The River & Sky Music/Camping Festival may well have been the first outdoor festival of its kind in all of Ontario after the province entered Stage 3 of its reopening plan, but there were still plenty of safety measures in place. The event, held at Fisher’s Paradise in Field on July 16-17, was scaled back to 25% capacity by the organizers, reduced to two days, and required attendees to show evidence of vaccination. All attendees also went through a COVID rapid test at the gate.
Organizers consider it a success given all those conditions, although prior to the event they received a fair amount of vitriol and hateful online reviews and commentary from people asserting their right to not vaccinate and crying foul that they were being discriminated against. Chris Fisher, owner of the host location, insisted that the safety of attendees took precedence over those bruised feelings. Co-owner Julie Bertram also indicated that the bulk of the reviews were from people who had never attended their facility and had no intention of attending – reviews from as far as the United States and England.
Executive Director of River & Sky, Abigail Cassio, said on Sunday that she was very pleased with the event. “It was good – I was surprised after all the worrying… It’s weird because COVID makes everything strange. It was hard to even go by what happened in the past.” The event had been cancelled in 2020, after attracting over 3000 people in 2019. “Everything had to be reworked. We limited tickets to 300.”
Phase 3 of Ontario’s reopening was declared on Friday, and some day passes were sold that day, but without much advance notice those sales were negligible.
Despite all the difficulties, the attendees, artists and organizers enjoyed a fabulous weekend of music, swimming, hanging out at the beach, dancing into the wee hours, art installations, food vendors, and various activities. Julie Bertram said, “After such a trying time, we are re-birthing not only the festival, but a way of being in society – without demands, defences, protesting or proselytizing… It’s a co-creation of art and music, respecting the land, respecting the river, the sky and each other. We’re not demanding people to listen to us, not proselytizing that we know the way, none of that. It’s just having fun, and creating stuff… and everyone who is here, that’s their way of life in general, so the festival is just a celebration of that.”
As for the negative online commentary, Bertram responded, “There are people hating all over the world right now, so you can’t live your life concerned about people hating, whether towards us, or some country, or some policy.” She added that the criticism was unfair, “They thought no-one was allowed to come to the campgrounds unless they had vaccination, which is not true. It was just for this event.”