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Thread: The Success of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

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    Default The Success of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival

    I have been asked to write about “why the Edmonton Folk Festival is so successful”.

    Success can be measured in many ways. In the past 15 years our festival has sold 99% of all available tickets. Our financial situation has stabilized, we have gone from an accumulated deficit of $60,000 to $1 million in the bank, $1 million in our Endowment Fund, and owning our office, also worth 1 million.

    But I prefer to measure our success in terms of spirit and commitment. Our volunteer base of 2200 [with a waiting list of 400 ] is second to none in the world of folk festivals and our audience is loyal and passionate.

    There are many ways to measure a folk festival. What are the sound systems like? How about the quality of the food, the hospitality, activities for kids, weather, environmental policies, and yes, how clean are the porta potties?

    Edmonton ranks at or near the top in every category. We pay great attention to detail and we have an organizational philosophy that encourages constant improvement. I think it shows.

    Our structure is democratic. Any volunteer, and only volunteers, can become a member. The membership elects The Board of nine members. The Board hires the Producer. The Board is in charge of policy and the Producer is responsible for the operations of the festival.

    There have been no terminations or layoffs of staff for over 20 years. There are 5 key staff, with a minimum of 15 festivals worth of experience each.
    There are two key areas for any festival, and if you get either wrong, your festival will fail. They are the “product” and the “venue”. In our case the “product” is folk music, but more on that later.

    The venue determines size, ambiance, access and potential for growth. Think of sitting on the hill at Gallagher Park. There is no doubt you are in Edmonton, as you survey the downtown skyline and the North Saskatchewan River Valley. You are also on a hill, lending itself to excellent acoustics and great sightlines. You can see over your neighbour’s head. This is called “raked seating” and the size of the hill and that 7 of the 8 stages are on hills are what sets Edmonton apart from other folk festivals. With a large audience capacity we have the ability to bring in major artists like van Morrison, Joni Mitchell or Norah Jones. Our first festival was held in Gold Bar Park, right beside the sewage treatment plant. How successful would we be if that was still our venue?

    Bigger is not necessarily better. Other folk festivals have stunning sights. Newport overlooks a beautiful harbour, Calgary is set on the banks of the Bow river in a beautiful park, Winnipeg is in a Provincial park on the prairies, lending itself to a camping experience, and Vancouver overlooks, well Vancouver. Different sites give a unique feel to each experience.

    “Product” is where Edmonton excels. Edmonton spends more on talent than any other folk festival, lets more people in for free than any other folk festival and is less expensive to attend than most major folk festivals. I won’t bore you with the details of how we have achieved that hat trick, except to say that is the result of a lot of planning and hard work.

    Great care goes into the booking of each artist and how they will fit into the overall plan for this year’s festival. And then there is our attention to detail. All the technical needs of the bands have to be met. Then there is the hotel, hospitality, immigration, schedules, transport, sessions and concerts. We have to look at security, merchandise sales, audience entry, ticket sales, t shirt sales, concessions, and everything has to be checked and double checked by staff. If we can get the details right before we distribute the information to our 2200 volunteers, then the weekend will run smoothly.

    Of course our success can be measured in very simple terms. It is cheaper to go to the folk festival this year for 5 days [ Van Morrison, Levon Helm, Ben Harper, John Prine, Sarah Harmer and 60 other artists ] than to get the top price seat at the Jubilee to see Neil Young. And you can bring your kids for free to the folk festival.

    -- Terry Wickham [Producer 1989-Present]
    Last edited by NoreneS; 05-08-2010 at 12:01 AM.

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    It's one of the few Edmonton festivals that's actually worth attending (fairly good line up again this year). That said, as you've more or less pointed out yourself, the site is pretty crappy. (I believe there's already a thread debating this very point.)

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    The Folk Music Fest is definitely one of the Mainstay events in Edmonton and is a solid contribution to the quality of life here. I am glad that they have successfully managed to build up their assets through productive management.

    The fact that it is an well established festival seems it avoids the close scrutiny of newer cultural activities , be they art galleries , theaters , museums , sporting facilities as a consumer of Tax dollars.

    Does anyone know how many tax dollars the folk festival has received over the years ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by andy8244 View Post
    It's one of the few Edmonton festivals that's actually worth attending (fairly good line up again this year). That said, as you've more or less pointed out yourself, the site is pretty crappy. (I believe there's already a thread debating this very point.)
    How is the site pretty crappy? It offers raked seating, good access from all parts of the city, AMAZING skyline and valley views, and is walkable from transit.

    Personally I think this site is the best in the city.

    yup, pretty horrible


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    I, too, find the "crappy site" comment a bit bizarre. Every stage has excellent sight lines and the views from the hill are a major highlight of the event.

