‘OktBorderfest’ a success thanks to large grassroots effort

Some 6,000 people attended the two-night OktBorderfest at Point Edward. – Photo courtesy, Metcalfe Photography

Tara Jeffrey

Mark Perrin knows he can ‘get by with a little help from his friends’ — even if it means pulling off a huge outdoor concert with some big names in Canadian music, in the middle of a pandemic, with less than two months to plan.

“It definitely came together quickly,” said the founder of Bluewater Borderfest, the annual music festival that drew 6,000 people to Point Edward’s waterfront earlier this month for the inaugural ‘OktBorderfest’ event.

“The event is put on entirely by volunteers — really, a lot of friends that have come together — from putting up fencing, to the stage, to tickets and gates.”

A crew of about 200 people logging hundreds of hours, including dozens of local emergency service members — Perrin is a volunteer firefighter in St. Clair Township.

“None of this would be possible without them.”

The two-night event at Point Edward’s Waterfront Park was headlined by The Barenaked Ladies, with Sarnia native Kim Mitchell, and popular Canadian rockers The Glorious Sons, and Born Ruffians.

Perrin, who is also the director at Tourism Sarnia-Lambton, worked closely with Lambton Public Health in planning the event. Though deemed a ‘low-risk’ setting, enforcement was upped after speaking with artists’ management.

They follow suit with promoters like Live Nation Canada, which require proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests from concertgoers.

Perrin partnered with a local group, the Fit For Work Occupational Health and Safety Clinic, to provide onsite rapid COVID-19 antigen testing — a first for events in Ontario.

“It felt good to be able to offer that level of safety standard,” said Perrin, pointing to some 400 tests done over the weekend — all of which came back negative. “We just wanted to have a safe event for everyone to attend, to help out the economy, and get people feeling a little back to normal.”

There was some pushback from people who weren’t happy with the protocols, Perrin said.

And the team fielded hundreds of questions in the days leading up to the event, which saw an additional 1,000 tickets sold at the last minute, “which makes it a little tough on logistics,” he added.

But most of the feedback was positive, said Perrin, adding that concertgoers travelled from as far as California, British Columbia and New York.

The festival supports various charities, including the local Canadian Cancer Society branch, Alzheimer’s Society Sarnia-Lambton, Bluewater Boxing, Bluewater Taekwondo, the Lions Club and Kinsmen Club.

Plans are already underway for Bluewater Borderfest’s June 2022 event, featuring Our Lady Peace and Finger Eleven.

Many of those gathered near the Blue Water Bridge hadn’t been to a live concert since before the pandemic — including some of the artists themselves.

“Last night was surreal,” the Glorious Sons posted on their Instagram page following the Point Edward show. “Glad we don’t have to wait another 571 days to do it again.”

Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson performs for a sold out crowd at Point Edward’s Waterfront Park on Oct. 2.
– Photo courtesy, Metcalfe Photography