'Writing's on the wall': Folk Fest producer not expecting a 2021 festival

It's still five months away but the producer of one of Edmonton's most beloved summer festivals doesn’t believe Edmonton Folk Fest will go ahead this year.

Terry Wickham said a final decision won't be made until early April, however, he's not optimistic.

"I just can't see 25,000 people gathering in August. Not with the slower rollout here, with the vaccines, and variants, etc., etc.," he told CTV News Edmonton.

Wickham said organizing something, then having to pull the brake on it, could bankrupt the festival. He believes "it has to be fully safe or not."

"Last year, August was you know 250, you can have a gathering of 250, so if some things like that are available, we'll take advantage of it. But again, it would have to be very safe" he said. "But I feel the governments are going to hold back, just with these variants and they've put so much money, so much effort into this that, you know, why blow it at the last minute?"

The executive director of Edmonton Heritage Festival is still hopeful his organization can host a live event.

"We have the main event which would be the big event, right? Which, you know, if we get enough shots in arms, I think we're getting close to be honest," Jim Gibbon told CTV News Edmonton. "Then the second option for a live event is a slightly toned-down version, spread around the city in various cultural centres and community centres."

Gibbon said regardless of what happens with the pandemic, Heritage Fest will celebrate with a virtual multicultural month.

"We did a great job last year. We had 45 to 50 cultural groups and pages with tabs to arts and culture and lots of people went to see it," he said.

Gibbon said because about 90 per cent of the acts at Heritage Fest are local, the event is flexible.

"The great thing about us is if Alberta Health Services said, 'OK, we are opening July 1,' we can start setting everything up. We don't need to bring people from outside."

Folk Fest, however, typically relies on artists from around the world.

"First of all, are the borders open? And are the borders open not just to the States, are they open to Europe? Are they open to Africa? Unlikely," Wickham said. "We send busses and shuttle vans out to pick up the artists, so all of a sudden there, you're breaking protocol."

Wickham said he's optimistic Folk Fest will be back in 2022.

Heritage Fest is developing three different plans and will decide which one to go with closer to August.