It's a festival, let there be beer

Posted by Dave Breakenridge, Calgary Sun on 26 July 2013

If I have one complaint about the Calgary Folk Music Festival, and it’s hard to find fault with the fest, it’s how they sell beer.

Okay, I’m also not pleased they scheduled Elliott Brood at the same time as Steve Earle, but that’s forgivable, I suppose.

But my real issue is that to get a beer at one of the more relaxed events in the city, I have to line up to get into a fenced area, line up to buy tickets, line up to buy beer (or wine or sangria, in the case of folk fest) and then drink it far from the music.

That’s not to say I hate the atmosphere of the beer gardens, but it’s frustrating that in this day and age at such a loose event that beer drinkers get relegated to the gardens.

But it isn’t just a problem at folk fest, it’s any outdoor music event around here.

Provincial regulations make it one big headache to do it otherwise.

I find it sad that I can go enjoy a sporting event, or an indoor concert, with a beer in my seat, but the notion of enjoying a beer on my tarp at the folk fest is somehow a foreign concept here.

And it’s not as if this is a new idea. Festivals in Europe and the U.S. allow open consumption of alcohol. It was even tried in Calgary.

Two years ago, stakeholders allowed open beer sales on the Sled Island Festival site at Olympic Plaza. The festival worked with the city and the province to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors and to mitigate any potential social disorder.

Guess what? The event didn’t degenerate into a drunken fight fest.

Extend that to Prince’s Island Park. Would all hell break loose? Probably not.

LJ Predon, who co-manages the beer garden at the fest, says it is usually at its 2,100 capacity for the bulk of the weekend, and guess what?

“People have such a great respect for their consumption, I don’t have to call security and roll people out of here,” she told me.

She says in her time with the fest there have been no major issues. It’s not that kind of fest.

And while Predon feels that the crowd as a whole would be equally courteous if the whole site was licensed, it would be a logistical nightmare. And it would.

Festival GM Les Siemieniuk, who agrees the crowd here wouldn’t pose much of a problem if beer and wine were sold through the site, told me that as the law stands, it would be prohibitive.

“You have to have one supervisor for every 50 patrons,” he said, adding bartenders and security don’t count. “In a beer garden that’s manageable but with 15,000 people, it’s pretty bad.”

“The rules are the rules,” he said, but added that when Sled Island was a fully-licensed site, “the world didn’t end.”

I get there are concerns with safety and with underage drinking, but minors are currently allowed in the festival beer gardens (they serve food) and many people bring in contraband, whether it’s a flask, wine or what have you.

If all of this is already going on, then why not legitimate alcohol sales? Why shouldn’t adults be able to carry around a beer, or a wine within the larger confines of an event?

Why shouldn’t I be able to line up for beer after I line up for my food truck delicacy and balance that through the crowd to enjoy it on my tarp?

You could still run a beer garden — make it adults only. And, as Predon told me, it’s not as if the festival is full of drunks anyway.

Maybe it’s time the province loosens up and let some of our reputable festivals test the waters.