Music Festivals

Low dollar means more Canadians at Halifax music festivals

Festivals say it’s too costly to bring in U.S. acts because of the exchange rate

American Soul singer Sharon Jones performs at Halifax Jazz Fest in 2015
American soul singer Sharon Jones performs at Halifax Jazz Fest in 2015.   Trevor Savory

With music festival season right around the corner, Canadian talent could benefit from the low dollar.

“It’s refocused us on the best Canadian talent,” said James Boyle, executive director of Halifax Pop Explosion.

The Canadian dollar is currently at $0.75 compared to the US dollar.

In Halifax, two of the city’s biggest festivals — Halifax Jazz Festival and Halifax Pop Explosion — are concerned about the dollar’s impact, but they’re considering it as an opportunity to showcase Canadian talent.

“I think it was an opportunity for us to re-evaluate and look at what shows have worked really well in the past and what shows haven’t worked as well,” said Boyle. “What we’ve found is that as far as U.S. versus Canadian talent, our best shows are with Canadian talent anyway.”

Pop Explosion is in the midst of booking talent for this year’s festival, taking place in the fall. Boyle said they’ve already booked some headliners, he’s keeping who they are under wraps for now, and will continue to book artists well into June.

Peter Dreimanis (left) and Leah Fay, of Canadian rock group July Talk perform at Halifax Pop Explosion, 2015
Peter Dreimanis (left) and Leah Fay, of Canadian rock group July Talk perform at Halifax Pop Explosion, 2015.   CHR!S SM!TH

For Heather Gibson, executive director of the Halifax Jazz Festival, the timeline is much tighter. Jazz Festival begins in early July.

Gibson said so far the low dollar is causing some problems.

“The American artists and agents don’t seem to be adjusting their fees at all,” she said. “So we’ve gone through a very long list of artists so far with lots of noes.”

Filling the festival’s lineup has taken longer this year than in the past. Gibson said that many artists declined appearing at the festival because of the payment Jazz Festival was able to offer.

Gibson said that she hoped to attract more Canadian acts because of the dollar, but it has proven to be difficult.

“We’ve started to run out of Canadian acts,” she said. “I don’t want to put a number on it but let’s say there are two dozen acts in the country that are in that $75,000-$100,000 range, that would fit the genre of the festival as well, and we got turned down yesterday by what I would say is close to the last we’ll be able to offer in Canada.”

There are some popular Canadian artists confirmed for this summer’s festival. One of the headliners is Canadian band City and Colour, and it was just announced that fellow Canadian Basia Bulat will join the bill.

Regardless of the dollar Boyle said festivals are being forced to compete on larger scales anyway in order to remain relevant and successful in the global market.

“The festival bubble that’s happening around the world is a bigger impact than the American dollar,” he said. “Fees for artists continually rise as the demand for artists continually rises. The more festivals out there, the more artists have the potential to get paid more because there’s more demand.”