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POLL: Grand Falls-Windsor Salmon Festival posts $79K loss

The Punters opened the 2018 Exploits Valley Salmon Festival to a small audience.
The Punters opened the 2018 Exploits Valley Salmon Festival to a small audience. - Megan Frost

Town seeks to retool festival main event with local talent and lower ticket prices

GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, N.L. — The 2018 Salmon Festival numbers are in and they represent a bit of a mixed bag.

The festival lost $79,000. This was due almost entirely to poor attendance at the Saturday night concert, said town councillor and festival chair Shawn Feener.

“That was our only downfall for the entire festival,” he said. “Thursday night we had the salmon dinner, which was a sellout, Friday night was close to the same numbers as last year. Our Sunday night concert, that was pretty well a break-even show, and Monday, the Grand Falls-Windsor Day, we had in excess of 3,000 people on the field.”

Not including the free event Monday, total attendance at paid events was 2,550, Feener revealed, a decrease of 675, or 21 per cent, from 2017.

For the salmon dinner 50 seats were added for a total of 550 in attendance. The stadium dance on Friday saw 544 turn out compared to 605 last year. Attendance at the gospel concert Sunday, starring Mark Lowry, was 743.

The main event, however, saw just 713 people show up for headliner Emerson Drive and a mostly country lineup. Tickets sold for $49.50 to early birds, $59.50 a couple of weeks prior to the concert and $69.50 at the gate. Feener suggested that was just too pricey for a lot of people.

“I think it has a lot to do with the economy,” he said. “I spoke to some other concert suppliers around the island here and attendance was down everywhere.”

All in all, though, Feener said council was pleased with the event, which, he said, is going through a major revamping. They know what is working and what is not, so it is back to the drawing board for next year.

“Over the next couple of months we’re going to try to bring it back down so we’re looking at, one option, is to bring it down to $20-25 dollars at the gate and have four or five bands here from across the island and just see where that takes us,” he explained. “The second approach would be still going with mostly Newfoundland talent, but maybe looking at getting one well-known band to come down.” 

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Council is already consulting with MusicNL and Newfoundland Promotions, a company in St. John’s, on options for the July 11-15, 2019 edition.

Robert Bursey, a lifelong resident of Grand Falls-Windsor, stirred up a bit of controversy on social media after the event with an open letter to town council criticizing the organization of the festival and calling for a return to the big-name concerts that characterized the festival from 2011–15 when KISS, Aerosmith, The Eagles, Maroon 5 and John Fogerty headlined.

Bursey thinks an all-Newfoundland and Labrador concert is a good idea for some point during the festival, but still believes the event needs a “wow factor.”

“In theory, that sounds good, but I think it will fail for the main event,” he said. “It would be a good idea for one aspect of the festival; do that Friday night at the stadium, showcase local talent. For the Saturday concert it has to be a big name that will draw a crowd.”

But council has no appetite for that.

“We’re never going to have these big mega-concerts anymore, that’s a thing of the past,” Feener said. “What people gotta realize is unless a promoter is going to come in and rent the field from us and take it on their selves, that’s the only way there’s going to be a big concert here anymore. We’re trying to get it back to the grassroots.”

He noted that the festival was profitable for many years before the mega-concert era.

“We’re going to keep our costs down and hopefully in the next year or two max, we should level off to what we’re trying to portray as just a local festival again,” he said.

Although Feener admitted council was not happy with a $79,000 deficit, it is a far cry from the losses of just a few years ago—when the red ink topped $1 million over two years in 2014 and 2015—but promised the festival is here to stay.

“We’ll never give up the Salmon Festival,” he said adding that there were other financial considerations.

“A lot of the businesses in town really benefitted from us bringing in the Salmon Festival here for a week, you know, your gas, your restaurants, your local hotels, so there are spinoffs from this.”

“We’re never going to have these big mega-concerts anymore, that’s a thing of the past.”

– Shawn Feener

The bottom line for council was positive.

“We’re really happy, we had a full week of success,” he said. “Now the concert itself was not a success, but everything else was, so we had a good five days. We’re not happy we lost $78,000, but we’re happy the rest of the festival is holding its own, so right now we know as council we’ve got to sit down and we’ve got to revamp our concert day.”

Bursey agreed most of the festival went well, and the financial loss was less than he expected, but he still thinks more could be done to improve the event.

“Overall, I see the festival as missing the mark as many demographics of our community were left out,” he said. “Apart from the salmon dinner, there was nothing for seniors. Many seniors are on fixed income and cannot afford to participate.

“What was there for the youth apart from kids day on Monday afternoon? Was there sporting events for the active people of the community? So many ideas to include the community were missed. After decades of having the festival, it should be a well-oiled machine that draws people to the town and turns a profit.”

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