It’s all about the planning: Popular Kemptville music festival carries on

Kemptville Live Music Festival
A crowd gathers for the 2018 Kemptville Live Music Festivals. Photo by Deb Doucette.

It may be post-COVID and it may be without much funding, but the show will go on for the Kemptville Live Music Festival, which runs July 21 to 24 this year. 

Town officials and event organizers credit much of the success of the festival usually held each July in North Grenville to excellent planning and communication. 

The volunteer-run event drew well over 20,000 attendees in 2019, the last year that it ran before COVID. More than 50 per cent had travelled more than 40 km to attend, 20 per cent had never been to Kemptville before, and 38 per cent had only been to Kemptville for a previous festival. Any way you look at it, that’s a large influx of folks for a town with a population of just under 4,000 and infrastructure to match.

The secret is engagement, according to North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford. The organizers and the municipality work with the local BIA and chamber of commerce to ensure that businesses understand the economic opportunity and are welcoming to visitors, she explained.

“In 2019 there was a heat wave during the festival, so the fire department showed up and sprayed down festival-goers — so there’s widespread engagement with the entire community,” said Peckford. 

Event organizer Karen Bedard, a North Grenville resident herself, provides comprehensive data leading up to the event, letting the community know how many patrons to expect and where they’re coming from. “In 2019 and early 2020, I conducted a series of presentations with the North Grenville economic development department to various business groups in the area to share progress and stats to encourage them to ramp up,” she explained.

Bedard also understood the limitations of the town’s infrastructure from the start. “We recognized that we don’t have sufficient parking in town, so we run a shuttle service from north to south and east to west to bring festival attendees to the festival grounds.”

Taking place on the campus of the old Kemptville College, the festival provides a decent-sized parking lot, but to make that parking accessible, Bedard organized golf carts to shuttle people from the parking lot to the front gates.

The festival is rich with these small touches that add to its attraction, for example, free tours of the municipality to show visitors what the area has to offer.

“We offered day tours to festival attendees, the past few years — to the winery and Rideau Woodland Ramble, at our cost,” said Bedard.

Unfortunately, some of those extras will not be possible this year as organizers keep an eye on what could be a very tight budget if none of the usual funding materializes.

“Our budget this year will be close to $1.4 million, some of it is sponsorship, but mostly it’s earned revenue from previous years because some of our funding hasn’t come through,” said Bedard.

Until now, with no paid staff, profits from the festival have gone back into the event, which means that, in spite of the two-year hiatus and the funding shortfall, the festival can and will continue this year. The festival rents office space at the college and that expense eats into accumulated funds, but it’s manageable, according to Bedard.

In the past, the festival has relied on provincial funding of as much as $100,000 to offset marketing costs. Without that kind of money, Bedard has had to forego the usual aggressive marketing campaign and is relying on word of mouth, previous successes and a pent-up desire for live concerts to carry the festival through.

Since its inception in 2015, the festival has been completely volunteer-run, with 380-odd volunteers led by Bedard and Bob Beshara, owner of Class Axe Guitars in Kemptville.

“I basically handle the music and provide equipment and staff,” said Beshara, who started the festival in his own backyard before enlisting Bedard’s help to grow the event. “Then, during the week of the festival, I’m the garbage man, the driver — we all just do what needs to be done.”

This year, there have been several post-pandemic challenges, not all related to funding.

“It has been a bit frustrating this year because of what COVID has done to the music industry. We couldn’t book any artists from the U.S., they just won’t come up here,” said Beshara. “We also had to change our production company because it had gone out of business during COVID.”

That hasn’t diminished the line-up. Beshara still secured some heavy hitters, including Tom Cochrane, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Glass Tiger and Johnny Reid, among others, but Beshara says his job hasn’t been as smooth as in previous years.

Robust communication between the festival organizers, businesses and the community has made this festival a signature event for the community.

“It certainly puts Kemptville on the map for festival-goers,” said Mayor Peckford. “It’s extremely well organized and many of our residents get meaningful volunteer opportunities. It works so seamlessly that people in the community sometimes don’t realize it’s happened until it’s over.”

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