Festival planners may have missed Whingefest

(Riverfest 2011, its last edition, when INXS caused people to whinge in excess.)

There was a bit of fallout from our editorial earlier this week on the ever-shifting timeline of Brockville's elusive signature festival.

Some are angry at us pointing out, in a way I would consider diplomatic, that we were initially promised a new signature festival sometime this year, and what we now have are two years of build-up to a blockbuster in 2017.

I would go further and point out that, because the 2017 blockbuster appears tied, both in theme and funding, to Canada's 150th anniversary, there is every indication it will be a fun bash, but not a “signature” festival: something that is repeated every year and says “Brockville” the way Riverfest did.

Yes. I am using the R-word.

In fact, a few days of pondering this has led me to believe Riverfest offers up a critical clue in explaining why the folks at the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce are having such a hard time replacing it.

Could it be they have not factored in the power of Whingefest?

That's how I described the orgy of Snarlingtown glory that seemed always to follow Riverfest in its latter years and ultimately helped bury it.

In retrospect, I realize my Whingefest column of 2011 chronicled the emergence, in Brockville, of a phenomenon already seen elsewhere: the impact of anonymous commenters (anonymity sadly being an Internet standard these days) on civic participants who grew up in a print age.

In years and decades past, people with a propensity to dump on Riverfest were most likely to keep their opinions to themselves, realizing, perhaps even subconsciously, that dumping publicly on these volunteers would make them look like knuckledraggers petulantly insulting their betters.

Every now and then, one or two of these types would pen a letter to the editor, and that would be about the extent of it.

Then came the Internet and the sequence of circumstances that made it commonplace for knuckledraggers to hide their true identities, thereby avoiding shame while they whinged and dumped to their Grinch-sized hearts' content.

I have to think at least some of those longtime Riverfest volunteers were unable to adapt to the shock of this sudden online flow of excrement. I have to think that was at least partly behind these people's decision to call it quits.

And I have to think these same people, and others who watched their fate from the online sidelines, have now been reacting to the Chris Hums and Steve Weirs of this community with a curt thanks-but-no-thanks.

Once we all factor in this new reality of the Internet age, the reality that brushing off increasingly vicious trolls and knuckledraggers is now part of the volunteer's job description, we should all be more than willing to cut some slack for people trying to design a new festival that will require volunteers.

Since this whole festivals and events project began, every new idea suggested, once reported online, has engendered more snarl than discussion. Amid efforts to engage with the community on the shape and form of a new signature festival, this creates either background noise or outright pollution.

It might have taken the Chamber folks a bit of time to realize Brockville has become a nastier place through the power of online commenting.

Maybe nastier places don't want festivals.