On what happened to be one of the hottest and haziest weekends of our summer, three festivals took place—KingstonFest, KultureLand and TD JerkFest Toronto and all three had their share of battles to contend with. Long story short, people just want their money back. But let's get into it.
1. KultureLand Festival at Markham Fairgrounds
KultureLand was billed as a festival celebrating R&B and Afrobeat culture. Instead, it ended up turning into a disaster of epic proportions. The festival found itself in predicaments no one could have seen coming. Issues were in the multiple with no transparency between promoters and attendees, 4-hour waits in the sweltering heat, security breaches, gouging with general and VIP ticket prices, fights, artist no-shows, and last-minute venue changes. It was a calamity.
Television writer, Lindsey Addawoo, attended the festivities hoping for a day of music and fun. Instead, she was left with a festival experience that she labels the worst concert ever. There were so many infractions that I asked her to relay the top three that had her nerves on edge.
Firstly, she says there was no accountability leading up to the event. “KultureLand has no contact information on their website or socials, and they even turned off their Instagram comments so people couldn't post their questions, concerns or complaints,” said Addawoo.
Secondly, when you think about the concertgoers who paid $250 for VIP tickets beforehand, of course they're going to be upset when they show up and realize no one is even verifying tickets at the door. “Anyone could've said they were VIPs and walked in. Why pay triple the price of general admission when you aren't going to check my ticket? I could have walked confidently into the venue for free!” exclaimed Addawoo.
And thirdly, those in the general audience didn’t care much for the VIP section and decided to tear down the dividing gate. “It was wildly unsafe and, again, disrespectful to those who paid extra to be closer to the stage. Many fights broke out, and people were passing out before and during Burna Boy's performance.”
Unfortunately, people passed out from heat exhaustion with the heatwave, and security turned a blind eye. Addewoo added, “They [security] didn't do shit. The police tried to help get people who had fainted out, but security was useless.”
And on top of all that, festival goers did not receive the show they paid top dollar for. While Burna Boy was the headliner and performed exceptionally well, pregnant R&B singer Jhené Aiko was a no-show on Sunday’s schedule. Also missing from the bill were Fireboy DML, Kamo Mphela, Lojay and Stonebwoy. According to promoter Ferell Laditi, the artists were MIA due to visa issues.
The last-minute change of venue from Markham Fairgrounds to Ajax Downs Racetrack an hour before showtime didn’t help the matter either. This left many scrambling to find their way to a venue more than an hour away from the initial spot.
The entire experience left festival attendees asking for refunds, and as of press time, the KultureLand Team has acknowledged that refunds will be given for Sunday’s show.
2. Kingston Music Festival at Downsview Park
Kingston Music Festival was publicized as the largest outdoor dancehall music festival in Canada. And it had the potential to be just that with names like Grammy-award winner Shenseea, Popcaan, Skillibeng and Chronic Law. However, when you have a show skillfully being cussed out by the performers themselves (thank you, Popcaan), you have an issue on your hands. This festival’s shortcomings included: running out of water by mid-afternoon, horrible sound quality and losing sound altogether, long waits in the scorching heat, overcrowding, malfunctioning audio/visual equipment, late performance starts, health and safety issues, and a lack of security.
Gamer, Kadeejah Wilsher, attended the festival and says the fence breach could have been completely avoided.
The gate between general admission and VIP was destroyed by those in the general area with no regard for others. There were people who were trampled and injured just so selfish audience members could find themselves closer to the action—and unfortunately, Kadeejah was one of them. “There was no need to have a massive open space for VIP and have the general admission so far back that they could barely see the stage. I saw people get trampled and injured. I was also pushed and slightly trampled to the point my sunglasses were knocked to the ground, and my sandals were torn apart by people stepping on me.” Unfathomable.
Secondly, leaving patrons without hydration is not the way to go in such high temperatures. A mix of body heat and heightened environmental conditions can only lead to catastrophe. “There were no water bottles available at all after 4:30 pm. People were passing out left, right and centre. Security shrugged their shoulders when asked for assistance,” said Wilsher.
She went on to share, “There was a girl beside me that fainted, and no one assisted in getting her out of the crowd. She had to just lay on the ground until she came to, and another person shared their water with her. I was feeling very light-headed too. Fortunately, I found a friend working at the bar, and she gave me a cup of ice. It was my only option. The ice was not clean, but it was my only option. It was either dirty ice or pass out."
What should be noted here is that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. And having to choose between dirty ice or passing out should never be an option in any environment.
And lastly, imagine spending so much money on a ticket only to watch a performance with no sound. “After spending hours waiting in the hot sun and being in the dense crowd skin-to-skin, it was very disappointing to see your favourite performers but unable to hear them. Shout out to the artists for trying to do their best under such miserable circumstances,” says Wilsher.
Of course people want a refund. However, Kingston Music Festival’s press release has expressed that there will be no refunds. They are instead offering a 50% discount code for next year’s indoor iteration of the festival. Who in their right mind will ever go back to this festival?
3. TD JerkFest Toronto at Centennial Park
Now celebrating its 21st year, TD JerkFest Toronto is a veteran at presenting this annual festival. But things took a left turn very quickly: lack of water, shortage of food, major lineups, and hours of standing in the searing heat to get in.
I attended Jerkfest, and to be fair, the performances were on point, and the vibe was just right. Alison Hinds, Konshens and Maxi Priest gave an amazing show. The audio was a little fickle at first, but otherwise, it was smooth sailing. The top three problematic areas for me were the line and gaining entry to the facility, major lineups for food, and food shortages.
Upon arrival, I couldn’t believe the staggering number of people waiting in line in the middle of the field. I’ve never seen lines like that before. Keep in mind that it was also Jamaica’s 60th Independence Day celebrations. I believe everyone wanted to be up and out celebrating. General admission for the festival was sold out online, and people arrived hoping to cop tickets at the gate. Even though I attended as media this year, it was very complicated to get in. I asked questions and was shuffled to and fro by security. It took me almost an hour to get in, until someone from the media came out to rescue me. For the people waiting in line, they were standing there for at least an hour or more.
I took turns planting myself among the crowd and in the media/VIP pit but got caught up in the vibes and didn’t move to get food or something to drink. By the time I did, many vendors had indicated that there was no food remaining. If you did find a vendor selling, the line itself was utterly maddening, twisting across the park. Instead of trying to wrestle up the energy to stand in line for who knows how long, I decided to abandon my craving for jerk pork and carried myself home.
I heard from friends about the water shortage situation, and most brought attention to the problem via social media. There was a sea of about 15 to 20 thousand attendees in the park on Saturday alone. Again, the high temperature and influx of people expected should have been enough indication that proper preparation was imperative. So, there was no excuse. Thankfully, Jerkfest didn’t have all of the concerns and complications of the above-mentioned festivals. They were nowhere close. Nonetheless, these are major concerns to take into consideration for a summer festival.
All in all, many questions have arisen about organizing, planning and executing a successful festival. Sometimes events go off without a hitch, but the reality is, most of the time, it doesn’t. As an organizer, your priority should be first and foremost your paying patrons. Ideally, you want to provide the best experience to instill trust. There’s nothing more gratifying to organizers than returning customers accompanied by friends and family. To achieve that, transparency goes a long way.
Stay in tune with people’s basic needs and understand that everyone’s safety is paramount. Organizers are aware, but sometimes the obvious needs to be repeated. And these are just the basics!
There are several more festivals coming our way before the end of the summer. As long as organizers make sure to learn from the mistakes of others, moving forward, we should be good to go.
Hopes and prayers y'all, hopes and prayers.