Jazz festival won't return to Whistler without municipal support 

JOMAW founder Arne Schwisberg asks for $150,000 in RMI funds

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SCOTT BRAMMER/COASTPHOTO.COM - Festival trouble A small crowd watches a performance at the 2011 Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler. The 2012 edition is plagued by a hefty deficit and strained relationship between festival  producers and the RMOW
  • Photo BY scott brammer/coastphoto.com
  • Festival trouble A small crowd watches a performance at the 2011 Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler. The 2012 edition is plagued by a hefty deficit and strained relationship between festival producers and the RMOW

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"We had the volunteer reports telling us repeatedly that people were coming up to the gate and were rather surprised that they were asked to buy a ticket because they had read that it was for free.

"I don't think there's a merchant here who would be happy if the municipality said, 'Those are my good and services and I'm giving them away for free.'"

The ad, which also ran in The Vancouver Sun, used the word "free" three times, while making no mention of the jazz festival's ticketed events. The four-day jazz festival, which was held over the Labour Day weekend, offered only six free concerts at the Plaza, — a small percentage of the festival's performances.

The jazz festival was the first — and so far only — third-party event to be held at WOP. It was an experiment of sorts for how the RMOW would manage festivals at the newly created public venue.

According to Schwisberg, it did not go well. If JOMAW returns for 2012, it will not be utilizing the $13.6 million venue.

"(WOP) is not a viable ticketed venue — physically, but more profoundly, the municipality has fuelled the expectation that it's free. That's very difficult to overcome that expectation," he says.

Instead, if JOMAW goes ahead it will utilize the Whistler Conference Centre as its "crown jewel" for larger events. Schwisberg says he is not intentionally slighting the RMOW or the Plaza. It's a case of simple economics.

"It's not a statement. It's a pragmatic reality," he says. "I'd love to see the Plaza used to its highest and best use. I would love to say in 2013 here's Michael Bublé at Whistler Olympic Plaza... but that can't happen until we get through 2012."

The tentative line up for the 2012 includes Jeff Lorber, Michael Franks, "Year of the Cat" singer Al Stewart and YouTube sensation Jake Shimabukuro. The free festival offerings have been trimmed down to only one — a single-night performance by Kool and the Gang.

Schwisberg also attributes the poor ticket sales to the denial of the special occasion liquor license — which would have allowed attendees to drink alcohol throughout the festival grounds and affected the festival's bottom line — as well as competition of the RMOW's free Whistler Presents concert series.

He says the RMOW's mismanagement of the JOMAW brand through its advertising campaign added further insult to injury.

An RMOW spokesperson wrote to Pique in an email, "We (TW and RMOW) worked with (JOMAW) to include them in Whistler Presents advertising. Tourism Whistler led all of the destination marketing activities for Whistler Presents, and developed and placed the ads (working with the RMOW as the executive producer)."

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