Stanfest 2020 cancelled, vows to rise again for 25th anniversary in 2021

By Lois Ann Dort    
April 22 2020

CANSO – As the reality sinks in that public health measures enacted to combat the spread of COVID-19 will not be reduced for many weeks and possibly months, many summer event organizers have made the difficult decision to cancel events scheduled for July and August. Last Wednesday, April 15, Stanfest organizers made the announcement that the annual festival would not go ahead this year.

The Stan Rogers Folk Festival has put Canso on the music festival map for over 20 years and has faced many challenges along the way, but a global pandemic wasn’t something they could have imagined and like most organizations, they have had to adjust to the unprecedent circumstances.

Troy Greencorn, Stanfest founder and producer, spoke to The Journal last week about the decision to cancel the festival and what that decision means for next year’s event.

One of the considerations when making the call to cancel the festival was the financial hit the the event would take in missing a year. “Part of the decision-making process was determining what would be in the festival’s best financial interest. It’s certainly not going to be easy to make it through a year like this and manage to plan next year’s event. But we certainly felt if we were to go in this year and if by some remote chance it was determined that we could even go forward—it was felt the financial risk would be much higher.

“We’d basically be spending our entire budget; $600,000. And will people be comfortable to come to a festival this summer, if they're even allowed to? We believe and I think most people believe, it is going to take time,” said Greencorn, adding that the decision was made in the interest of surviving to host the festival in the next year.

When asked if there were financial commitments that would impact the festival this year, Greencorn said that this circumstance would be considered an of Act of God under most contracts. “There is no commitment that would stand up in a situation like this.”

Greencorn added that while the announcement to cancel the festival was made last week, organizers had been in contact with suppliers for weeks and “in most cases they were waiting for the call.”

Stanfest organizers had been assessing the situation for weeks and watching updates on the pandemic and public health measures closely. In the end, they made the decision that it was not possible to hold the festival where most attendees would be camping and sharing washroom facilities. “The notion of gathering a few thousand people in a field is a quantum leap…There is no way you could deliver the regime that is in place for disinfection and hand washing.”

While cancellation of the festival, in light of the threat to public health from the pandemic, seemed inevitable to some, Greencorn said, “Why are we labouring this decision? Well, the reason why is that we know how much this festival means to the community, to the county, to the whole northeastern region…It is heart breaking to do what we have done.” He added that the impact on artists would also be significant.

Public safety, in the end, said Greencorn, is top of mind when deciding whether or not the festival should go ahead every year. In 2014 the festival was cancelled due to an incoming hurricane. “With a large-scale event, public health -- public safety -- has to come first. Do you invite 2000 campers into the path of a hurricane? Well, no. Do you invite a couple of thousand campers into a pandemic? No.”

If there is a bright side to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greencorn said it might be that people are looking to music more than ever to get them through these difficult days. He mentioned the online Nova Scotia Kitchen Party that connected a quarter million people in a few days through the power of music.

Since the announcement was made, Greencorn said he’s been asked many times if the festival can rise yet again, and he always responds, “Of course we can, and we will.”

Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, and that is all the extra motivation Stanfest organizers, supporters and festival-goers need to have a great event next year. “That is quite a milestone,” said Greencorn.