    I will grant, though, that sometimes artist placement is poorly considered -- e.g. the gentle sounds of the Great Lake Swimmers placed at a (bizarrely tiny) stage adjacent to Northern Cree chanters = epic fail.

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    I scored a Sunday ticket from the office! They still have beer gardens right...?

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    I, too, find the "crappy site" comment a bit bizarre.
    I don't, considering the source

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    Quote Originally Posted by DTrobotnik View Post
    I scored a Sunday ticket from the office! They still have beer gardens right...?
    Umm, there's a Folk Fest on this weekend? I thought it was just a beer garden!

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    I LOVE the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. The site is fantastic, the music is top-notch and the volunteers are outstanding. Sitting on that hill on a warm summer night listening to fantastic music while watching the sunset - it does NOT get better than that. It doesn't hurt that I live in walking distance to Gallagher Park, either

    I was crushed this year when I got to the EFMF office to buy tickets 5 MINUTES after they sold out. However, I've since managed (through great effort and thanks to some wonderful people) to get enough passes for myself and my family, and I'm expecting a great weekend - as always.

    My favourite thing, and what keeps me coming back, is not the artists I've heard of. Yeah, it's great to see a big name, or to see again someone I know and love, but what I really like is finding someone amazing that I've never heard of before, and the Folk Fest NEVER lets me down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by andy8244 View Post
    It's one of the few Edmonton festivals that's actually worth attending (fairly good line up again this year). That said, as you've more or less pointed out yourself, the site is pretty crappy. (I believe there's already a thread debating this very point.)
    What don't you like about the site Andy? I haven't been in years but I always understood the location (overall) to be one of the major advantages. Obviously the lineup the most important but still.

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    I think the 'crappy site' view is a difference in preference. Many festival sites, like Calgary's, provide more intimate settings that are really nice. The EFMF is less intimate but provides and exceptional natural amphitheatre. This means they can handle more people and thus book bigger acts.

    I wouldn't say one is better than another, they're just different. Personally I have two festivals I always go to and they're at opposite ends of this spectrum. I go the EFMF and I go to the Sasquatch Gathering where there are only a few hundred attendees and we're frequently camping with the performers.

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    I have yet to ever go as there has never been an artist there i liked enough to justify the price

    That being said its great for our city, and I hope people continue to support it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Komrade View Post
    I have yet to ever go as there has never been an artist there i liked enough to justify the price

    That being said its great for our city, and I hope people continue to support it.
    I've gone a few times. My natural disdain for hippie stink usually keeps me away but it is a good venue. There's really good sound there and it's a natural ampitheatre.

    I have to admit it is kind of fun though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chump View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by andy8244 View Post
    It's one of the few Edmonton festivals that's actually worth attending (fairly good line up again this year). That said, as you've more or less pointed out yourself, the site is pretty crappy. (I believe there's already a thread debating this very point.)
    What don't you like about the site Andy? I haven't been in years but I always understood the location (overall) to be one of the major advantages. Obviously the lineup the most important but still.
    Ok, maybe not a crappy site but not the best. I tend to find the whole thing a little boxed in, and well, not very “festivaly”. I'm used to music festivals where you camp for the duration and really get into the whole festival vibe – the Gallagher Park set up by contrast just feels overly stage-managed and a little bland .


    As for the backdrop, I'm afraid looking out over concrete boxes does nothing for me when listening to this type of music – It's Canada, it's folk music, I want mountains and trees under a star filled sky ffs.

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    did you have an alternate location where the Edmonton folk fest should be held in your mind andy?

    We have the trees and stars at the current site... not sure where we will find mountains in Edmonton area. Perhaps the nice 'hill' north of the yellowhead along 170st?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Medwards View Post
    did you have an alternate location where the Edmonton folk fest should be held in your mind andy?
    Jasper?

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    unfortunately that's not in Edmonton

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    Quote Originally Posted by andy8244 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Medwards View Post
    did you have an alternate location where the Edmonton folk fest should be held in your mind andy?
    Jasper?
    Then you'll be wanting to go the Jasper Folk Festival rather than the Edmonton one.

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    best outdoor venue in Edmonton, hands down.

    It actually makes me wonder why there aren't more shows there. It could easily hold probably 40,000 if the mainstage was pushed back and angled to point SE, the vendor village was relocated, and all of the other stages were gone. For a big headliner or a 1 day/2 stage show this could be something REALLY special.

    I assume the reason why options for other shows haven't been explored is because the surrounding community of Cloverdale needs to sign off on it, and the shows I'm talking about would bring in a completely different crowd from what is currently there.

    Great views, great acoustics, great vibe all around. I have a lot of ideas for what this could (and should) be, and which acts they should really be going after.

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    Like you said, the community already undergoes pretty significant disruption for weeks before and after Folk Fest with set up and tear down. Unless more permanent infrastructure was installed I doubt it's viable as an occasional concert venue.

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