Sarnia event in the running for Festival of the Year

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Rogers Bayfest has been nominated for Festival of the Year, just as Bayfest organizers are placing the annual July music festival on hold.

The nomination for a 2013 Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Award came the same day Bayfest co-founder Michele Stokley announced the 15-year-old concert series is going on indefinite hiatus — citing economic reasons and not being able to sign enough “A list” performers.

“Well I hope we win,” said Stokley Tuesday.

Nominations for the award, being presented March 21 in Toronto, are taken from industry submissions and based on attendance, the acts, and the support festivals provide to Canadian talent, said Verle Mobbs, general manager with Canadian Music Week, March 19-24.

The awards have been part of the celebration for years, she said.

“To make it to the final ballot competing against other major events that happen across the country, it's pretty significant,” she said about Bayfest's nomination.

Sarnia's premier event was also a nominee in the category last year.

It's up against eight other festivals, including Edgefest in Toronto, Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest, the Edmonton Folk Festival, and last year's winner: Montreal's Osheaga.

“We're up against the big cities,” Stokley said. “And it's bringing Sarnia's name back out there again.”

Bayfest already has a number of accolades and awards under its belt.

It was the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario's Event of the Year in 2011 and 2009, top Ontario festival and sixth in Canada in a 2011 Fun N Festival Series poll by WestJet, and in Festival and Events Ontario's top 100 festivals for seven years running.

It earned a nomination from the Canadian Event Industry Awards for best festival in Canada in 2010, was named one of 20 “Festivals and Events of Distinction” by Ontario's Tourism Ministry, and took the award for best fundraising idea from Festivals and Events Ontario.

“That had been an outstanding event,” said Festivals and Events Ontario President Gerry Ginsberg, noting Bayfest has drawn residents to southwestern Ontario from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

“We know Bayfest had done a great job and I'm convinced that that organization, with some restructuring, will come back very shortly,” he said.

Stokley hasn't ruled out returning in 2014.

It's not hard to incur losses, even with tens of thousands of people paying to see concerts, when there are big-name acts involved, Ginsberg said.

“Understand the kind of risk somebody's under when they're signing acts anywhere from $250,000 up to $750,000,” he said. That and ticket and concession prices are often lower than festivals in Toronto, he said

Generally speaking, he said, not-for-profit festivals are dealing with fewer U.S. people crossing the border because of a high Canadian dollar, competition with private enterprises, and fewer sponsor dollars because of an overall economic downturn.

He credited Michele Stokley for helping to build Festivals and Events Ontario as a board of directors member.

“She certainly did a great job helping us grow festivals and events right across Ontario,” he said.




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