Yes, OVO Fest deserves your tax dollars

$300,000 now could mean big revenue later


Even I find it curious that the provincial government’s Celebrate Ontario grant program denied the Beaches Jazz Festival the modest $75,000 it has received the past six years in a row, and yet gave $300,000 to OVO Fest, the two-day hip-hop concert spearheaded by the very wealthy local rapper, Drake.

I also find it curious that Beaches Jazz Festival, which attracted 500,000 people last year and contributes $65 million to the local economy (according to Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue) can’t somehow figure out a way to make back the 75K.

But you can’t pit the Beaches Jazz Festival against OVO Fest, much as most media would like you to. (How about the obvious rival, TD Toronto Jazz Festival, that received $280,000?)

There must have been a better way to divvy it up, but it’s knee-jerk and reactionary to vilify Drake.

Here, five reasons OVO Fest is more deserving than you think.

Rap has legs.

We should be so far beyond dismissing hip-hop by now. It is not a fad. It is a genre of music invented and originally performed by African Americans, historically marginalized by the majority white population, now accepted and celebrated by mostly everyone. (Sound familiar?)

There are jazz festivals in countless major cities on the earth. The Beaches Jazz Festival is a great one. There aren’t, however, a slew of premiere hip-hop fests. OVO Fest is at the Molson Amphitheatre now, but it’s naïve to think that it can’t and won’t spread beyond Ontario Place. (TIFF and NXNE were little festivals too, once.) The government is smart to invest in opportunity.

Drake isn’t pocketing your tax dollars.

Just because it’s a ticketed venue doesn’t mean Drake’s necessarily making mad cash from OVO fest the past four years. (Although, those damn owl sweatshirts are mighty expensive.) This year’s co-headliner Outkast have an asking price of … probably somewhere in the $100,000 range. And do you think all those guest stars (last year Kanye West, Lil Wayne, TLC, J. Cole and A$AP Rocky were present, among others) are coming to Toronto out of the goodness of their hearts?

Let’s assume they’re doing it as a favour for Drake, it still costs something to private jet them here, put them up for a couple of nights, etc. Ticket prices might cover the show itself, but expansion (and we’re assuming there will be some) costs money, too. A lot.

It’s also safe to assume that when OVO Fest grows up, it will need to be its own financially successful, standalone business. Of which, Drake will always be the figurehead. But while he is conquering the world with Rihanna by his side, he won’t exactly be managing its every detail.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Celebration Ontario has a mandate: to help “new or existing Ontario festivals and events enhance programs, activities and services that will lead to long-term improvements. This support helps grow tourism in the province by making it easier for festival and event organizers to offer new and improved experiences that will attract more tourists and increase visitor spending.”

There is a pie, and everyone is entitled to ask for a piece. Just because one festival has been getting money the past few years, does it mean they are forever entitled to said money? Isn’t that something we complain about regarding government all the time? Allocating cash to the same things over and over? We have no idea what the grant applications looked like. But I’m guessing OVO got the world’s best grant writer to draft theirs.

You don’t have to be scared of rap.

It should be noted that if it wasn’t Drake, and if his genre wasn’t hip-hop, people might not care so much. Are Torontonians wary of the idea of a rap festival becoming a major presence in our city?

Just look at the overzealous police presence at J. Cole’s Dollar & A Dream Tour show in June, or Drake’s pop-up clothing shop in September. So many cops so many stylish hipster teenagers with smiles on their faces and money to spend.

How very frightening.

The claim that hip-hop crowds are scary and get out-of-hand is a painfully dated and racially charged one. Rap crowds vary widely – from squealing girls to back-packed hipsters to drunken bros to I-haven’t-changed-out-of-my-Bay-Street-clothes-yet execs. Mostly: eclectic mixes of all of the above.

We want American money.

As Canadians, we often lament being the fatter, less popular sibling to America. But realistically, we need the U.S. And how many Americans are bringing their dollars to the Beaches Jazz Festival? Definitely some, but there are jazz festivals in most major cities. OVO Fest, on the other hand – strategically timed with Caribana – has American dollars written all over it.


So, keep an open mind, Toronna. There is nothing more curmudgeonly than insisting things stay exactly the same forever and ever. Or shitting on something new just because you don’t like it.

Two things can be true at once: the Beaches Jazz Festival is an historic and wonderful festival that deserves its very moderate ask of $75,000. At the same time, OVO has potential and deserves a big push. So why not throw some dollars to something newer, smaller and brimming with potential?

Started from the bottom, right?

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