There is little doubt that one local story captured the greatest attention in Brant during 2012.
Hockeyfest – the three-day music festival that never was – is Brant News’ Newsmaker of the Year.
With bands such as Weezer, Hedley, Creed, The Trews, Marianas Trench and Down With Webster scheduled to perform, organizer Ralph Spoltore had sold thousands of tickets and expected more than 30,000 people at Brant Conservation Area from June 1 to June 3.
But it was not to be.
The Grand River Conservation Authority withdrew the use of the venue just six days before the concert, kicking off a whirlwind of activity as Spoltore tried different avenues to save the show.
During the week of the show’s postponement, interest peaked, with local residents turning to the internet for information as the story unfolded.
Google Trends, which tracks how often a term is searched on the internet, shows the term “Hockeyfest” outpaced searches for “Brantford” in the news by a two-to-one ratio during the week the story broke.
Hits on www.brantnews.com more than doubled during the week, as the website became the source for information surrounding the festival.
Following the show’s cancellation, Hockeyfest Incorporated launched a $12-million breach of contract lawsuit against the GRCA, which remains before the courts in Windsor. The GRCA’s defence claims it is Hockeyfest that would have inevitably breached its contract with the GRCA.
“I hear about the lawsuit everyday,” Spoltore said during an interview with Brant News last week. “I’m living it. Right now, everything is in the hands of the lawyers and I’m very confident that our team of lawyers is doing their job very well. At the end of the day, I believe we will be vindicated and the truth will come out.
“Early in the new year, the affidavits of documents is going to be done. Then, February and March will be discovery. At that point in time, we’ll have a lot clearer idea of where things are for both parties.”
There were few signs anything was amiss with the concert until an e-mail from the GRCA to media outlets on May 26, just six days prior to the scheduled start of the event.
“The Grand River Conservation Authority has withdrawn Brant (Conservation Area) as a venue for the event based on safety and security concerns raised by the Brantford Police Service,” the e-mail stated.
The e-mail kicked off a flurry of activity that would see Spoltore, Brantford Mayor Chris Friel and the Brantford Police Service at the centre of attempts to rescue the music festival.
The crux of the GRCA’s concern was that Brantford police did not agree to provide paid-duty police officials to be on-site during the concert. The police said they did not feel comfortable with security plans.
Spoltore scrambled to get the police back on board by promising to plug the holes they pointed out in his plan, but police issued a definitive statement on May 29 that they would not be taking part.
The GRCA pointed to a clause in its contract with Hockeyfest that required paid duty police officials to be patrolling Brant Conservation Area during specified hours of the concert. The GRCA said the lack of police support constituted an inevitable breach of contract.
Spoltore had one more trick up his sleeve and arranged to move the concert to Ohsweken Speedway. He intended to announce the change of venue at a 9:30 a.m. press conference on May 30.
But, just 15 minutes before the news conference, Spoltore learned that Six Nations Police would not support the festival on such short notice.
A dejected Spoltore announced that the show was off and that tickets would be honoured at a later date.
“I’ve learned a lot more since everything went down and I’ve gained a great deal of perspective, but my feelings haven’t changed,” Spoltore said. “My feeling is still one of deep, deep sadness.
“For the first few months after the cancellation I could hardly get out of bed. It was tough to get my head off the pillow because I was so sad and so depressed. But the only thing that got me out of bed was to work on the lawsuit.”
In the wake of Hockeyfest’s cancellation, Brantford lost a significant tourism driver, ticket holders were left looking for refunds – and some still are – and Spoltore was forced to pay almost half a million dollars to bands for a show that never occurred.
While everyone who bought a ticket for the show online through www.ticketscene.ca was eligible for a refund, Spoltore said those who bought tickets at a local retailer will have to wait.
“We have a form on our homepage – www.brantfordhockeyfest.com – and we’ve asked all those people to register a claim,” he said.
Hockeyfest 2012 was supposed to be the third annual Hockeyfest after two successful shows at Brantford’s Lion’s Park. Spoltore said a return of a Hockeyfest concert to Brantford depends on two things.
“It depends on the success or failure of that lawsuit and the people of Brantford,” Spoltore said. “Even if we are vindicated, which I firmly believe will be the case, I’m going to leave it to the people of Brantford to see if they want to be a part of this thing. We’ll find ways to see if they would support Hockeyfest ever again.”