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3 Edmonton summer festivals cancelled, more in limbo due to COVID-19

Two Edmonton festivals have cancelled due to COVID-19, with others such as Taste of Edmonton still up in the air for summer 2020. Global News

Edmonton city council’s Emergency Advisory Committee is expected to get some firm answers Thursday on the fate of Edmonton’s festival season, after two festivals decided to cancel ahead of a normally busy summer schedule.

Many onlookers are waiting to see who else will join NextFest and the Freewill Shakespeare Festival on the sidelines.

On Friday, the Edmonton International Jazz Festival also announced the 2020 event would not be going forward. Jazz fest will next take place June 18-27, 2021.

In media release, the festival said it was trying to find a way to have events go on in another capacity.

β€œThe Festival Society is working to find a way where jazz fans and artists will still all come together in some fashion to celebrate jazz music. More information will be shared when available.”

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Donovan Vienneau, the general manager of Events Edmonton said he still does not have a definitive word from the city for Taste of Edmonton, which is due to return to Churchill Square this summer, running from July 16-26.

He also said he has not asked the city for a drop dead date for an answer. “We’ve got time on our hands but that time window is starting to get smaller and smaller for a July 16 festival. My optimism is, yes, we are going to go.

Councillor Ben Henderson expects the city administration will provide an update with specific answers, especially after Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto all have declared those cities will not have sanctioned events through June 30.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Edmonton cancellations and postponements due to COVID-19

“My guess is, the answer’s no,” Henderson told Global News. “I think that’s what everyone’s beginning to realize that for a lot of these things we’re in for the long haul, and it may be just better to recognize that this is going to be a very different summer β€” when we have to do without some things that we love β€” but in the long run for everybody’s interest.

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“They can come back full bore next summer; it may be the best choice.”

Henderson worries that stringing the festivals along will hurt them long term. “How do you not do long term damage to the organization by preparing an entire festival then cancelling it at the last minute? That probably is a more dire long-term consequence than trying to go ahead this summer.”

READ MORE: Northlands cancels Edmonton’s K-Days Parade

Northlands President and CEO Peter Male was not available for comment, however Councillor Tony Caterina doubts K-Days will go ahead. He suspects both K-Days and the Stampede will be called off, and they are likely working with Conklin Canada to restructure their contract for this season.

“I would imagine they’re going to have to make a decision awfully quick, given the lead up time needed for that.” Caterina said, citing the cancellation of the initial weeks of the Eskimos CFL season prior to July 1. “I think the time is probably pretty close, to either Northlands on their own making that decision on what they’re going to be doing, or whether we the city through (deputy city manager) Rob Smyth makes that decision for events like that.”

READ MORE: Dog parks to face restrictions as Edmonton copes with COVID-19 crisis

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K-Days is supposed to go July 17-26. Its website is promoting that info on the full 2020 entertainment program will be announced Monday, April 20.

Other councillors are also expecting answers at Thursday’s 1:30 p.m. meeting, which suits Vienneau just fine. “The sooner that we know, it’s easier for us to pivot and make sure that decisions are done correctly. As a non-profit organization you always are mindful of the resources that are coming into the organization.”

He said Taste of Edmonton is even open to a start later this summer if that’s a workable solution, especially since restaurants will want some event to re-launch into a market that has seen their dining rooms closed because of the pandemic and social distancing mandated by the province.

Despite repeated requests from Global News, the city did not make anyone from administration available for comment.

NextFest has decided to go online June 4-14, choosing to present “workshop sessions, mentorship and snippets of performances,” according to a release it published on its website.

The Freewill Shakespeare Festival rescheduled its two productions slated for William Hawrelak Park to 2021, cancelling Much Ado and Macbeth. The move was announced Tuesday, just days before the stage would have been built.

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