Ever After Music Festival 2018 has come to a close. The 4th edition of the Kitchener, Ontario festival welcomed more than 30,000 festival-goers during the 3 day event (Friday-Sunday) with a head-banging lineup attracting international guests from as far as Australia. The weather conditions were perfect for an outdoor festival. 25 degrees and sunny/partly cloudy, throughout the weekend. With a massive lineup, expectations were high for Ever After. While the artists brought the heat with epic performances, Ever After's execution fell short for many attendees. With the unique perspective of attending all 4 years of Ever After, I will be reviewing and discussing my observations for the 2018 edition.
The most problematic issue for Ever After was the lack of accessible drinking water (free tap water). On Friday (Day 1), we entered the festival with an empty reusable bottle looking to fill it up at a water station. We stumbled upon a line of 40 people filing up with a tap adjacent to the VIP washrooms. Before reaching the front of the line, staff informed us that the water was not safe for drinking or consumption. The tap was immediately turned off, hours after the festival had started with hundreds of people already drinking the "unsafe" water. Walking through the vast Ever After grounds, there were 6 water stations in a wooded area. The 6 water stations were not indicated on the Festival Map. The water stations were unmarked and longlines formed quickly after people discovered them. After a couple hours, we returned to the water stations to find the taps had been removed by festival staff. This questionable decision left attendees with only 1 water station for approximately 20,000 people. Boxes of Flow Water were available for $5 (500ml) & $8 (1L). During Saturday & Sunday, the lines for water overwhelmed the limited supply.
2nd Stage (Upside Down Stage)
The Ever After 2nd stage received an increase in size and was relocated from a wooded area to a newly paved area located on-top of a hill. The stage overlooked the festival grounds with distant views of the Main Stage. The 2nd Stage featured Drum N Bass on Friday, House on Saturday & Dubstep/Bass on Sunday. On Friday, there was a portable bar to service the crowd. On Saturday, during AC Slater's set the bar was no where to be found. While performing, AC Slater stopped the music during his set to alert paramedics that there was a medical emergency in the crowd. The response time was longer than expected with all paramedics stationed near the Main Stage, approximately 400m from the 2nd stage. Shortly after the incident, Ever After provided free bottles of water (Nestle 500ml) to the crowd at the 2nd stage. It's unclear if handing out water was in response to the incident, the absence of a bar at the 2nd stage or a gesture of goodwill. The water was a pleasant surprise in contrast to the $5 boxes of water. With the absence of a bar, food options & bathroom options (200-400m away), the 2nd stage felt underserved compared to the Main Stage.
Since the beginning (2015), Ever After has supported local artists/DJs with a stage dedicated to local talent. Last year's, Ontario Stage featured a fire breathing dragon that was centrally located on the festival grounds with high visibility. However, the 2018 Ontario Stage seemed like an afterthought. The dome shaped tent was difficult to locate despite being located on the Festival Map. In my opinion, the Ontario Stage went unnoticed because the set times were not listed with the Excalibur Stage (Main) and Upside Down Stage (2nd). Many festival-goers schedule their day based on the set times and not advertising the Ontario Stage set times gives the impression that no one is playing at that stage. Unfortunately, the Ontario Stage was a small tent located to side of the MainStage (behind the VIP) and there was zero signage to indicate to attendees (without a map) that there was a 3rd stage.
In previous editions, Ever After has had approximately 12-20 food trucks with an extensive variety of food options and has always been a highlight for the festival. The array of food trucks made for shorter lines and reduced the congestion of people as there were food trucks placed throughout the festival grounds. For the 2018 edition, the number of food trucks at Ever After were reduced to 8. Eight food trucks did not meet the needs of more than 20,000+ people.
Ever After uses the Bingemans (entertainment and camping facilities) for the annual festival. The entrance to the festival is on top of a hill with a 70 degree descent into the valley, where the main attractions of the festival take place. The spacious and green environment provides openness with forestry surrounding the grounds. The large hills provide a place for attendees to sit and relax. An addition of canopies to provide shaded area on the hills would be a relief from the sun exposed asphalt from the Main and 2nd Stage. Last year, the 2nd stage was located in the woods that provided shade and this year the space was fenced off subtracting a highly sought-after shaded area. This space would be an excellent placement for the Ontario Stage, shaded and located closely to amenities. A large amount of square footage was occupied by carnival, midway rides and inflatables.
Ever After has always been consistent with bringing world class artists and performers to Kitchener and Southwestern Ontario. A region that is currently underserved and neglected by promoters. From 2015, the festival has transitioned from an EDM lineup to becoming known internationally as a Bass Head's dream. For the 2nd stage, Ever After changed the style/sound with the addition of DNB and House on Friday & Saturday. The change of sound was welcomed, as a refreshing change of style from the Main Stage.
In 2017, Ever After received 130 noise complaints from local residents. In order to reduce noise complaints, Ever After invested $30,000 in new sound technology partnering with PK Sounds. Reaction to the Ever After Main Stage sound received mixed reviews. In comparison to last year, the sound was noticeably quieter with less bass. As the day progressed, the sound seemed to increase for the festival headliners. The strategic sound techniques by Ever After reduced noise complaints by 95% (6 noise complaints in 2018).
Despite the exceptional lineup, the failure to deliver essential necessities such as drinking water, the number of washroom facilities and food options made Ever After 2018 disappointing. In previous years (2016 & 2017), Ever After delivered an incredible experience in most-to-all aspects. I've attended every Ever After and it's my hometown festival. Hopefully, Ever After can make the adjustments and address the issues that created a negative experience for many festival-goers.