Bear Creek Folk Festival eyes bigger year

Sarah McLachlan, Blue Rodeo and The Strumbellas will headline the 2023 Bear Creek Folk Festival.

The star-studded lineup has kickstarted early ticket sales.

“This is the year we have been waiting for,” said Sarah Card, folk festival producer.

“We're continuing to grow and I'm excited about that, and I'm excited about how excited everybody else seems to be.”

Early signs show a large boost in interest in this year’s festival with ticket sales seeing a large increase.

“Early signs are that we are heading into a serious record-breaking year.”

Card says there will be something for everyone at the festival, noting children’s favourite Fred Penner will also be performing.

She noted sales are 50 per cent higher than its previous record-breaking year.

The festival has resulted in economic benefits for the city.

Travel Alberta said the 2019 festival resulted in $1.1 million in direct and indirect spending in the Grande Prairie area.

Card says the 2023 festival could provide upwards of $1.4 million in spending in the region, according to Travel Alberta figures.

The Rotary Campground expanded its capacity for the festival weekend and it has already sold out, with the overflow waiting list growing.

“One thing we do really want to be careful about is maintaining the vibe on site, and so we don't ever want it to feel overcrowded or lose the things that people love about the festival or, you know, get to a point where people have to wait 40 minutes for portapotty,” said Card. She said great care is being taken not to expand too quickly.

As the festival grows, so do costs and inflation has not helped with output costs, said Card.

The cost of transportation has risen and caused other fees to increase, including artist fees.

The increase in ticket sales may also mean the site in Muskoseepi Park be expanded.

“If we have to do that, that's actually going to heavily increase our infrastructure costs as well but even without that, almost everything is more expensive this year,” said Card.

Without the expansion costs, this year's expenses may cost the festival an additional $100,000 or more.

The festival has grown to the point of national recognition with music industry experts and people coming from across the country.

“We've had a number of artists tell us that playing our festival has been life-changing for them where they have gotten a record deal out of it or in a new agent or a tour or songwriting (and) co-writing opportunities,” said Card.

She noted the festival has helped created a positive outlook of the city for visiting artists.

“Artists coming to Grande Prairie now have these amazing memories of Grande Prairie because it was where their career got started.”

The festival has depended on grants from the city and province to ensure the show can go on.

City council approved the $75,000 to be allocated to the Bear Creek Folk Festival through Large-Scale Tourism Grant Funding.

Card noted that next year the festival would no longer be eligible for a provincial grant, which has been pivotal in its operations, because the grant is only available every two years. The festival is also ineligible for alternative grants provincially and federally due to its current debt load.

Still, she said the festival's debt is lowering continually, with the festival having three profitable years in a row.

“If our ticket sales are strong enough this year, we're hoping to pile a lot of that money into decreasing the debt which will help us with some other funding.”

“Money that we get from grant funders like the city does not go into debt,” explained Card. “It goes into paying for the festival but it does allow us the ability (that if we do) really well with ticket sales to put more of that money into the debt which could really help save our bacon next year.”

“We're being very proactive this year to make sure that we're able to continue our momentum and, come out of what feels like it's going to be an absolutely record-breaking year and jump straight into it another very strong year next year,” she said.

Card is optimistic about the future.

“We hope to continue to grow every year and continue to find new ways to contribute not only to our local tourism and economy, but also find new ways every year that we can impact people's lives and continue to make this an even better place to live.”

Card wants the festival to be as accessible to people as possible, and encourages people to volunteer if they cannot afford to attend this year.

“We are looking for volunteers and it's a great way to see the festival.

“You get in free all weekend, you get fed amazing food all weekend in the same place that our artists eat, and you get a special after party featuring some of our festival artists.

“If you can't quite afford a ticket; it’s another way that you can come as well.”

Card said there is also discounts on tickets for youth and seniors, and children under the age of 12 are free.

“We really aim to be very accessible to families,” said Card.

“It's very family friendly atmosphere.”

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News