Goodnight, sweet festival

Events that have taken their place among the stars

While there’s been no shortage of newer festivals joining the summer schedule, a few notable festivals have wound down in the last year.

After over a decade, the last Shine On festival was held in late August of 2017. At the time, many attendees may have been unaware that this was a grand finale.

But in the freezing depths of January, a statement appeared on their Facebook page: “Just as the sun must set each night, the warmth of summer must eventually turn to fall, the cookie jar will inevitably be left with just crumbs, and the last season of (insert popular TV show here)must eventually arrive, so too must the life of our little festival.”

Tabitha Gamble was the artistic director of Shine On for the last eight years, and had been organizing it remotely from BC over the last two years.

“We didn’t have a good organizer structure in that once I stepped down, we didn’t have anyone ‘trained’ in what it was that I did.”

Managing personnel changes in other areas of festival admin had also been a challenge, Gamble says, and a commitment to safer spaces - especially in the midst of Fentanyl overdose concerns - became harder to uphold as well, though organizers tried their best.

“We cut down ticket sales 50 per cent with the thought that fewer people meant less stress keeping them secure and safe,” Gamble says.

Their Facebook page remains open as a place to share photos and memories, and to keep the spirit of the festival alive in some form, all year round. Gamble’s fondest memories of the festival, however, didn’t fall during the weekend of Shine On. For a few years, organizers hosted a bluegrass brunch at the Unitarian Church.

“Planning for that event, baking, prepping all of the food for the waffles and to-order omelettes we made for folks was spectacular. The food paired with the music made it a spring morning that I looked forward to every year,” Gamble says.

“Shine was about the music and art and shenanigans. It wasn’t just a yearly thing that came and went, it was like a child that me and the other organizers were constantly talking (about).”

The commitment to running a festival, whether on a small or large scale, can be huge. And scaling up doesn’t always guarantee success.

Last August, Interstellar Rodeo brought Beck, Broken Social Scene, Father John Misty and more to the Scotiabank stage at the Forks. It was the downtown music festival’s third iteration, and turned out to be its last.

The 2017 festival had followed on the heels of the Canada Summer Games, which programmed an accompanying festival with 11 nights of free concerts at the Forks. Each night had a provincial or territorial theme, featuring emerging and well-known performers from that area.

"In 2017, we made every effort to ramp up (more than double) our talent and production budgets to achieve the growth targets we needed to make the festival viable. And while we're not a company to shy away from competing against other ticketed events, it's not realistic to expect that we would have been able to achieve these targets when contending with the unexpected challenge and impact of two weeks of free, like-minded programming in the same venue right before our own festival,” festival producer Shauna de Cartier shared in an email published by the Winnipeg Free Press on October 29, 2017, announcing the end of the festival.

Interstellar Rodeo added their own specific flair to the musical template, including providing wine pairings tailored to specific artists which were offered while the musicians were on stage.

"It was so great, it was really a special festival I thought, something about the energy of it all really made it seem like a different kind of experience and people loved it. I loved it,” De Cartier told the Free Press.

Interstellar is under the wing of label Six Shooter records, and had iterations in both Winnipeg and Edmonton. The Edmonton festival will continue in 2018 from July 20 to 22.

The Winnipeg section of interstellarrodeo.com has been transformed into an in memoriam style archive of the festival’s three years, with an encouragement to join the fun in Edmonton.

Published in Volume 72, Number 25 of The Uniter (May 31, 2018)

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