Organizers of some of the largest festivals in Orillia are planning, as well as they can amid uncertainty, for their 2021 events.
After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in early 2020, festivals were called off. It was a particularly tough blow for the Mariposa Folk Festival, which was set to mark 60 years in a big way.
Officials spoke optimistically at the time about their events returning the next year. Pam Carter, president of the Mariposa Folk Foundation, is still holding out hope.
“We’ll plan for a full festival,” she said. “It’s better to plan for a full festival and have to dial it back if we have to, rather than plan for a small one and then figure out we’re good to go.”
Organizers could float the idea of pushing the July festival to August or September, Carter said, depending on public health restrictions and how many people have been vaccinated.
“The vaccine’s somewhat of a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s given us some hope that there will be a festival in 2021,” she said. “The safety of everyone involved in the festival is paramount. Safety is foremost in our planning.”
The festival usually has most of its performers booked by Christmas. When last year’s event was cancelled, artists who were scheduled to perform were invited back for the 2021 festival, set for July 9 to 11. Most of them accepted the offer, Carter said.
It usually takes a full year to plan for the festival, so “COVID has disrupted that process,” she said, but added there have been many meetings with the board of directors and the organizing committee.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to present a festival in 2021,” she said, but noted it might look different from usual.
Unlike Mariposa, the Orillia Scottish Festival is planning for a scaled-back offering this year.
Originally scheduled to take place later the same month — July 16 to 18 — it, too, will take on a different look, but the event will go ahead, said Laura Grant, a committee member who looks after park set-up and the children’s village.
“We don’t want the festival to not run at all this year. We already had one year without it,” she said of last year’s cancellation.
The organizing committee will meet in late January or early February to discuss plans for the “Scottish Festival 2021 reimagined,” Grant said. It could include virtual and live-streamed components, including an auction, and, if possible, an indoor event that would make it easier to ensure physical distancing.
That is not as easily done in Couchiching Beach Park. The festival typically draws thousands of people from Ontario and beyond to the park to enjoy musical performances, dancing, food and, possibly the biggest attraction, the mass pipes and drums performance.
“We definitely want to include a pipes and drums band in the event we’re planning, but it will depend on what the restrictions look like,” Grant said.
This year’s event will likely be a ticketed one, for a couple of reasons — a way to raise money for the festival and to make contact tracing easier.
“We need to do something different this year, but we’re feeling very optimistic about it,” she said.