Tonight we mark the opening of Winterfestival (sort of) but are we also marking the beginning of the end of an era?
I’m a creature of habit, a traditionalist and recidivist attendee of certain events.
I rarely miss a Southland Stags home game, love the Glenorchy Races and you would have found me fossicking around Waimahaka at our Mai Mai the first Saturday in May since 1993.
Another of my annual traditions has been Winterfestival.
I’ve been attending since the 90’s involving myself as an overactive participant, MC and advocate since 2004. To be fair I’ve probably been guilty of enjoying myself excessively at festival over the years. I’ve shown too much skin, embraced dressing in drag too readily and woken up dusty and disheveled from night time antics too often, because embracing the spirit of the festival is what it's all about right?
Over the years Winter Festival has served an honorable purpose for Queenstown. It heralded the start of winter, showcasing the adventurous yet laid back atmosphere and great activities the region has to offer. It also allowed locals to emerge from their burrows let down their hair a little and embrace what it means to live in the greatest place on earth.
Behind the scenes it's not easy running an international-quality festival in what is still a small town. Financially, logistically and creatively it’s a real strain to maintain success for over 40 years. But credit where credits due, on a tight budget the festival team have to strived hard to stay relevant for locals, a shop window for the region, and an entertaining experience for our visitors.
However talk has been around for some time of struggles. Like many events money has been harder to find, this required more backing essentially from the public purse. Organisers also found relevance harder to attain with some events no longer the sell out successes they once were and others shelved for a variety of reasons. Calls came for revitalisation, they grew loud enough to force a rethink and a move to a shorter festival this year.
I whole heatedly support the move but feel it might be too little too late… Why? Well it’s not something you can pin on any one person or thing. There have a couple of misguided decisions over the years but any event will have those, there has been societal change and things like stricter health and safety and alcohol legislation hasn’t helped and the ravages of time always wear down an event.
I think the most pressing cause however is festival slowly moving away from its roots and becoming too politically correct, a lot like the Wellington 7’s did, without really remaking itself well enough to appeal to a completely new audience. The party atmosphere was carefully phased down and has been replaced to an extent with a softer more artistic and family orientated tone. The brash adolescent excitement and eyebrow raising madness of early years replaced with a mature, controlled and appropriate feel.
Sadly I seem to have lost my enthusiasm, going from addicted to indifferent. After years of battling the cold in the splash and dash, sliding down the peak on a suitcase and chasing Jose around the hills in the Dog Derby, I’ve hung up my drag racing heels and said goodnight for now - but hopefully not goodbye to festival.
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