Edmonton's summer festival season in limbo due to COVID-19 outbreak

Organizers of Edmonton's biggest summer festivals worry that COVID-19 may kill their season this year.

From folk fest to Taste of Edmonton, the longer the pandemic lasts, the greater the chances that Edmonton will have a festival-free summer.

The Edmonton Folk Music Festival, staged at Gallagher Park during the second weekend in August, is out of producer Terry Wickham's hands.

"We don't even know if we're going ahead at this point," Wickham said this week.

"I think the decision will be made on a health basis, not by us."

For this year's festival, 63 of 66 artists have already been confirmed. Wickham said the festival is now at the point where it has to commit to volunteer contracts for the next three to six months.

"In the last 31 years, you know, we've had a very good run," he said, citing nasty weather as the only time a cancellation has even come close.

Wickham said he would like to have a better idea by mid-April but he knows it's not up to him.

'Challenging to say' if events can go ahead

At a news conference this week, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said she's not sure what the summer will look like for events like the Calgary Stampede. Hinshaw has said the COVID-19 pandemic will persist for several months.

"At this point in time it's challenging to say whether or not summer events would be able to go ahead," she said.

At the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, virtual meetings have been about contingency plans and what happens next for the annual theatre event.

"We have artists coming from across the world," said executive director Adam Mitchell.

He said 100 of 110 participants are already lined up for the August festival.

'Start to really ramp up' 

"This is the time of year  when we start to really ramp up, we start to step up," Mitchell said. Costs start to "rise exponentially" toward the end of March, he added. 

Mitchell said there are many unknowns about what summer will look like in Edmonton, like if people will have money to spend or whether social distancing will still be in effect.

He said he's not sure what the festival landscape is going to look like moving forward.

"The public trust in public gathering is going to be something that needs to be rebuilt over time," he said.

Edmonton's Fringe is fortunate it still has time on its side. Similar festivals that were scheduled earlier in the year have had to postpone or cancel.

Another popular festival currently in limbo is Taste of Edmonton. 

The massively popular food festival is scheduled to return to Sir Winston Churchill Square this summer.  

Events Edmonton, the festival's organizer, is in talks with the festival's board of directors to create a contingency plan. 

"Discussions are going to be pretty heavy over the coming weeks on the exact direction that we're going to go," said Donovan Vienneau, general manager of Events Edmonton.

The festival already has 50 restaurants, nine food trucks and half a dozen entertainment acts signed for the July 16-26 festival, which has been held on the legislature grounds for the last two years. 

Taste of Edmonton plans to have more sanitizer stations and more volunteers to make sure the experience is safe and secure for crowds, which have been as high as 400,000 people in previous years.

"It's just a matter of will we be ready for it," Mitchell said.

"And I'm hoping and keeping my fingers crossed that the answer is yes."