Major Changes Coming To Jazz Festival

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THERE WILL be some dramatic changes in scheduling and logistics at the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, which runs in Saskatoon June 21-30.

Artistic director Kevin Tobin calls it “a revitalization of a model which hasn’t changed much in 35 years and we see the changes as an opportunity for stability and future growth.”

The Delta Bessborough Gardens stage will be used for five ticketed headline events and on the other five days, the emphasis will be on Saskatchewan talent on the free stage, with shows four times a day. 

In another strategic plan, The Bassment, which is owned by the Saskatoon Jazz Society, and the Broadway Theatre will each operate on four or five nights, but never in competition with each other, as has happened in the past.

Gone in the shuffle will be the large free stage, which at times has been operated on either side of the Bessborough Hotel and, for a handful of years, in Friendship Park at the foot of the Traffic Bridge.

The ticketed headline shows will be held the first three nights, June 20-21-22, and again on June 29-30. All are prime weekend opportunities. Names of the headliners are likely to be announced within the next seven to 10 days.

The free stage, which provided shows for all 10 days, including noon-hour starts on weekends, will now be a five-day run, June 24 through 28, and will have an earlier start each day with a 3 p.m. opener, followed by other shows at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.

“The ticketed shows and the free stages are entities unto their own. It is not possible to run free shows on the same days as the ticketed shows. For a major concert, the visiting acts need the time to unload their equipment, set up the stage as they see fit, and do sound checks, usually at about four in the afternoon. There isn’t any room for flexibility. And that’s why we will concentrate on the strengths of ticketed shows for five days and then maintain the values of the free stages on five days,” said Tobin.

“One of the things that has happened in the last 10 years is that the music industry has changed. We are in a position where we have to change our ways of presentation.”

The free stage, in an outdoor setting, has unlimited possibilities in accommodating customers.

One of the changing measures will involve concessionaires who pay to have their booths in the vicinity of the previous free stages. The festival’s call for concessionaires will soon go out. Opportunities will be available in the Bessborough Gardens. The hotel itself will maintain some food and drink service, but is open to having others in the park as well.

The Broadway Theatre and The Bassment have always been considered key among the indoor venues. The Broadway has about 440 seats, the Bassment has around 180, and by running on alternate nights, the options with largely-imported acts will be better. Amigos will also be used for some nights.

There will be many regular venues, with free noon-hour entertainment on street stages, plus supper shows at Second Avenue Grill and late nighters at the James Hotel and more. The festival will also share a partnership with PRIDE Saskatoon, which will arrange its own stage and hire its own entertainers near the Bessborough on June 21.

LAUNCHED IN 1987, the festival became a dream come true for organizers like Jim Hill, Mona Chappell, Paul Taylor and others. The media became very conscious of the festival because in the first summer, organizers didn’t have money to buy advertising. Gradually, sponsors stepped in. 

Hill arranged for a national sponsor, the du Maurer Foundation, but there were protests from the anti-smoking crowd. Hill signed the first contract with SaskTel as the title sponsor and TD has become the main stage sponsor.

No one ever says much about the financial returns, but the festival has suffered some setbacks during the last five years. Some were caused by importing talent when the Canadian dollar was in decline and costly exchange rates were hard to handle.

 Some were caused by weather interruptions, like an occasional thunderstorm and even one summer where smoke from the northern forest fires drifted down to Saskatoon.

Some problems were caused by organizers trying to be something for everyone, like booking three ticketed shows on many of the same nights.

But this year’s realignments seem to provide the perfect solution. There will be fewer shows but the talent pool will remain significant, the scheduling will be more cost-effective and, as the second largest jazz festival in Western Canada, the consumers will still be the winners.