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Summerfest folding due to 'toxic' relationship with city

By: Heidi Ulrichsen - Sudbury Northern Life

 | Jun 24, 2014 - 4:36 PM |
Carly Rae Jepsen is seen here, performing at 2013's Sudbury Summerfest. Organizers say the summer festival will fold after this year. File photo.

Carly Rae Jepsen is seen here, performing at 2013's Sudbury Summerfest. Organizers say the summer festival will fold after this year. File photo.

Organizer frustrated with red tape originating from Tom Davies

Thanks to a “toxic relationship” with city staff, there will likely be no Sudbury Summerfest in 2015, says one of the organizers of the end-of-summer music festival, which has been running for 17 years.

This year's Sudbury Summerfest, featuring acts such as Wide Mouth Mason, Big Sugar and Loverboy, is still set to run at the city-owned Grace Hartman Amphitheatre in Bell Park on Aug. 21-23.

But Chris Nerpin, who sits on Sudbury Summerfest's volunteer organizing board, said the difficult decision has been made to fold the festival because it's been such a struggle working with the city over the last few years.

“Specifically dealing with city staff, they have a dictatorial style,” he said.

It is possible the city will offer a “white flag,” and Sudbury Summerfest could come back in 2015, Nerpin said, although he said he personally will not be involved.

But the “entire environment” at the city would have to change, he said.

“Quite frankly, my experience is, this city does not support things, with the red tape and the bureaucracy,” Nerpin said.

For instance, a few years ago, there was a concert that was a bit late in starting, and ended up playing past 11 p.m., which violated Sudbury Summerfest's agreement with the city.

Without approaching organizers, city employees went on stage and tried to shut down the concert, Nerpin said. They “should fine us, and not come in and take over our festival and try to unplug a concert,” he said.

Last summer, Sudbury Summerfest organizers got into a dispute with the city about whether or not they could have use of the amphitheatre's office space. They still weren't able to use it even after involving city councillors.

Organizers also learned at the last minute in 2013 that they'd have to pour beer into plastic cups instead of just handing out cans, which city staff said could become projectiles.

In the lead-up to this year's event, organizers learned they'd have to pay for a city employee to be on-site during the festival.

Nerpin said the group had been working with Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli — who passed away in April — in an attempt to resolve the issue.

“We received an email from the city in May that basically acknowledged that Fabio was looking at the invoice issue, but sadly he has passed away, so please make payment,” he said.

“There was never any resolution, and with Fabio being gone, we were back to the way the relationship is with the city.”

City staff also sent the festival a letter this year saying that if they receive any noise complaints, “they reserve the right to shut down the festival,” Nerpin said.

Northern Life contacted the city to discuss these issues, but nobody was immediately available for an interview.

When asked if the decision to fold the festival had anything to do with financial issues, Nerpin said it didn't, as Sudbury Summerfest grows every year, showing a profit that's in turn put back into attracting bigger acts.

While he said he's happy with this year's lineup of musicians, all of these administrative issues with the city have distracted Sudbury Summerfest's organizers from booking musicians.

“Because of the time we put into dealing with the city issues, we're a little late getting out of the gate, which gives us challenges in finding the acts,” Nerpin said.

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Heidi Ulrichsen

Heidi Ulrichsen

Staff Writer


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