Considering the Peterborough Musicfest will be celebrating 30 years of free music when the festival launches its 2016 season Saturday June 25th with a performance by former local Millbrook resident Serena Ryder, you’d think a virtual army of people would be involved in staging this 19-concert extravaganza which runs every Wednesday and Saturday at this city’s scenic Del Crary Park – and you’d be wrong!
This entire festival, which brings some of Canada top artists into the Kawartha region, totally free of charge, is organized by one woman, Tracey Randall and her marketing co-ordinator assistant Holly Wilson.
Launched originally by local businessman Fred Anderson on Canada Day July 1st 1987, who’s ambition was to bring a free music event to Peterborough, this festival, originally called The Festival of Lights has grown in stature to the point that an organization of some 120 corporate sponsors plus funding from all three levels of government allows Randall to book the likes of I Mother Earth, Gowan, The Box, Whitehorse, country artists like , movie star Keifer Sutherland, High Valley, Meghan Patrick and Cold Creek County, alternative artists like Ria Mae, Jocelyn Alice and Hey Rosetta plus tribute bands like Hotel California (The Eagles), The Last Waltz (The Band), PowerHouse (Chicago) and Rumours, a Fleetwood Mac tribute band, to the city’s scenic four-acre location which can accommodate up to 18,000 spectators.
“At a time when we are battling problems with the Canadian dollar and we are facing growing competition from other neighbouring festivals, it’s great that we can still stage a free festival,” noted Randall who has been carrying the torch for the festival since 2013, Anderson passed away in 2009. “People are surprised that there is only two of us managing the event, we bring in 12 park staff to assist at the festival but only have a G.M + one to keep the brand alive for the rest of the year.”
Run purely as a family event with shows that run from 8:00 p.m until 9:30 p.m. and with no liquor sales available, Randall concedes it is an on-going challenge to run a totally free festival when rival festivals are charging upwards of $200 a ticket. It’s hard to attract big name attractions without ticket revenue or liquor sales but I think our corporate sponsors appreciate and continue to support our efforts to make this festival a family affair.”
With 19 dates on Wednesdays and Satudays plus a special Canada Day show on Friday July 1st, Randall loves the challenge of varying the talent to appeal to all types of an audience. “When we first started the festival, we featured the likes of John McDermott, Jim Witter and Gordon Lightfoot. I think we featured McDermott for 15 years straight and there was an uproar when we eventually dropped him,” laughed Randall. “But with increased funding, we have been able to increase the diversity and quality of the talent to cater to a wider variety of music.
“Peterborough is a classic rock town so this year we’ve got Gowan, Platinum Blonde, The Box and The Spoons and Country Music is currently very strong so we have High Valley, Meagan Patrick, Cold Creek County and a special appearance by movie star Keifer Sutherland who has just released a new country record,” enthused Randall. “Tribute bands are always a big draw so we have a number of them. We have Eagles’ tribute band Hotel California back for their third straight appearance. When we booked them two years ago, the weather was horrible so we brought them back last year and they attracted over 14,000. With the death of Eagles’ guitarist Glenn Frey, earlier this year, we though it was appropriate that we brought them back again.”
Inclement weather is the bane of all outdoor festivals and it’s not a subject Randall likes to talk about. “For the most part, we’ve been very lucky but we are at the mercy of Mother Nature,” she allowed. “We booked Randy Bachman last year and we anticipated a crowd of like 18,000 but it absolutely poured down and we ended up with something like 1,400, but that element is an occupational hazard.”
As much as she likes to bring in big names, Randall is also enthusiastic about promoting local regional talent and this year’s schedule not only highlights Serena Ryder, who was brought up in nearby Millbrook, but there’s also Cold Creek County from Hastings, Meghan Patrick from Bowmanville and two of Randall’s former Peterborough Crestwood high school mates, Christian and Jagori Tanna, who make up the core of I Mother Earth.
“Might be a bit loud for the neighbours and we don’t normally go for hard rock but I am thrilled to have I Mother Earth on our schedule, especially with Edwin back singing lead vocals,” bubbled Randall. “Hard to believe we haven’t had them on before but I am really looking forward to their show on Saturday July 2nd.”
“The Strumbellas are from Lindsay and they’ve been doing well and the fact that other festivals are introducing new bands into this region leads me to believe that other new bands like Wintersleep could work at our festival,” Randall allowed.