It was perhaps a little heartbreaking to witness such extreme, and even locally bizarre, weather move in to St. John’s on the very weekend the 38th Annual Newfoundland Labrador Folk Festival was set to kick off — all the more so considering the dry, blazing heat of July.
But in true festive form, fans, organizers and performers broke through the rough start to bring a great weekend of entertainment.
The festival’s start on Friday evening was trounced with a downpour of rain. The 250 or so people who still went to Bowring Park lived it up in the mud, and since there was no thunder or lighting in the vicinity that evening, the show would have went on if not for the amount of water that collected on the stage.
“It just got to the point where it was getting too dangerous on stage,” said John Drover, Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society president. “We couldn’t keep up with the water on the stage and the last thing I wanted to do was electrocute a Dardanelle.”
Despite the small but mud-stomping crowd, the scene had to be shut down about 10 p.m.
Matt Anderson, who was to perform Friday night, had his set cancelled but managed to get some stage time at the after party that night at The Ship Pub. That’s thanks to Mark Bragg, who was supposed to play that party, being gracious enough to give Anderson the stage, Drover said.
Saturday seemed promising. That morning all the session and songwriter performances got in under what can only be described as unlikely weather that blew through the Avalon as the day went into its second verse. A major thunderstorm watch was given by Environment Canada and the warning did not prove false.
“Those storms that came through yesterday, I’ve never seen weather like that in St. John’s in my life. That was prairie thunderstorms,” Drover told The Telegram on Sunday.
Between lightning strikes, downpours, isolated hail and even reports of funnel clouds, there was little choice but to cancel the afternoon festivities. With the weather moving on that evening, pleasant skies and sounds returned.
“We had an excellent crowd last night. The weather was great,” Drover said.
About 2,500 tickets were sold Saturday night alone.
Sunday also went well with the weather holding and crowds gathering.
Still, “It was a bit disappointing,” Drover said of the early festival weather.
A particular disappointment for him was that a group of young musicians that were to play for several hours on Saturday had to be cut due to the weather.
“There’s some great talents so we’re gonna look at maybe trying to put together a concert in the fall at the LSPU Hall and get that lineup back,” he said.
Some large corporate sponsors also came on with the festival this year, so the outlook is still bright despite some weather hurdles.
“The sponsorship money that they provided will give us a bit of a cushion so that we won’t go totally broke over missing Friday night and (Saturday afternoon),” said Drover.
A noticeable growth in diversity at this year’s festival was the food that was available. Including multi-ethnic food, vegan ice cream and the downtown restaurant Blue On Water onsite, food lineups were healthy, as were appetites.
Next year Drover said they’re hoping to get back to Bannerman Park for the festival if all renovations there are done.