The Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival will run this year on July 29-31 after a two-year pandemic hiatus, but with significant changes.
The festival is reducing the number of tickets available this year, not providing camping, changing its youth ticket sales policy, and partnering with a fund that supports the mental health of performing artists.
The pandemic has provided organizers with an opportunity to scale the festival back and rethink it, says executive director Paul Hinrichs.
Since he took over in 2016, “it was just pedal to the floor. So there was really no chance to refine anything or to wonder, does this fit our model? There was no time for that.”
On March 3 the festival put 1,200 tickets on sale, which sold out within 24 hours. Hinrichs says the speed of the sale and the accompanying onslaught of emails and phone calls was overwhelming.
“We’ve never had a reaction to a ticket sale or artist announcement like that … It was off the charts compared to anything we’ve ever experienced.”
A second batch of tickets will be released later this spring on an undisclosed date.
Along with the March 3 ticket sale, the festival announced an initial artist lineup consisting of local and B.C. acts along with the U.S. group Greensky Bluegrass. Hinrichs says he might come up with more high-profile acts before the summer.
Cutting back on camping
In the past few years the festival has run several campgrounds at various spots in Kaslo. That will stop this year.
“It was probably doubling our volunteer needs,” Hinrichs says. “It was off site, which created all sorts of logistical issues. It was like a whole other business.”
It was a lucrative one, and good for the festival’s budget, but it was too stressful. Hinrichs says he hopes someone will step in and fill this void as a private business.
Not having camping is another reason to sell fewer tickets because it might mean less accommodation in Kaslo.
In the past, children under 12 were admitted to the festival free, while 13- to 18-year-olds paid half price. Now the festival is shifting to half price for ages eight to 12, with free admission for under eight. Teenagers 13 and older will pay for a full ticket.
Hinrichs says this is partly to cut down the size of the audience and also to ensure the safety of children. As the population of kids at the festival has shot up over the past few years, the number of lost children has also alarmingly increased.
“We realized we had no contact information, we had no tracking of these kids, we don’t know who they are,” he said.
The scaling back of the festival also represents a cautious approach to the pandemic, the status of which five months from now can’t be predicted.
There is no proof of vaccine required to purchase a ticket, but whether there will be a proof required at the festival gate is unknown.
That depends, Hinrichs says, on the provincial health orders for large outdoor gatherings at the time of the festival.
“We will follow whatever the mandate is on July 29,” he says. “By buying a ticket, you are agreeing to follow that, and there’s no refunds.”
Starting this year, one dollar of every festival ticket purchase will go to Unison, a national non-profit organization that provides counselling and emergency relief services to performing musicians.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Unison gave financial assistance to many artists in need.
Hinrichs says the pandemic created a mental health crisis for many performers, who were left with no income and nothing to do.
“I think eventually that becomes a question of self worth,” he says, adding that he has seen this happen to many performers, and it happened to him.
“The weight of it all came crashing down on me. I do gatherings, I bring people together. I found something that I love and that I’m good at. I feel so grateful and blessed to know I found the shoe that fit. But then when that was taken away, it was just like, I didn’t know who I was anymore. What am I supposed to do if this never comes back?”
At one point in that personal crisis, Hinrichs heard about the Unison fund.
“And then it hit me. We have to make every show a fundraiser. We have to make every ticket we sell do something.”