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Council decides to keep Burnaby Blues and Roots after all

The festival will see some changes this year, with more possibilities for expansion next year

On Feb. 26, council decided to keep Burnaby Blues and Roots for another year. Despite culture director Emmaline Hill’s recommendation to cancel the show and replace it with a new festival, Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival (BBRF) will take place this year, albeit with some changes. 

Hill’s team is currently working on a master plan for 2025, which may expand and change the festival. Hill’s original recommendation was based on several audience surveys conducted during previous festivals, showing a decline in the event’s appeal among younger audiences. 

“We hear from young people through surveys and so on that they don’t see themselves in a lot of these events and would welcome the opportunity to participate,” Hill said during the Parks, Recreation and Culture Committee meeting on Feb. 13

At the council’s Feb. 26 meeting, Coun. Joe Keithley agreed that the festival’s current format may not appeal to younger generations. 

“I really think we need to open it up to different audiences because the BBRF that’s my generation. I like it, but you know what? I’ve had three tickets I’ve offered my kids; they don’t want to go. They think it’s like old cornball,” Keithley said.  

The stage at Burnaby Blues and Roots festival, August 2023. Photo: Rebecca Bolwitt via Flickr

After some discussion, council voted to keep BBRF for one more year and directed Hill’s team to look into possibilities for change starting in 2025. 

“Council has strongly endorsed the continuation of the Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival. They were really clear that they see the event as having a lot of history within Burnaby and great memories and wanting to continue that tradition,” Hill told the Beacon. 

“The next phase for us is to start to work through more consultation processes externally with stakeholders,” Hill said. “Council asked us to bring back some options for what expansion could look like in future years, so I’m anticipating that I will be back in front of council early this fall.” 

The city is planning some changes to this year’s BBRF. This year’s festival will take place on Aug. 10 and will be unfenced in keeping with the open-access, free admission policy. It will also include new food vendors. Hill said with climate change and rising summer temperatures, the event may start later in the afternoon to avoid the midday heat. The city will also ensure that misters and water are available to prevent heat-related issues. 

Hill believes the festival may have an image problem, particularly among young residents. As the festival evolves, she hopes that audience perception will change. 

“We were hearing, not just from youths, but from residents more generally, that the naming of the event may make people feel like it’s not for them. They might be music lovers, they might be avid concertgoers, but for whatever reason, the BBRF felt like something that wasn’t going to be their cup of tea,” she told the Beacon. “The actual programming at BBRF is extremely diverse. We’re going to be leaning into that again this year because we had that strong endorsement from council that that is the way they want to go.” 

According to Hill, last year’s BBRF drew a crowd of 7,500 attendees, the second-largest number in the festival’s history. Hill said the city is currently finalizing the lineup and will release it in May, adding that there will be a broad range of artists, genres, and music. 

“I would say, if you love live music in a beautiful venue, this is going to be an event that’s going to be a great fit for you,” she said. “Roots music is about authenticity, about an expression of where we come from, rather than something that’s narrowly defined. It can include folk music, blues music, and contemporary pop music from around the world. Those traditions are all within that big overarching tent and we need to do a better job to make sure that folks understand that and that they are really invited into this event and welcome at this event and are going to have a great time.”  

This piece was made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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