For 26 years music students from around the province converged on Nelson in the spring. The sweet sounds of junior high and high school bands could be heard throughout the city as the young musicians emerged from the cramped basement band rooms of their schools and stepped onto the big stage.
Now Festival Nelson has gone silent. No more eager young students, no more lifelong band trip memories, no more packed hotel rooms.
The news that this local institution isn’t going to take place in 2012 came as a surprise. The large majority of locals simply took Festival Nelson for granted. We just assumed the buses would always roll into town in April packed with beaming band kids.
Behind the scenes it was a struggle. The core group of dedicated volunteers — many of whom had been working on the Festival for a very long time — were burned out. It happens. Organizing an event of this scope takes a tremendous amount of energy.
There are huge upsides to making it happen, but over time it takes a toll. Family and personal lives suffer in an effort to provide a positive experience to strangers. It’s a noble use of time, but in the long run very taxing.
Compounding the struggle are circumstances beyond organizers’ control. Provincial government cuts to arts programs in schools helped result in fewer bands taking part. It’s a sign of tight budgets, but disheartening for those most passionate about the importance of music in young students’ lives.
Festival organizers say they will revisit the situation for 2013, but odds are pretty good this is the end. We have seen it before: Nelson Sno-Fest, Summit-to-Summit, and StreetFest all faced volunteer fatigue or financial shortfalls and took a break. None have resurfaced.
If the sounds of Festival Nelson never return it will be a huge loss to this community. Its fate now rests with music lovers who will decide if it’s worth continuing.
To all those who have made the spring sounds happen over the last 26 years, our most sincere thanks. Take pride in knowing you helped change many young lives along the way.