People are comparing Toronto’s Kultureland festival with the doomed 2017 Fyre Festival after a last-minute change of venue and a string of artist cancellations on Sunday.
An estimated crowd of 2,000 people were left waiting in the heat for hours on Saturday, the first day of the Afro-fusion and R&B festival at the Markham Fairgrounds. The doors-open time was 3 p.m., but entry wasn’t permitted until 5:30. Videos on social media showed an unruly crowd pushing through gates. There were no performers other than DJs until 10 p.m., when headliner Burna Boy went on stage. Multiple people fainted from dehydration and there was no security in the immediate area to assist the crowd, three attendees told The Globe and Mail.
Kultureland was supposed to continue at the fairgrounds on Sunday, but the venue cancelled the event because of “incomplete payment” from organizer Code RED Entertainment, the fairgrounds’ director of operations, Orin Bristol, told The Globe on Monday.
And so on Sunday, right before the 4 p.m. open time, Kulturefest announced that it was moving the day’s performances to the Ajax Downs Racetrack, 30 minutes away. But the event’s organizers provided no transportation for ticket holders.
At the racetrack, fans waited to see Jhené Aiko, who was scheduled to close the two-day event. But the singer never took the stage, and attendees were told to leave at 12:20 a.m. After that announcement, some of them began chanting “refund” at the stage.
In a statement posted to an Instagram story around midnight, Kultureland said Aiko would not be performing because “her show required a level of visuals that we could not have technically produced in a short period of time.” Earlier in the evening, the festival had also said on social media that StoneBwoy, Firebox, Lojay and Kamo Mphela would not be performing that night as planned.
“It was really disappointing,” said Ahmed Abdelgadir, who attended the festival. “There aren’t many big spaces like this for the Black community in Toronto, and for them not to come through with their expensive tickets? Nah, disrespectful.”
Tickets ranged from just shy of $200, for presale general admission seats, to more than $400 for two-day VIP packages.
Kultureland organizer Ferell Laditi of Code RED Entertainment said in an interview on Monday that the company plans to refund everyone who bought tickets for the second day.
“I’m human,” Laditi said. “Right when we moved the venue, we had every intention to compensate ticket holders. The performance we gave was pretty much for free.”
Laditi cited miscommunication with the Markham Fairgrounds and “a number of things we didn’t foresee about logistics” as reasons for the last-minute venue change.
“We didn’t see eye to eye with the venue,” Laditi said. “I’m not pointing fingers. We miscalculated the staffing needed. We take full responsibility and apologize to people waiting in line. It was never our intention. It was not to scam anybody. I know people travelled far and wide for the festival, so it’s not fair for it to get cancelled. Some of the artists still wanted to perform, so in the spirit of still giving the fans a performance, we found a new venue. But safety was our priority.”
Laditi said the organizers knew at around 6 or 7 p.m. on Sunday that Aiko’s performance would not go forward, but could not make the announcement until going through proper legal channels.
“Jhené was very accommodating,” Laditi said. “She wanted to perform at the new venue. We spent months figuring out the logistics, the setup, but we couldn’t get it to the new venue in time.”
Several Canadian festivals experienced issues this past weekend. The Montreal Pride Parade was cancelled shortly before its scheduled start time because of a staffing shortage. Bad weather caused a temporary evacuation at the Boots and Hearts music festival in Burl’s Creek, Ont. In Toronto, both Kingstonfest and Jerkfest had water and food shortages, with the former also experiencing technical difficulties and several health and safety issues, including overcrowding and long waits for performances.
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