Several people dressed as "who they really are", as quoted by one attendee, sway to the techno music pumping out from one of the stages at the Mad hatter Music Festival.
Controversy hit Leduc County last week with the seemingly sudden appearance of a "music" festival in the eastern end of the county. The festival, called the Mad Hatter Music Festival, was slated to take place from August 23-26 and was advertised as far away as Kelowna, BC for ticket sales. However, festival organizers seemed to be attempting to fly under the County's radar for as long as possible, as the first time most County Counselors were made aware of it was at the beginning of the week when issues arose with non-compliance for the permits required, and when concerns and complaints began pouring in from neighbours in the area. Unfortunately, that was far from the last time the County was to hear about this festival.
Held on private land, the festival advertised itself as "wanting to impact our community with a wholesome experience that encourages us to improve ourselves through music, art, love, awareness and opportunity.". But with sponsors such as Bogarts Pipes and Paper, and Hemp City, plus further statements on their website such as "Welcome to the Rabbit Hole", and "Mad Hatter 4:20 12 Through The Looking Glass", it did not seem to lend itself to the "wholesome experience" they were supposedly promoting.
Those observances aside, the issues that the County encountered with the festival were the fact that even though they attempted to work with the organizer Sarah Dantzer right up to the day the festival began, the festival had still failed to submit an emergency plan, there were no copies of any health permits sent in, no official first aid responders on site, and no plans for additional security over the course of the weekend. For these reasons and more the County was forced to revoke the festival's permit and issue a stop order on August 23rd.
The County was then notified by festival organizers that there were already almost 1000 people on site and that they were going to go ahead and run the festival anyway.
With four music stages set up in tiny man made clearings throughout the bush accessible only by muddy footpaths, and the entire site only accessible by walking or driving through approximately a 1/4 mile of hilly farm fields that would have been impossible for any emergency service vehicles to traverse, and attendees setting up tents throughout the trees wherever they pleased, it was easy to see how serious safety issues could have arisen very quickly.
In speaking with the organizer, Sarah Dantzer, on Monday Aug. 27th, after the festival was over, she stated that the weekend went "really well", and there had been no problems with anyone or anything over the course of the festival. Sarah mentioned that the only medical issue they encountered was an allergic reaction to a bee sting, and that person was taken to a local medical facility where they were treated and recovered.
When asked about any problems she had encountered with the permit being revoked by the County, Sarah claimed that over the course of the weekend all the conditions set out by the County had been met, but there was "no time" to get their permit reinstated. She also said that she would be having a follow up meeting with the County later in the week.
Just an hour later that same afternoon, a press release was issued by the County of Leduc that seemed to conflict with the earlier statements Sarah had made. The release stated that Leduc County Safety Code Officials inspected the site on Aug. 24th and issued a notice of non-compliance, the maximum fine for this being $15,000.00 plus $1,000.00 for every day the the festival continued after that. In addition to the safety code violations, County Peace Officers also issued a $500.00 fine to both the property owner and the festival organizers. Additional charges and fines are expected to be levied since RCMP received eight more complaints after the original charges had been laid on Aug. 25th.
In the release, Rick Thomas, General Manager for Community Services in the County explained that, "It is because of the willful disregard for safety and security that Leduc County has been forced to issue these fines. In addition to the fines, the County will be strengthening it's By-laws to reflect the seriousness with which safety and security are regarded in the County."
So it looks as if this problem plagued festival will be on the move again next year. Reportedly, Leduc County is the fourth county in five years the Mad Hatter Festival has been forced to move to, since after each event, the host Counties have enacted By-laws to ensure it does not return.