Concert crisis

Published on January 19, 2016

Charlottetown concert promoter Mark Fisher

©Heather Taweel/The Guardian

The falling loonie is making it difficult to pull off a major summer concert in Charlottetown, says a local promoter.

Mark Fisher with Shift Project and Event Management is still working on the two-day Waterfront Concert Series event for the Charlottetown Event Grounds for the Canada Day weekend, but the slumping Canadian dollar means he stops short of guaranteeing a show.

"Honestly, it gives me a headache every day,'' Fisher said on Monday.

"It is probably the single most stressful part of what I do right now — the conversations that are had at the management and agent level and the prices that are quoted.''

Fisher isn't the only one feeling the squeeze.

Organizers with Maritime Countryfest in Fredericton, N.B., cancelled their show over the slumping dollar, and there are rumours that another one of the city's festivals, FredRock, could be next.

Fisher said trying to pull in acts from the United States this year means costs go up about 40 per cent.

Fisher's group brought Kim Mitchell and April Wine to Confederation Landing Park last summer, but he wants to build a bigger brand at the much larger event grounds.

City council also created new rules preventing concerts attracting more than 1,000 people from taking place at the park.

Jeff Squires, CEO of Whitecap Entertainment which produces the Cavendish Beach Music Festival, said a struggling loonie is a rather familiar foe, pointing out that it was around 75 cents when the festival launched in 2009.

"It's definitely an impact on your business,'' Squires said, noting that the 2016 lineup is already set, as are ticket prices. "Who knows what the next five months are going to look like.''

Some speculation has the dollar dropping to 59 cents by March.

"It's part of the business, and you have to deal with it. Yes, it is an expense.''

Erin Benjamin, executive director of Music Canada Live, a national concert advocacy group, said it's not just a promoter's problem. She said cancelled concerts means money not being spent in hotels, restaurants, local attractions and transportation companies.

"A potential crisis looms for the concert sector and those companies and community organizations who bring international acts to Canada, employ tens of thousands of Canadians, add to the culture of our country and provide economic benefit to local, regional and provincial businesses,'' Benjamin told The Guardian.

Wayne Long, Charlottetown's events development officer, said they're hearing the same thing from all kinds of promoters.

"The whole exchange rate is having a harsh impact,'' Long said. "If you look throughout the region, you don't see as many touring acts of late. I'm sure that's tied into the impact of the Canadian dollar because, essentially, what it does is it puts you at greater risk; it eliminates margins, puts an elevated ticket price at play.''

Fisher said he's going to need the city's Special Events Reserve Fund (SERF) and province to step up with some financial support.

"Can I say with certainty that our event is going to happen? No. Are we working every day, all day to make it happen? Yes.''