Aloha, Keloha: Another festival bites the dust

Where are all the festivals going? Across the valley, festival promoters are threatening to pull their events due to financial restraints.

Aloha, Keloha.

Kelowna’s popular indie music festival won’t return to the shores of Okanagan Lake this summer, but that’s not to say locals will be faced with the sound of silence on its regular weekend.

“We have kept Keloha’s dates for 2015, and we’re working on changing the concept and bringing back an event,” said Scott Emslie, owner of Wet Ape productions.

“We are still in the preliminary stages of coming up with some concepts that might work in Kelowna on that weekend—but they’re very preliminary.”

The event has been in the red for three years running, and that’s prompted Emslie and his crew to shift their focus onto what has historically been the most financially viable offering in WetApe’s slate of productions, Center of Gravity.

“That’s the biggest event we do throughout the year, and we want to make sure that’s our priority,” he said.

And, while Center of Gravity may be prioritized, Emslie and his team have yet to officially commit to  it, either, due to ongoing financial issues.

“It’s been driving the business, but this year it was in the red, too,” he said

The trouble, from Emslie’s point of view, appears to be onerous costs associated with holding festivals in the city.

“I think, and hope, there is potential for festivals to do well in Kelowna. But there’s a large cost associated to bringing these events here,” he said, noting that Kelowna is on the more expensive side, when compared to other cities.

Some of the most onerous costs  downloaded to festival promoters who head to the Okanagan come from security demands.

For example, the bill for RCMP at the Center of Gravity site came in at around $60,000 this year. For the Center of Gravity house, an after party at the curling club, the cost for RCMP was an additional $10,000.

To have bylaw officers tour the area, the festival was on the hook for $7,500 more, BC Ambulance was a $12,000 cost and park rental fees were an additional $25,000.

All those costs are just what it takes to be in Kelowna. Lining up talent, musical and sport, and all other elements are completely separate.

“We want to have a good working relationship with the City of Kelowna, but these costs need to stay manageable so we can continue to operate,” he said. “We’re not making a request for assistance, but we need to make sure (the city) is committed to keeping costs reasonable.”

Emslie, who now lives in Vancouver and is part owner of the Imperial on Main Street, will be in town Thursday to make a more concrete statement about the Center of Gravity event. He’s optimistic that he’ll be able to say that he’s keeping his signature event alive and well.

“We have a few different projects going now, however, the Center of Gravity is still the biggest festival we have,” he said.

If Emslie can’t figure out a way to keep it and the unnamed Keloha replacement going, the festival scene in the Okanagan could be dramatically different in the year ahead.

South of Kelowna, in Penticton, Boonstock was played up to be a new yearly staple in the festival scene. But it’s been plagued by controversy and financial tumult that have led some to believe that it was just a one-off.

Even more stable offerings, like the Roots and Blues festival in Salmon Arm, have suffered from financial pressure.

The Salmon Arm Folk Music Society is in desperate need of financial support that would allow it to go ahead in 2015.

The society’s treasurer said  they’d need $150,000 this fall in order to continue to pay working staff, pay rent and start booking bands for next year’s festival. It’s unclear if they’ve met that aim yet.