Kultureland organizer says the music festival is plagued by a series of mishaps

A confluence of staff shortages, delayed visas and a sudden change of venue left attendees of the Kultureland Festival furious last weekend, as the organizer now tries to explain how the celebration went off the rails.

Ferell Laditi told The Canadian Press that the inaugural edition of his two-day R&B and Afro-fusion music festival outside Toronto did not go as planned.

“Looking back now, maybe I should have called it off,” he said in a telephone interview.

“But when I created this festival, the vision was to bring everyone together, bring all cultures together and give something for the city to hold on to. It was never my intention to rip anyone off or take their money and not give them performances.”

On Sunday night, many Kultureland ticket holders took to social media to express their frustrations, including headliner Jhene Aiko never taking the stage.

The event became the latest in a series of Ontario music events that fell apart, leaving attendees feeling ripped off.

Last week, the Ever After electronic music festival went offline a week before its launch as ticket holders wondered if they would ever get back the money they spent.

Meanwhile, attendees at the Kingston Music Festival in North York, Ontario. posted videos over the weekend of concertgoers running onto the stage after knocking down the fence separating the general admission and VIP sections. Some attendees complained about the lack of water in the enclosure in the middle of a heat wave.

Representatives for the Kingston Music Festival did not respond to requests for comment.

At Kultureland, mishaps fell like dominoes, with ticket holders saying organizers failed to communicate problems properly.

Many fans had to race through the Greater Toronto Area on Sunday when Kultureland moved from its original home at Markham Fairgrounds to Ajax Downs Racetrack, a half-hour drive away.

Laurie Concepcion, who paid $250 for her two-day pass, was worried about the festival even before she arrived at the event venue on Saturday afternoon. At the time, she said that the organizers had been slow to release the schedule of performances.

Upon arrival, he saw festival goers waiting outside the gates for what he said turned out to be roughly four hours. Some were so hungry and thirsty that he, he says, ordered food delivery services to drop off supplies while they stood in line.

Other attendees noted that inside the venue they saw people pass out from heat exhaustion during headliner Burna Boy’s performance on Saturday night.

Without going into detail, Laditi said the staff and security at the venue were “just not up to” expectations. So he decided on Saturday night to move Sunday’s Kultureland show across town to the racetrack, a relatively unprecedented turn of events for an ongoing festival.

“Without the connections I had, it’s literally impossible to change the location of an event in such a short amount of time,” he said.

“I had to ask a lot of favors.”

But he acknowledged that his decision helped create new complications on top of other unexpected obstacles.

Ticket holders complained that Sunday’s venue change came less than an hour before showtime, leaving some of them running around town in their cars or taxis.

Once they got there, the wait continued and several acts on the bill never made it to the stage, including Stonebwoy, Fireboy DML, Lojay and Kamo Mphela. Laditi blamed his absence on last-minute visa problems that prevented African artists from entering Canada.

“We have been working on their visas for months,” he said.

“Due to the pandemic, in-office visa issuance (was) supported, so many of the processes took weeks and weeks. That’s not something we can control.”

Rounding out the Sunday editions were unexpected problems with headliner Aiko, whose performance was scheduled to take place at the abandoned venue. That’s where her elaborate stage design remained until Sunday.

Kultureland waited until around midnight to inform festival goers via social media that she would no longer be performing, as her show required “a level of visuals that we technically could not have produced in a short period of time”.

Laditi said the festival was “still trying to make it work” with Aiko before they finally concluded around 7pm that she couldn’t go ahead with her show. She couldn’t explain why it took her until midnight to tell the crowd.

“We could have released that statement a lot, a little bit, sooner, but there are a lot of legal issues that we had to work out,” he said.

Even as Sunday began to unravel, Laditi said she already intended to reimburse concertgoers for that experience.

“We were planning on refunding everyone for that second day, and that’s still the plan,” he said, noting that details will be provided to ticket holders shortly.

He added that online rumors that artists were not being paid were false.

“Everyone that was in that lineup was paid in full,” he said.

Laditi plans to go ahead with a second edition of Kultureland next year, which she is confident will go more smoothly.

“Our goal for next year is to make this a much better experience for everyone involved,” he said.

“I know there have been a lot of hiccups with this, but the goal is to build something that can continue to connect cultures and build the community that we have here in Canada.”

Some ticket holders say they can’t see themselves buying tickets to another Kultureland or any other show.

“I don’t see myself going to any festivals anytime soon,” Tobi Nicholas said by phone as he headed home from Sunday’s event.

“You can not trust anyone”.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 8, 2022.

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