what would have been its deadline for early bird tickets — the Folk Fest issued a plea for donations, noting it is facing a “serious financial shortfall.” Previously, when the festival announced its cancellation, fans responded by snapping up 2020 sweatshirts so fast the entire run sold out.

The bad news is that donations and apparel sales alone will not be able to make up the festival revenue that will be lost in 2020. But they could help build a bridge to carry these events to 2021. By then, assuming the COVID-19 crisis is in the rearview mirror, Manitobans will surely be hungry to make the next festival season one for the ages.

In the meantime, however, we’ll have to figure out ways to make our own summertime fun.

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