Embracing a Virtual Reality


Medicine Hat Jazzfest hones online production skills for the 2021 event.

At this time last year the Medicine Hat JazzFest was geared up for another great event, with acts booked and fans growing eager.

Of course, just as it did with everything else, COVID-19 changed all that. The June festival was coming up too quickly to go virtual in time, and it had to be outright cancelled.

By the time the fall months rolled around, organizers knew the unknown could linger, but they became determined to have a festival this year.

“We started to get the sense, as did everybody, that this was going to be around for a while,” says director Lyle Rebbeck, a longtime and well known local jazz musician and teacher. “We did not in any way want another cancellation.”

Medicine Hat JazzFest is part of a nationwide circuit, and with each and every festival facing the same situation, many collaborated for an online autumn event. Sixteen of the coast-to-coast festivals shared in the November show, with domestic and international artists providing a wide range of world-class entertainment.

“We thought this would be a good chance to dip our toe in the waters of presenting online. We are one of the smaller cities in the jazz festival circuit, and so one of the things we’ve really been known for is our intimacy — an intimacy with the artists, an intimacy with the audience — and our intent was to try to recreate that with that Zoom format.

“It really went beyond our expectations. We had people taking part from all over the world, and we did not anticipate that.”

By taking the plunge in the fall, Medicine Hat JazzFest has seen firsthand the success you can have going virtual, and now the focus is on making 2021 a strong showing, even if they’re still unable to do it in person.

“We’ve been working really hard at getting ourselves prepared to do a good job of presenting online,” Rebbeck says. “Right now we’re still hoping it can be a hybrid and we can do some face-to-face shows, but let’s face it, we’re not going to have 1,000 people on the top of the parkade, or a hangar at the airport full of dancing.”

JazzFest 2021 is currently scheduled for June 21-27.

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