New Festival Promoters: Battling The Bursting Bubble

This is the story about two music entrepreneurs; Brantford Ontario’s Jamie Stephens and Quan Diep, who splits his time between Calgary and Red Deer Alberta. Both are about to debut two-day music festivals, Stephens executing WT Fest June 13-14 at Lions Park in Brantford while Diep premieres his Summer Sensational Beach Music Festival July 10-11 at scenic Sylvan Lake located approximately half way between Calgary and Edmonton.

Quan Diep – promoter of Sylvan Lake even

There are similarities in that both promoters will attempt to prove Canada’s music festival bubble has yet to burst  and that there is still room for two more events on a hectic national event calendar. But there is one major difference in that, while Diep’s Summer Sensational Beach Festival event will set a precedent in his area, Stephens, on the other hand, will be out to compensate Brantford area music fans for a failed `Hockeyfest’ event, which was cancelled by the Grand River Conservation Area (due to a perceived lack of safety concerns by the promoter) , days before it was set to be staged June 1-3 2012, leaving many fans without refunds and a bitter taste about failed concerts.

“We definitely face a credibility issue,” confirmed Stephens, over the phone, one week prior to the launch of WT Fest. “Some people will be upset we are staging this event and will not want to support us. There are a lot of people in this town with bad memories of `Hockeyfest’ so it’s up to me and my partners to prove WT Festival is a viable event and that we can pull it off.”

Stephens may be new to the music festival business but he has a proven track record in the Brantford area having produced the Brantford Comedy Festival and the Grandilicious Food and Wine Fair. Working with Mark and Lance Calbeck of Calbeck Investments, Stephens has secured outside funding for the festival and, as a way to win back the trust of a possibly sceptical audience, has announced bargain basement ticket prices of $39.99 for Saturday’s festival, $49.99 for Sunday’s performance and a two-day $59.99 ticket to catch both sets of concerts.

With a lineup that comprises of Big Wreck, The Trews, I Mother Earth and newcomers; Toronto’s The Mohrs and Halifax’s Gloryhound on Saturday and Hedley, Lights and USS and Dear Rouge on Sunday, WT Festival is staging a strong lineup. And add to this a number of local talents like The Ascot Royals, Harbour, Peeler, Grand Town Orchestra, Sons of Remedy, Steve Ryan and Mark Wilson and you have an attractive balance of marquee stars and new performers.”

“When Hedley last came through here, tickets were like 60 bucks each to see them, but with our festival, you can catch the entire weekend for $59.99,” noted Stephens. “These are the best prices going but we needed to do something like this to restore credibility.” Ironically, both Hedley and The Trews were originally schedule to perform at the cancelled 2012 Hockeyfest event.

Stephens is aware  major booking agencies are wary of his festival based on past events but he was able to win support by making full advance payments for major artists. “We had to prove we were serious about this event by showing we had the investment capital but it wasn’t too difficult to deal with the agencies. I am used to negotiating fees with comedians for my Comedy Fest so this wasn’t too different a process.”

The Trews

Stephens understands why Agency president Ralph James thinks there are too many music festivals in Canada and that the bubble could burst but he is confident WT Fest’s Brantford location is ideally situated to draw people from around a 100 kilometre radius. “We have allotted 15,000 people for the weekend but we’d be happy with 8,000 or so to start off with,” analyzed Stephens. “We have to be realistic, it is our first festival but we are committed to staging future events and to develop WT into a major festival. We definitely want to be back next year.”

Out in Alberta, Diep, president of True Channel Entertainment, a company that’s been running an entertainment business in Western Canada for the past 12 years, felt the time was right for a major festival in Central Alberta and believes he has an idyllic spot at Sylvan Lake, a weekend resort retreat whose supportive town council welcome the idea of a new music festival as a major tourist attraction.

“The Summer Sensational stage is located at Centennial Park, right at the water’s edge so it’s an ideal spot for a concert festival,” noted Diep, whose True Channel will be funding the event. Having been in the music business for 12 years, Diep knows all the agencies and music promoters in Canada so had no problem negotiating offers for his debut festival.

“Obviously, the key thing is to get the main attractions first and then you can build your event from that,” Diep noted. “We were lucky to get Hedley, for Saturday because this is the band’s only Alberta date and we also have Our Lady Peace for Friday so we have two top notch headliners.”

With a Friday lineup that also includes Matthew Good, the Stars and two local bands; The Dudes and The Wet Secrets, a Saturday schedule that also includes Dear Rouge, Dragonette and more local talent yet to be announced, Diep is committed to a gradual but steady development of his festival. “Financially, we can afford a couple of key headliners but most of our talent has to be artists that are travelling through (which explains the top-heavy Western talent on the bill). Understanding our geographical position, there are certain limitations, but we will work on them as the festival grows.”


Tickets are $79.95 for each day or $129.95 for a weekend pass and $179.95 for a weekend VIP pass.

Understanding the province’s economic downturn, due to fluctuating gas prices, Diep acknowledges the challenge of launching a new festival but he is confident that without a lot of competition in Alberta and based on the attractive geographical position of the Summer Sensational Beach Fest, there is no reason why his event cannot prosper as a key future concert and tourist attraction.

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