TORONTO — A confluence of staffing shortages, delayed visas and a sudden change of venue left Kultureland Festival attendees fuming this past weekend, while the organizer now tries to explain how the celebration went off the rails.
Ferell Laditi told The Canadian Press that the inaugural edition of his two-day R&B and Afro-fusion music festival outside Toronto went nothing like he planned.
“Looking back at it now, maybe I should have just cancelled,” he said in a phone interview.
“But when I created this festival, the vision was to bring everybody together, all the cultures, and give something that the city can hold onto. It was never my intention to scam anyone or take their money and not give them performances.”
By Sunday night, many Kultureland ticket holders had turned to social media to vent their frustrations, which included headliner Jhene Aiko never taking the stage.
The event, operated in association with Toronto-based event planner Code R.E.D Entertainment, became the latest in a series of Ontario music events that have fallen apart and left concertgoers feeling ripped off.
Last week, electronic music festival Ever After pulled the plug just days before it was set to launch as ticket holders wondered if they’d ever get back the money they spent.
Meanwhile, attendees at Kingston Music Festival in North York, Ont. posted videos over the weekend of people rushing the stage after pushing down the fence separating general admission and VIP sections. Some attendees complained of a lack of water at the venue in the midst of a heat wave.
Representatives for Kingston Music Festival did not respond to requests for comment.
Over at Kultureland, ticket holders said the compounding troubles were not properly communicated by organizers, who say they hosted 6,000 people on Saturday and 4,000 on Sunday.
Many fans had to rush around the Greater Toronto Area on Sunday when Kultureland moved from its original venue at Markham Fairgrounds to the Ajax Downs Racetrack — a 1/2-hour drive away.
Laurie Concepcion, who paid $250 for her two-day pass, had concerns about the festival even before she arrived at the event grounds on Saturday afternoon. By that point, she said organizers had been slow to post the performance schedule.
She saw festivalgoers waiting outside the gates for what she said turned out to be roughly four hours. Some were so hungry and thirsty that she says they ordered food delivery services while standing in line.
Kultureland also had trouble keeping the VIP section separate.
Lindsey Addawoo purchased $300 single-day VIP tickets and found they were effectively meaningless when security appeared to let any ticket holder into the higher-priced section.
While grabbing a drink at the VIP bar she heard a “loud popping sound” and turned to see the VIP fence had been breached.
“There was an influx of people just pouring in,” she said. “So there’s really no point in spending that extra cash to get VIP.”
Other attendees noted they saw people fainting near the stage from heat exhaustion during headliner Burna Boy’s performance on Saturday night.
Without addressing specifics, Laditi said staffing and security at the venue “just wasn’t up to par.” So he decided late Saturday night to move Sunday’s Kultureland show across the city to the racetrack, a relatively unprecedented turn of events for an ongoing festival.
“Without the connections I had, it’s literally impossible to move an event venue in that short amount of time,” he said.
“I had to call in a lot of favours.”
But he acknowledged that his decision created new complications.
Ticket holders complained the Sunday venue change came less than an hour before showtime, leaving some of them rushing across the city.
Once they got there, several acts on the bill never took the stage, including Stonebwoy, Fireboy DML, Lojay and Kamo Mphela. Laditi blamed their absence on last-minute visa problems that kept the African artists from entering Canada.
“We’ve been working on their visas for months,” he said.
“Because of the pandemic, the visa issuing office (was) backed up, so a lot of the processes took weeks and weeks. That’s not something we can control.”
Rounding out the Sunday issues were unanticipated problems with the headliner Aiko, whose performance was originally slated to take place at the abandoned venue. That’s where her elaborate stage design remained.
Kultureland waited until around midnight to inform waiting festivalgoers via social media that she would no longer be performing since her show required “a level of visuals that we could not have technically produced in a short period of time.”
Laditi said the festival was “still trying to make it work” with Aiko before they finally concluded around 7 p.m. that she couldn’t go forward with her show. He was unable to account for why it took until midnight to tell the crowd.
“We could have put that statement out a lot — a little bit — sooner, but there’s a lot of legalities there that we had to sort out,” he said.
Representatives for Aiko did not respond to requests for comment.
Videos posted online showed a staff member telling festivalgoers the show was over as members of the audience shouted back, “Refund!”
“I wish the artists that didn’t show up would’ve spoken up,” Concepcion said.
“It just seems like everything was falsely advertised.”
As Sunday began to fall apart, Laditi said he intended to refund concertgoers for that experience.
“We were planning to refund everybody for that second day — and that’s still the plan,” he said, noting that details will be provided to ticket holders shortly.
He added that rumours online that artists weren’t paid were untrue.
“Everybody who was on that lineup was fully paid,” he said.
Laditi plans to move forward with a second edition of Kultureland next year, which he is confident will go smoother.
“I know there’s been a lot of setbacks with this, but the goal is to build something that can continue to connect cultures and build the community we have here in Canada,” he said.
But some music fans walked away discouraged.
“I don’t see myself going to any festivals soon,” said Tobi Nicholas by phone as he headed home from Sunday’s event.
“You can’t trust anybody.”