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Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival could be coming to an end

City staff will recommend replacing the music festival with a new brand to entice younger audiences.

Last year could have been the final Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival before the city pivots to a new, more diverse brand.

Burnaby staff will recommend ending the long-standing outdoor festival to replace it this year with a new concert with a “full range of genres” that could attract a younger audience to Deer Lake.

Emmaline Hill, Burnaby’s director of culture, said the plan came after council decided last year to remove the admission fee from the Blues and Roots Festival.

She said paid events at the “premiere concert” level need to attract well-established headliners to drive ticket sales, which can leave less room to book emerging or more diverse artists who wouldn’t be able to sell tickets at the same level.

At the same time, while the event has been “really successful” for many years, Hill said locals are wanting something new.

“We are hearing really consistently in feedback at our events that Burnaby residents want a broader range of genres and want to see more diverse performers, in particular, at our music events,” Hill said at a parks, recreation and culture committee meeting Feb. 13.

She said there’s a gap in the city’s current event attendance: youth in their late teens to mid-20s.

“This is not a group that we’re seeing out at our events. Certainly, families with young children are there, but there’s a real gap in … that youth age group.”

“Our team feels that that would be a really important gap to try to address. … They don’t see themselves in a lot of those events and would welcome the opportunity to participate.”

Hill also said having the free event creates new opportunities in the type of programming offered, noting the city won’t have to fence the Deer Lake site, which can then host more people.

The city would continue to contract with LiveNation to source talent, Hill said, adding more information on the new festival (including a “fancy new name”) is expected to come in May.

The event is scheduled for Aug. 10.

Last year's festival saw almost 7,600 attendees and cost $685,765, according to a staff report.

Coun. Sav Dhaliwal, chair of the parks committee, said while the festival was one of the few in the region that catered to the blues and roots genre, it has “had its ups and downs.”

“Depends who was the attraction, you couldn’t get near the place,” he said. “I know a few times it was very, very popular, but then other years, (there) wasn’t that much happening.”

Representatives on the parks committee were generally supportive of the shift.

Staff will eventually present a recommendation for council to decide whether to retire the Burnaby Blues and Roots brand and pivot to the newly branded event this year, Hill said.

The Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival began in 2000 to “celebrate the influence of roots and blues music” and “provides a platform for local and Canadian artists and ensuring that female and BIPOC artists are represented,” according to a city press release in 2023.

Past headliners have included Fleet Foxes and the War on Drugs, as well as Smokey Robinson, k.d. lang and Feist.

📢 SOUND OFF: Do you want to see a newly branded summer festival at Deer Lake? Do you want to keep the Blues and Roots Festival as is? Share your thoughts — send us a letter.