A confluence of staff shortages, delayed visas and a sudden change of venue left Kultureland festival attendees furious last weekend, as the organizer now tries to explain how the celebration went off the rails.
Ferell Laditi told The Canadian Press that the inaugural edition of his two-day R&B and Afro-fusion music festival outside of Toronto didn’t go as he planned.
“Looking back on it now, maybe I should have canceled,” he said in a phone interview.
“But when I created this festival, the vision was to bring everyone together, to bring all cultures together and give something the city could cling to. It was never my intention to rip anyone off. either or take his money and not give him any shows.”
On Sunday night, many Kultureland ticket holders took to social media to express their frustrations, including headliner Jhene Aiko who never took the stage.
The event became the latest in a series of Ontario music events that have collapsed and left spectators feeling ripped off.
Last week electronic music festival Ever After pulled the plug a week before its launch as ticket holders wondered if they would ever get back the money they had spent.
Fans left in the heat
Meanwhile, attendees at the Kingston Music Festival in North York, Ont., posted videos over the weekend of spectators rushing to the stage after the fence separating the general admission and VIP sections came down. Some participants complained of a lack of water on the site in the heat wave.
Representatives for the Kingston Music Festival did not respond to requests for comment.
At Kultureland, setbacks fell like dominoes and ticket holders said the issues were not properly communicated by organizers.
Many fans had to rush to the Greater Toronto Area on Sunday when Kultureland moved from its original location in Markham Fairgrounds to Ajax Downs Racecourse – a half-hour drive away.
Laurie Concepcion, who paid $250 for her two-day pass, had concerns about the festival even before she arrived at the venue Saturday afternoon. At that time, she said organizers were slow to release the performance schedule.
When she arrived, she saw festival-goers waiting outside the gates for what she said turned out to be around four hours.
Some were so hungry and thirsty that she says they ordered food delivery services to drop off groceries while queuing.
Other attendees noted that inside the venue they saw people fainting from heat exhaustion during headliner Burna Boy’s performance on Saturday night.
Without going into specifics, Laditi said staff and security at the site “just didn’t live up to” expectations. So he decided late Saturday night to move Sunday’s Kultureland show across town to the Hippodrome, a relatively unprecedented turn of events for an ongoing festival.
“Without the connections I had, it’s literally impossible to move an event venue in such a short time,” he said.
“I had to ask a lot of favors.”
But he acknowledged that his decision had contributed to creating new complications that added to other unforeseen obstacles.
Ticket holders have complained that the Sunday venue change came less than an hour before show time, leaving some of them rushing through town in their cars or taxis.
Once there, the wait continued and several headlining acts never took the stage, including Stonebwoy, Fireboy DML, Lojay and Kamo Mphela. Laditi blamed their absence on last-minute visa issues that prevented African artists from entering Canada.
“We have been working on their visas for months,” he said.
“Due to the pandemic, the issuance of visas in office [was] backed up, so a lot of the process took weeks and weeks. It’s not something we can control.”
Complementing Sunday’s issues were unforeseen issues with headliner Aiko, whose performance was to take place at the abandoned venue. This is where its elaborate set design remained on Sunday.
Kultureland waited until around midnight to notify waiting festival-goers via social media that she would no longer be performing as her show required “a level of visuals that we could not technically have produced in a short period of time”.
Laditi said the festival was “still trying to make it work” with Aiko before they finally concluded around 7 p.m. that she couldn’t go on with her show. He was unable to explain why it took until midnight to tell the crowd.
“We could have released this statement a lot – a little – sooner, but there are a lot of legalities there that we had to sort out,” he said.
Even as Sunday began to unravel, Laditi said he already intends to reimburse spectators for the experience.
“We were planning to refund everyone for this second day – and that’s still the plan,” he said, noting that details will be provided to ticket holders soon.
He added that online rumors that artists were not being paid were false.
“Everyone who was part of this training was fully paid,” he said.
Laditi plans to go ahead with a second edition of Kultureland next year, which he is confident will go better.
“Our goal for next year is to make it a much better experience for everyone involved,” he said.
“I know there have been a lot of setbacks with this, but the goal is to build something that can continue to connect cultures and build the community that we have here in Canada.”
Some ticket holders say they can’t see themselves buying tickets for another Kultureland or any other show.
“I don’t see myself going to festivals anytime soon,” Tobi Nicholas said over the phone as he drove home from Sunday’s event.
“You can’t trust anyone.”