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Tracking the Takeover: Fource Canada’s Dramatic Entrance to the Ontario Festival Scene

The most intriguing name on Canadian festival lineups this season may not be a big-budget headliner or a cash-grabbing reunion.

Buried somewhere within every lineup poster, smaller in typographical stature than even the buzziest tiny-font bands, lies the logo of the promoter. And this summer, a company launched barely a year ago, Fource Entertainment Canada, has their name attached to some of southern Ontario’s biggest festivals.

Over the past year, Fource Canada has signed exclusive deals to book WayHome, Boots & Hearts, NXNE Port Lands and a new festival, the Big Feastival, coming to Burl’s Creek in August.

How did a company so fresh to the Canadian market land such big-time partnerships? Perhaps, because they aren’t as green as they seem.

The Strokes perform at Virgin Festival Toronto, September 2006

The Fource story begins with Jacob Smid, who has been all over the live music scene for the last two decades. He produced Virgin Festival‘s ambitious (but ultimately short-lived) expansion to Canada. He worked as the VP of Talent and Marketing at Live Nation. Hell, he even booked Daft Punk.

In 2008, Smid took his talents to Prague, where he founded Fource Entertainment. Since then, Fource has booked and produced shows — solely in the Czech Republic.

The lucrative Toronto live music scene remained an ocean away.

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Burl’s Creek Event Grounds is an hour north of Toronto, and home to southern Ontario’s biggest camping music festivals, WayHome and Boots & Hearts. When Republic Live announced WayHome festival in 2015, much was made about the connection to Bonnaroo co-producer Ashley Capps.

Shannon McNevan (then a senior director at Republic Live) had wooed Capps and his company, AC Entertainment, to co-produce a “world class music camping festival.” Some deemed it “Bonnaroo North”. McNevan and Capps beamed at the press conference announcing their new creation.

But by the time the second WayHome was complete, Capps and his team were quietly no longer affiliated with the festival. Neither was McNevan.

Burl’s Creek Event Grounds, WayHome 2015

Republic Live says AC Entertainment signed a one-year deal to book the talent for the first year of WayHome, and their ultimate goal was to find a homegrown booking partner. Ashley Capps tells a different version of the story.

“Yes, we had a contract to book the festival for 2015, and we also booked the 2016 festival. It was with the understanding that these were the first steps in a long-term partnership. That was the spirit of the arrangement,” Capps says over the phone as he drives to Nashville.

“Normally, we wouldn’t have agreed to that, but the timeline for due diligence was too short that first year. We had been in conversation with [Republic Live] for almost five years, so there was a degree of trust involved. Laying the groundwork for a major festival is hard work and a long-term commitment. It makes no sense to set out to do it once.”

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Early 2016 saw Fource crossing the ocean, launching Fource Canada, and wading into the crowded, icy waters of the Toronto live music scene. On the surface, Fource Canada booked modest-sized shows throughout the GTA. But behind-the-scenes, they began to assemble a roster of staffers from Live Nation, MLSE and Smid’s old company, Emerge Entertainment.

Shortly before the 2016 WayHome lineup was announced, Republic Live approached Fource to become the exclusive talent buyer for both WayHome and Boots & Hearts. A deal was quickly agreed upon. AC Entertainment was out, and Fource secured an essential cornerstone for their entrance to the Toronto market.

Burl’s Creek, WayHome 2016

Later in the year, Fource inked a partnership with Toronto’s NXNE Port Lands festival. NXNE recently expanded from a decades-old club-only format, to a multi-day festival staged at the Port Lands in downtown Toronto.

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Stan Dunford owns both Burl’s Creek Event Grounds and Republic Live.

Shortly after the first WayHome, Dunford told the Orillia Packet that he lost millions running the event. “With the investment I have made… I have to make a return,” Dunford said. “For Burl’s Creek to be profitable… it has to develop into something bigger than it is today.”

In Fource, Dunford may have found a partner who can help his dollar-driven dream become reality. This summer will see the first major additional events at Burl’s Creek since he purchased the park in 2014.

Fource (and IMG) will stage The Big Feastival at Burl’s Creek August 19th to August 20th. An offshoot of the popular Taste festivals, The Big Feastival is a Jamie Oliver-backed weekend combining food and live music.

Burl’s Creek will share information about additional shows in the coming weeks.

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Securing partnerships with four festivals is a coup for Fource Canada, who have quickly become a major player in the Toronto live music scene.

The Festival 250, a StubHub-sponsored study, ranks festivals not only in size and sales, but also the amount of money they can attract from sponsors. NXNE was the highest-ranking Toronto festival on the list.

Festivals, moreso than standalone concerts, draw the big-time sponsorship dollars that corporations crave. This makes festivals among the most coveted properties in live entertainment.

Two of the biggest live entertainment conglomerates on the planet — Live Nation and AEG — certainly seem to agree, as evidenced by recent partnerships and acquisitions of any successful festival they can get their hands on.

Corporate takeovers are familiar territory for Jacob Smid. Live Nation acquired his first company, the Virgin Festival-producing Emerge Entertainment, in 2008.

So what does the future hold for Fource Canada? When asked where they see themselves as a company in one year, Fource declined to comment.

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While the team that books, promotes and produces music festivals may not seem important to the casual festival-goer, Fource’s stockpile of festival alliances reflects the transformation of how people are consuming live music. An industry that once revolved around album sales and concert tours, now has artists spending their summers hopping from one festival date to another. And that means a lot of the same acts, at a lot of the same festivals.

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As for this year’s Fource festivals, fans can look forward to Keith Urban and Luke Bryan twangin’ at Boots & Hearts, and an expansion to three days for NXNE Port Lands.

According to Ryan Howes, Creative Director at Republic Live, the WayHome lineup contains acts that “only Fource could have secured, or would have taken the chance to book.” Howes also says WayHome 2017 features “more dance, more hip-hop, and the most exciting late-night acts in our three year existence.”

Fource plans to release the lineups for all their festivals by the end of February.

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