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N.L. Folk Festival on the brink without free-range drinking licence, organizer says

Julie Vogt, the Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, says the plan to allow alcohol consumption in most areas of the festival is to help generate more revenue to cover the rising costs of maintaining the yearly festival. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Julie Vogt, the Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, says the plan to allow alcohol consumption in most areas of the festival is to help generate more revenue to cover the rising costs of maintaining the yearly festival. (Curtis Hicks/CBC - image credit)
Julie Vogt, the Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, says the plan to allow alcohol consumption in most areas of the festival is to help generate more revenue to cover the rising costs of maintaining the yearly festival.
Julie Vogt, the Executive Director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, says the plan to allow alcohol consumption in most areas of the festival is to help generate more revenue to cover the rising costs of maintaining the yearly festival.

Julie Vogt, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Society, says the plan to allow alcohol consumption in most areas of the festival is to help generate more revenue. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Art Society is working on a plan to allow alcohol consumers at this year's annual folk festival to roam freely in all park areas, except for one that would be reserved as a "sober area."

The society is working with the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation to map out the areas in Bannerman Park where the festival will take place in July, says the society's executive director, Julie Vogt.

Vogt said the response to the plan has been mostly positive, but some people have voiced concerns regarding safety and alcohol consumption in front of children.

"You're responsible for your children," she said.

"We're not going to let anyone get too 'folked up'….[security] will have full rein to remove anyone. But I don't believe that's going to happen. We had zero incidents last year."

Before, people who wanted to drink were confined to a beer tent. However, this new model, which is still in the planning stages, will allow all drinkers to roam the park freely.

One area will be drink-free, said Vogt, and alcohol won't be sold in the morning in any area of the park.

Musician and music events organizer, Bob Hallett, says the NLC should simplify the alcohol licensure process for all event venues.
Musician and music events organizer, Bob Hallett, says the NLC should simplify the alcohol licensure process for all event venues.

Musician and music events organizer Bob Hallett says the NLC should simplify the alcohol licensure process for all event venues. (Submitted by Bob Hallett)

Financial pressure

The decision to allow drinkers in all areas of the festival came after the number of attendees over the years has slowly decreased.

Last year, the festival sold $137,000 in tickets, but security alone cost $40,000 and payments to performers were another $70,000, she said. The hope is that revenue from alcohol sales will help cover the costs.

Vogt says organizers purposefully hired artists from outside the province to entice more people to come.

She says if they don't try something new, such as alcohol sales with the new area designation, the folk festival may not last another year.

A long time coming

Bob Hallett, a musician and music events organizer, says many festivals in the province have been advocating for such a model for a long time.

Indoor venues in Newfoundland and Labrador already operate under that model, such as the Mary Brown Centre.

"You can get a beer and sit down with your children and drink it," Hallett said. "And somehow they are not immediately lured into alcoholism or nor are they exposed to ... a team of drunken sailors racing down the stairs."

He has been attending the festival for the past 30 years. He describes it as a small festival operating on a limited budget, yet it holds a significant place in people's hearts.

He says that bringing in well-known artists from outside the province poses a financial risk.

"I hope it works for them because I think the festival is important to the the fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador and it's very important to the people of St. John's, and I want to see it," he said.

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