Free concerts get mixed reviews 

Community at odds as to whether Whistler Presents is a boon or a bane


The Whistler Presents free concert series is getting mixed reviews.

While the RMOW is citing the program as a success so far, others, including Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler (JOMAW) founder and organizer Arnold Schwisberg, said free concerts destroy any chance of a ticketed event succeeding at Whistler Olympic Plaza (WOP)

The commercial failure of the Labour Day weekend jazz festival was due in part, Schwisberg claimed, to the "sequential and conspicuously advertised free concerts at WOP."

"The RMOW set a tone I don't know can ever be overcome, especially in the context of Whistlerites' disinclination to pay for live music," Schwisberg wrote in an email to Pique .

Schwisberg contiuned, "There is no doubt in my mind that it was an error to have scheduled sequential and conspicuously advertised free concerts at WOP; that it compromised and dampened ticket sales at JOMAW and will affect all attempts to program ticketed shows there."

Likewise, the scrim, or barrier, for ticketed events cannot mask the music or the video screens and people can enjoy the full concert experience just as well inside the barrier as outside.

As a result, he said, JOMAW will now schedule paid performances at indoor venues until the public has been re-educated that WOP is a not a free venue, but it could take years to get to that point,

"I'd propose an ad campaign not promoting free concerts, but helping people realize why free concerts are NOT sustainable and are NOT good for the musicians or the community," Schwisberg wrote. "It's one thing to have free shows in a festival context alongside ticketed events. But the stand-alone series of free concerts has not established a favourable precedent."

This issue has become a hot election topic among municipal candidates. In a lengthy Facebook thread on the 2011 Whistler Election page, incumbent Ted Milner and candidates Dave Buzzard, Steve Andrews and Jay Rolston, among several others, commented that the $2.9 million was spent without any clear indication that Whistler will see a return on that investment.

Councillor Ted Milner posted on a Facebook feed that the free concert model was a one-off event and would not be returning next year. He said the money spent this summer demonstrated no return on investment.

"You bring Sam Roberts Band from Montreal for $100,000 and he takes it back to Montreal. What does it achieve?" Milner told Pique . "Does that bring someone to the resort next year? Because Sam's not here. I just don't see it."

Both Milner and Schwisberg say that representatives from Feldman and Associates - the booking agency that includes several of the 2011 Whistler Presents artists, including Barenaked Ladies, Colin James and Tom Cochrane - told them that free concert programming is a mistake and a detriment to future ticketed programming. A spokesperson for Feldman and Associates could not be reached for comment by press deadline.

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