In June, the organizers of the annual Desert Daze music festival in Spences Bridge were congratulating themselves on having postponed this year’s event to the second weekend in September, instead of the usual second weekend in August.
Their decision came only a short time before provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that if all went well, almost all COVID-19 restrictions in the province would be lifted on Sept. 7, three days before the festival was scheduled to attract hundreds of people to Spences Bridge for a weekend of live music.
However, this year’s devastating wildfire season had put the event in jeopardy, and the recent re-introduction of measures designed to halt the steep rise in COVID cases in the Interior Health region — including restrictions on outdoor gatherings and events such as concerts — have led the organizers to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Desert Daze.
“We met today [Aug. 22] and it was pretty much unanimous that we can’t go forward, even if the wildfires were completely gone with nothing but blue skies,” festival director Jan Schmitz tells the Journal. “These new COVID restrictions put the nail in the coffin.”
Schmitz says that the musical lineup — consisting of musicians who had previously played at the festival — had already been formalized, with contracts signed.
“They were all really looking forward to it. They all wanted to go out and play live music again. Desert Daze was the only sort of big musical event on the horizon, as most had been cancelled again or gone to online presentations. We were the first live festival of any size in the works.
“‘Live and for real’ was this year’s motto. The groups had all played here and were excited about the festival.”
Schmitz says that the organizers had been patting themselves on the back about putting the date of the festival back a month, in light of the proposed re-opening of the province. “We hadn’t counted on half the province being on fire at the same time, in one of the worst fire seasons in the Southern Interior.”
The organizers had planned a meeting on Friday, Aug. 27 — two weeks before the festival was due to start — to decide whether or not to go ahead, even before the new COVID restrictions in Interior Health were announced.
“It was because of the wildfires in the vicinity,” says Schmitz. “Spences Bridge is still on evacuation alert, and so are surrounding areas. Because of that, we didn’t think people would want to come to the community, or leave their community if they were under alert, and you have highways shutting down without notice.
“If things hadn’t changed drastically by Aug. 27, then it’s almost inevitable that we would have cancelled. The new restrictions turned the tide, and made a hard decision easier.”
The organizers say that they’re grateful for all the support, and for the interest that was shown in this year’s festival, and that they’re truly sorry the event has to be cancelled again.
“Everybody I talked to was looking forward to it,” says Schmitz. “People had booked the weekend off, and we remained hopeful up until now.” He adds that the work of contacting all the musicians and vendors starts now. “It will be a busy week.”
The organizers say that they are already looking forward to planning next year’s Desert Daze festival.
”We will continue to work to bring to our friends and families in all of the communities in our wonderful Thompson-Nicola region of southern B.C. (and beyond) the ‘Best Little Fest in the West’.”