Fest gets awkward with late lineup announcement discount tickets

With less than a week to go before Virgin Festival’s second Calgary stop the fest added another 11 bands to the lineup it announced five weeks ago. According to a press release issued on Tuesday Aug. 4 the new additions include Juno Award-winners Wintersleep indie-pop collective Library Voices and local rockers Secret Broadcast Static in the Stars Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and a handful of others — a welcome announcement that doubles the number of bands confirmed for the festival.

As nice as it is to see a list of bands replace the vague “and many more” that’s loomed large on the Virgin Festival’s website since its original lineup announcement the release is at least as revealing as it is relieving. The four days between the announcement and the concert hardly seem like enough time to build word of mouth and none of the bands are big enough to provoke a last-minute surge in ticket sales. In the view of some of the local music industry’s key players the late announcement seems more like a sign of a disorganized festival.

According to Malissa Dunphy of local radio station X92 which was tied to last year’s Virgin Fest through its Xposure talent contest the announcement is typical of the way the festival has been handled this year. “I haven’t liked the timing of any announcements regarding Virgin Fest this year” Dunphy says. “They announced the lineup so late after people could buy folk fest tickets and Sled Island tickets and there’s that Drenched fest the same weekend. There’s a lot of places people can spend their money this year as far as music festivals go. If they want to sell out [the festival] in five weeks it’s going to be a lot harder than last year when they had months of prep.”

Festival director Andrew Bridge disagrees. According to him the announcement is part of the festival’s ongoing strategy. “From our history a lot of tickets are sold in the last week of the festival and we love creating some excitement and noise around that last week” he says. “We held off announcing a few of these artists so that we could have them all together and make a big ‘Wow’ announcement. We’ve had tremendous ticket momentum both on the Pearl Jam day and on the Billy Talent day so we think that the announcement of the acts today can only create more excitement in the last week leading up to the festival.”

The trouble is the announcement hardly constitutes a “Wow.” Wintersleep by far the biggest band announced was in Calgary this past 3 and came through town twice in 2008. Library Voices put on a great highly energetic show but they’ve also made the rounds playing a number of smaller venues around town in the last year. It’s hard to imagine the announcement convincing many fans who’ve been on the fence up to this point.

The lineup isn’t the only thing that has some fans wondering what’s going on. The festival recently teamed with CJAY 92 to offer weekend passes at a steep discount. Using a promotional code found on the station’s website fans can now get a limited number of tickets for $92 — a 25 per cent discount from the original price and only $12 more than a single-day pass for Saturday’s Pearl Jam-headed performance. Some fans are crying foul on Virgin Fest’s Facebook page wondering why the fest’s early supporters are paying more than latecomers. Bridge says this is common practice — “We’ve done it with every festival across the country every year” — but others don’t see it the same way.

“Not in our world it’s not [normal]” says Calgary Folk Music Festival artistic director Kerry Clarke. “We’re very sensitive to the fact that people would feel ripped off if something like that happened. We do have some discounts — if you buy in bulk there’s a 10 per cent discount — but nothing of that size.”

Asked why any festival would do it her answer is simple.

“They’re not selling very many tickets” she says. “At least that’s what I would think.”

Still what matters in the end is the concert itself. A number of local critics including this publication expressed skepticism about last year’s lineup and the event was by all accounts a rousing success. This year’s lineup may not boast many big names but the biggest — Pearl Jam — is the kind of band that could sell out the Saddledome. As long as people are excited the event can still be a success.

“Last year we played on the second stage and it was a huge stage and we felt dwarfed by it” says Matt Lightstone frontman of local rockers (and two-time Virgin Fest vets) Secret Broadcast. “This year it’s like five times the size of that stage so it should be interesting. We’ll be playing when most people are coming into the venue and people naturally gravitate to the main stage so we should be able to play to a lot of fans and a lot of new people. It’s exciting.”