Summer festival organizers are hoping to silence detractors by obeying bylaws and keeping the noise down to a dull roar

Posted by on 13 June 2008

Michael Platt, Calgary Sun, June 13, 2008

Summer festival organizers are hoping to silence detractors by obeying bylaws and keeping the noise down to a dull roar

They've passed the first test -- despite a lukewarm line-up and the potential for rain, Calgary's first Virgin Festival is all but sold out.

The next test: Can the Virgin Festival, only a week and a day away from its opening guitar wails, weather Calgary?

It's the elephant in the room for those behind V-Fest and other mammoth music festivals, which are suddenly as thick as mosquitoes on the summer horizon and selling as well as bug spray at a swampside picnic.

"We're absolutely thrilled with ticket sales to date -- we're at 30,000 tickets sold and are close to sell-out capacity," said Andrew Bridge, director of Virgin Festivals in Canada.

V-Fest and Ozzy Osbourne's Monsters of Rock are the two serious contenders for sound violations under Calgary's stringent anti-noise bylaws, though the Folk Festival and Sled Island festival share the potential for rattling the decibel meter.

That loud music can be an issue is a fact of life in keep-it-down Calgary, where too many stodgy citizens prefer warm tea and an early night to thundering bass.

Even the respectable and fuzz-box-free Folk Fest fought complaints for years, before re-designing the entire show to silence the griping from nearby grouches.

But with Virgin Festival taking place on virgin ground at Fort Calgary, and the nearly sold-out Monsters of Rock playing under the noses of residents near McMahon Stadium, a visit from the noise police is certain.

"We'll be there," said Bill Bruce, the city's bylaw chief.

Bruce is a serious music fan -- he's almost giddy over Blue Rodeo returning to the Folk Fest -- but he has the job of ensuring decibel levels remain reasonable and no one plays after 10 p.m. without a special permit.

"It's ensuring public demand for concerts are balanced with the needs of the community," said Bruce.

The bylaw boss says he believes Calgarians are finally growing more tolerant of

noise, within limits.

"Calgarians are loosening up -- as long as it's a reasonable volume and it stops when it promises it will stop, I don't anticipate problems," he said.

Nonetheless, Ozzy's website waves a red flag in the faces of those who prefer their July Saturday nights silent:

"Ozzy Osbourne has drawn upon the sinister power of Ozzfest to create the biggest, meanest, loudest (expletive) rock festival you can imagine -- THE MONSTERS OF ROCK," reads his description of the Calgary show.

McMahon Stadium manager John Haverstock laughs off the bad-boy posturing and says the reality will be a show that does everything possible to keep the peace.

In meetings with bylaw officers and residents, Haverstock says he's encountered a spectrum of attitudes.

"Some don't want any noise there at all and there's a percentage who totally support it; then there's the people in the middle who say, let's be reasonable about it," he said.

Only half of McMahon is being used, with the stage facing the east stands, directing sound away from residents.

Tickets for that show are apparently down to a final trickle, with Ticketmaster showing the only seats still available on the extreme sides. As for V-Fest, it will be the first large concert ever held at Fort Calgary and organizers won't be looking to push the boundaries of the bylaw.

"We have been working with all the appropriate city authorities and we are fully complying with all the city's noise bylaws for the festival," said spokesman Chris Baines.

Instead of annoyed neighbours, it could be fans left feeling irritable -- during the first Toronto V-Fest in 2006, late-night noise rules saw Flaming Lips rushed off stage after performing only four songs.

Bridge said ticket sales and enthusiasm over the first Virgin Festival line-up -- Tragically Hip are co-headlining with Stone Temple Pilots -- virtually ensures the festival will return here next year.

And if Toronto's experience is any indication, bigger bands will be added to the bill as word gets out.

"Success this year will be the biggest indication of future festivals in Calgary," said Bridge.

The brisk sales at all festivals are a positive turn for a city once starved for good music -- Kerry Clarke, artistic director of the Calgary Folk Festival, says tickets there are going faster than last year and are on pace to sell out.

"We are doing really well this year -- four-day passes are ahead of previous years and we're on track to sell the majority, if not all, of our tickets, as we have for the last three years," said Clarke.