Bloor Ossington Folk Fest to end after grant falls through

Organizers are hosting a two-day farewell party in Christie Pits on September 17 and 18

For six years, the Bloor Ossington Folk Festival has been a free neighbourhood festival. You don’t need a car to get there or a padded wallet to get in, and since 2013 it has taken place in Christie Pits.

Sadly, after years of struggling financially this year’s festival on September 17 and 18 will be the last.

One of the primary grants organizers count on fell through, and they initially decided to pull the plug entirely before scaling down from multiple stages and a larger lineup to a two-day farewell party under a beer garden. 

“Unfortunately, for both of the main grants that we get, we don’t find out until the beginning of August,” festival director Kristjan Harris tells NOW. “I was in Winnipeg when my friend [who was house-sitting] sent me a picture of the letter I had received and it said, ‘We are sorry to inform you that we are unable to give you money this year.’”

Without that support, Harris felt he would not be able to continue growing the festival as they had envisioned. He believes part of the reason the funding did not come through was attendance numbers.

“The attendance over the years has been shockingly lower than I thought it would be,” he says. 

Last year, BOFF drew between 3,500 and 4,000 attendees – up from about 2,500 in 2014. 

“Had we had enough funding to do a real media push, we were hoping for around 5,500 this year,” explains Harris. “But without the budget for advertisement well in advance and the lack of time to put together the final list of performers until very late in the game, there really is no way to keep it going in any significant way.”

For the past few years, BOFF has taken place on the same weekend as Collective Concerts’ Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF), but Harris insists the competition has not hurt BOFF. 

“With a little bit more time and money, our festival could stand up to any festival in the city,” he says.

When the grant fell through, Harris began informing bands that the festival was off. He even contacted Canadian Heritage to return a grant awarded through its Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage (BCAH) program.

However, Harris’ fellow organizers Eamon McGrath and CL McLaughlin convinced him to throw a scaled-back farewell party. After all, Sonic Boom and Mirvish Village developer Westbank Development were on board.

That same morning, Julie Doiron and McLaughlin surprised Harris with an invite to see the final Tragically Hip show in Kingston on August 20. That night would prove inspirational. “I went with Julie and CL and we hugged and kissed and cried the whole night through in great seats,” he says.

In a Facebook post, Harris dedicated the final BOFF to Hip front man Gord Downie and to his niece, Tree – both of whom suffer from brain cancer. “It was a pretty wild week,” says Harris.

In the days following the final Hip show, he re-confirmed funding for the fest, sorted out liquor licenses and re-booked most of the bands and asked Canadian Heritage for the grant back.

Founded in 2011 by Harris, McGrath and  McLaughlin, the festival was borne out of a meeting at the Bickford Centre about improving the Christie Pits neighbourhood.

The first BOFF took place in several venues in the area and for the second year organizers teamed up with the local Business Improvement Association. In its third year, the team expanded to include Roberto Granados-Ocon and Amelia Laidlaw. The event moved to Christie Pits and focused on booking bands and artists that lived in the local Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina) and the two adjacent city wards.

This year’s lineup features local artists plus acts that have played the festival before: Bart, Bidiniband, Bry Webb & the Providers, Catl, The Cosmic Range, Eamon McGrath, The Heat Death, The Highest Order, Hooded Fang, The Idaho Stop, Julie Doiron and The Wrong Guys (pictured), Little You Little Me, Motherhood, Steve Lambke, Wax Mannequin, The Wilderness of Manitoba and Will Kidman.

Although BOFF is ending, the organizers hope to put on other festivals and events in the near future. | @nowtoronto

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