Shelter Valley Folk Festival closed its folk-singing doors Sunday at the Henkel farm where it has been held since its first event 14 years ago. There has been internal turmoil amongst organizers. Financing for the past few years has been challenging. Where or if it will be presented next year is a question to be answered.
According to Arnie Henkel who has been involved in the event from the beginning, the festival has run with the help of upwards of 300 volunteers although this year it functioned with 2/3 of that number. At the outset, the budget was around $60,000. In recent years, it has been inching towards $200,000. He says costs have tripled. Concerns around accessibility, aging volunteers as well as methods of financing the festival have been some of the points of conflict.
What follows in this article are the thoughts of a few people who have been involved with the festival. They were recorded Sunday and highlight some of the mixed emotions that result when a social entity closes its door. Visiting performers were not interviewed due to time constraints.
Andreas Becker- volunteer
“I have been involved for six years. I do the hospitality breakfasts in the morning. I know there is some internal conflict. Everybody is putting on a brave face. I think it is unfortunate. I think this community has to be doing better than it has been doing. It’s been a great community. Good folk here. Good hearts. Great music. Last night (Saturday) the music was absolutely spectacular. It was a nice way for me to get in touch with a lot of indie musicians. Good friends here.”
Arnie Henkel- owner of the land upon which the festival has been held
“Bittersweet thing. Put so much into it over the years. Don’t want to see it go away. Never our intention for it to go away. We plan to have something on next year Labour Day weekend. It won’t be as grand as this because it will be a re-start. It depends on the community. Some things clearly didn’t work. That is why we ended where we are. Being that I was on the board from its inception I kinda know what worked and didn’t work. We need it more affordable for families and food and stuff. There are some minor changes that would make a big difference.”
“There are still all these music lovers on this land today and most are wondering what hit. If we can offer continued music that is less of an issue … if it continues it is just a blip on the screen. If it really does go away, it is really sad on many levels. The amount of dedication of volunteers and through the gate … it would be devastating if it went away.”
When asked about fondest memories he replied, “Valdy singing “Happy Birthday” to my granddaughter at the first festival. The first Sunday morning there were people holding hands. It was an exchange of energy that was amazing.”
“(People) don’t want it to end. So many people have come and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for all these years.’ So when I say, ‘It’s not necessarily over. We are going to try.’ Their whole demeanour changes. There is a smile that comes. Because all is not lost. There is hope this can continue. It won’t be Shelter Valley because that belongs to that organization as a privately run charity.”
“If you talk to most people, this site is at least half of what the festival is. Most festivals are on parks … this is one of the only ones on private land. Makes some hurdles that don’t exist in parks. But it is one of the things that makes it special. “
“We have never pocketed any money. We always have given to the charity of our choice. We have done it for the community. The community that was born and developed here. It wasn’t for financial gain. We needed to be sustainable which hasn’t happened in the past two years. I think we can turn things around. We have to back up a little bit. A little bit smaller. Might have to cap it at a much smaller number. It’s not going to be easy. But I think there are enough dedicated people that have been part of this since the beginning.”
Amy Brady and Liam Roach – musicians
Amy Brady, 15, of Garden Hill who attends St. Mary’s school and Liam Roach, 11, of Gores Landing, who attend Dale Road public school were the last of the local songwriters to sing. The demise of the festival was not an issue with them but their appearance highlighted the generational impact a continuing presence can bring. According to Liam, “I have been going here every year since I was really young.” Amy saw the interest her grandparents paid, “coming every single year.”
Christa Couture – singer/songwriter from Vancouver, now Toronto
“It is a little festival I have heard about over the years from friends. I have been to probably every folk festival in Western Canada and getting to know the ones in southern Ontario … I love it. It is fantastic. This is like my favourite size. The fact that you can see everything and yet there is enough going on you have options. You have a couple of choices but not overwhelming… (I like the) diversity of voices and representation. Different styles of folk music. As a musician that is really inspiring to see because we don’t always see that in our festivals. “
David Sheffield – participant since the beginning, Board member etc.
“I was here before the fourteen years. I have had a number of different roles. Been on the board, etc.. This year I managed the Creative Experience Tent for Adults. I have been doing that for several years.”
“I feel like this is the year of completion for the Shelter Valley Folk Festival. It has been an amazing experience that has enriched the lives of many people. Enriched the community. And in some sense, I think that work is completed with this festival. And as I look around (I see) the number of places that the energy of Shelter Valley is popping up in other events, in other good work in the community … there is a spirit that grew up in this place and it has spread around. I don’t feel a sense of loss. But we all are shedding tears here and there. It’s a change. It’s a significant piece of our life that won’t be there in that same way.
“There are sad parts. There is a familiarity here that when you come back each year. There are people we only met because we came here. And some of those people we only meet because we come here each year. There is something special about this place. We consider it a sacred place … it is a demonstration of a way of living and so this community is a significant loss.”
“It’s a three-day experiment in radical community. It’s an ideal that we get the opportunity to see what human interaction could look like…. there are permanent lessons we learn by doing these things.”
“I was part of the first conversations about developing a festival with Aengus Finnan (founder of the Shelter Valley Folk Festival). This has been a place where people have been allowed to try things that they might not have in their other lives. I have seen leadership develop in people. I have seen young people come up mature and have the opportunity to do things that they might not have.”
“My fondest memories … some of the hardest things we worked on together … the year the hurricane tore up the place and we had to take down tents and go inside. What came from that was the bonding that comes when people go through difficult things.”