Prescott music festival organizers prepare for second COVID-era concert

Merchants welcome influx of visitors to historic fort town
George Tierney performing
Organizer George Tierney opens the 2020 Upper Canada Folkfest Music Festival. (Graham Lindsey photo)

It was a beacon of economic and entertaining light at a time when the South Grenville community needed it most. Now it is getting ready to shine again. 

In October 2020, amid a pandemic and under the watchful eye of the local health unit, a group of determined individuals executed the launch of a new live music festival. The inaugural Upper Canada Folkfest Music Festival, hosted in Prescott, was one of the few live music events permitted in Canada last year amid the pandemic.

“Events were still under strict guidelines for attendance. But with the unique setting, combined with our ability to manage seating and the movement of attendees, we were given the go-ahead and, according to our guests and performers alike, pulled off an unqualified success,” said George Tierney, one of the founders of Upper Canada Folkfest. “It was a great and much-needed day of live music. There were obviously concerns, but we made it happen safely.”

On the heels of that 2020 success – and amid pent-up demand for live music and festivals – the group has re-assembled, expanded its team and began planning to grow from their debut experience. The 2021 version of the festival is set to return to the banks of the St. Lawrence River on Sept. 25.

“We are all-in when it comes to supporting the festival for this summer and beyond,”  said Prescott Mayor Brett Todd. “We want this to become a prestige event for the entire region so that we have Canada’s top folk acts coming to Prescott for many years to come.”

Support from the Town of Prescott as well as the Township of Edwardsburgh/Cardinal will allow the festival to host satellite events at local venues leading up to the big weekend. These will be designed to promote the festival and support local artists, as well as provide a boost to area businesses.

Even a scaled-down influx of visitors to the historic fort town last year was a coup for a community that saw the cancellation of its annual junior hockey tournament in the spring and the summer’s St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival as the result of COVID-19 restrictions.

Last year’s edition of the Upper Canada Folkfest Music Festival was welcomed by many area merchants, including several local vendors including Sean Lucey, owner of the Windmill Brewery. The local brewery and eatery, which had to shut down its own weekly music nights due to COVID-19 restrictions, was on hand to feed some of the 200 patrons lucky enough to manage tickets to the festival.

“It’s always great to support local music,” Lucey stated. “Just as importantly, it was an opportunity for us to give some of our staff some much-welcomed work. We look forward to being involved with the festival for years to come.”

Tierney said invitations to the festival have been sent out to performers and that he expects to be able to announce a lineup of artists in the coming weeks.