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BC’s Fvded in the Park music fest, once home to 50,000 fans, canceled amid soaring costs

Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight from Odesza performing during the third day of Lollapalooza Buenos Aires 2019 in Argentina.Santiago Buguermann/Getty Images

The British Columbia music festival Fvded in the Park has canceled its 2023 edition amid the soaring costs of the post-lockdown era, ahead of what may prove to be a rough summer for the live-music industry’s marquee events.

Past years have seen as many as 50,000 people attend the weekend-long event in Surrey, BC, which largely showcases hip hop and electronic music (and whose first word is pronounced “faded”). Festival promoter Blueprint announced the artist lineup just weeks ago for the June festival, including headliners Jack Harlow and Odesza and special guest DJ Snake.

Blueprint founder Alvaro Prol said in an interview that the cost of booking artists had grown by as much as 50 per cent over Fvded’s return-from-COVID-19 edition last summer. “Each single line item costs more, period.” Asked if ticket sales were low, he said they “are not crazy.” Even though he later qualified that advance sales weren’t “far away” from Fvded’s 2022 edition, he said Blueprint was reluctant to raise prices beyond its previous rate of $200 plus fees to make up for the increased costs, for fear of pricing out fans.

“This year, we just didn’t feel bullish enough to make it more expensive,” Mr. Prol said.

With rare exceptions such as megatours by the likes of Beyonce and Taylor Swift, it’s a rough moment for live music events. Putting on concerts and festivals has long been a costly business with slim margins at best, and life on the other side of COVID-19 restrictions has made the math of running festivals more precarious than ever before.

Canada, meanwhile, is stuck at the losing end of an exchange-rate difference with the United States, giving the country a disadvantage versus global counterparts, since most artist fees are paid in US dollars. With major headliners scouting the world for the best-paying gigs, this makes it even more costly for Canada to be competitive in the festival space.

The consequences of all this may soon prompt some existential questions about bringing major events to Canadian music fans. “How do we keep artists in our country? How do we keep Canadian companies alive?” Mr. Prol asked, referring to live-event producers.

Fvded began in 2012 as a Vancouver night club of the same name that embraced that decade’s surge of electronic subgenres such as bass and the rise of trap music. It soon grew to become a festival at Stanley Park, then moved to the PNE Amphitheater, and finally ended up at Surrey’s Holland Park.

Costs increased each year through to 2019′s edition, but after a two-year pandemic pause, there were some “financial surprises” in various budget lines that organizers didn’t expect, Mr. Prol said.

He added that beyond rising artist fees, the cost of insurance, equipment such as fencing, and labor – including security – have all worried. Meanwhile, festivals such as Fvded are now competing with more year-round stadium and arena tours, Mr. Prol said, making it harder to win over a slice of music fans’ budgets.

Though he wouldn’t rule out Fvded’s return in the future, Mr. Prol said that Blueprint staff wanted to pause and regroup to figure out how they would approach a big-ticket event like this in the future.

“COVID is still teaching us lessons in the music industry about where things are going. Sometimes sitting back, you’ll say, ‘Well, this is the way it used to be.’ But we need to rethink a few things.”

Prior to the cancellation announcement, some Fvded fans left Instagram comments complaining of the lineup and trying to offload tickets. Although Harlow and Odesza are both Grammy nominees with a large fanbase, they do not carry the massive cultural impact of previous Fvded acts such as Future, Travis Scott or Rick Ross. Other fans lamented the lineup’s deficit of local artists.

British Columbia had already seen several music events with tens of thousands of fans, including the Squamish Valley Music Festival and Pemberton Festival, which collapsed before the pandemic.

Those cancellations happened during a mid-2010s boom in music festivals around the world, as promoters in many regions attempted to replicate the success of marquee events such as California’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. But the market was quickly revealed to be saturated, and others, including Ontario’s WayHome Music and Arts Festival, disappeared as well.

Fvded’s promoter announced its cancellation just weeks after the neighboring Vancouver Folk Music Festival said it was experiencing similar financial troubles. The event’s folk organizers said in January that it planned to pause its 2023 edition and would consider winding it down entirely as some of its suppliers began demanding upfront payments. Though organizers walked back the permanent-shutdown suggestion shortly afterward, they said that the festival would need to find a new funding model to stay afloat, including by building out its donor base.

The Globe and Mail reviewed the folk festival organizer’s audited financial statements and found that after years of self-acknowledged financial disarray, the event pushed through its 2022 edition on a surplus fueled by government grants, but that those funds had been depleted.

the folk festival organizers have since said they are considering hosting a 2023 edition after all, hoping to access as much as $250,000 in funding from the British Columbia Festivals, Fairs and Events Fund and several other grants. As it retools itself to focus on long-term financial sustainability, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival Society elected several new members to its board on Wednesday.