It all began with a late-night revelation. David DeWolfe was sitting at home watching television in the wee hours of the morning when he was nearly shocked out of his shorts.
Dutch Mason Blues Festival founder and producer David DeWolfe is hoping the 10th anniversary event, set for Aug. 8 to 10, will surpass the crowds, such as pictured above from a previous concert, of its best years to date. File photo
“You have to realize this whole festival started because at 3 o’clock in the morning, I was sitting at home and I saw a documentary on CBC with Garret (Mason) in it,” he said, while talking recently about the history of the Dutch Mason Blues Festival.
“They knock on a door, open up a room and there’s poor Dutch Mason (Garret’s father) sitting in a flop house, naked, with a dirty sheet in a gurney in this one room, with CBC talking to him on camera,” DeWolfe said, of that alarming, long-ago moment.
“I was so shocked that Canada’s Prime Minister of the Blues was being depicted in that light that I just couldn’t take it.”
And so began the birth of a concept that has culminated into an internationally acclaimed summer festival that will be celebrating its 10th anniversary Aug. 8 to 10.
The first two festivals were held in Dartmouth close to DeWolfe’s home turf. Given the success of those initial concerts, DeWolfe decided he needed a venue with more space that could serve as a permanent home for a festival worthy of bearing the title of its namesake musical legend.
And that was when he turned his attention to the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) grounds.
“I came here to find a community corporate partner, or community partner that was respected, ingrained in the community, had the financial resources and the personnel to help me build this festival,” he said. “I knew that I had certain limitations in my talent. I’m the creative person.”
Although his initial inquires related solely to renting the raceway property for the third annual event, DeWolfe said that, ultimately, those discussions resulted in a five-year profit-sharing partnership being formed between himself and the NSPE Commission, with an option for the NSPE to eventually take over the entire festival.
“They were looking for an event that made so much sense as this one did for this community to grow and help their facility.”
But DeWolfe said it wasn’t long before he realized that the NSPE Commission was having severe financial difficulties and the partnership was not turning out to be what he had envisioned.
“Now, the problem with that, was that the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition was never in a position to enter any type of agreement with the Dutch Mason Blues Festival,” he said. “They never should have entered into an agreement to help produce a festival and develop a festival where they were getting 70 per cent of profit share. Their responsibility was all administration and financing and accounting. My job was to produce it.”
In the year that the festival made its greatest profits, of approximately $120,000, the NSPE collected about $80,000, DeWolfe said. But he said the NSPE was not willing to accept its share of responsibility by absorbing 70 per cent of debt costs when the festival did not turn a profit.
“The next year, they couldn’t even make up the loss that they were party too,” he said.
There were other complications with the partnership as well, but DeWofle said the real crunch came last year when it was revealed that the commission was, at that point, more than $1 million in debt and declared to be insolvent.
“Unfortunately everyone suspected what was going on with NSPE, they just wouldn’t admit it themselves. They just kept sidestepping the issue, deflecting from the reality of everything,” he said.
In late January, matters came to a head when the province stepped in to assume control of the NSPE grounds and Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell stripped the commission of its responsibilities and authority.
The uncertainty that followed, DeWolfe said, has created complications for planning for this year’s festival but the final crunch for him was when his business integrity was publicly questioned by Colchester County Deputy Mayor Bill Masters and some other members of council.
And he said those comments were both unfair and damaging to his reputation, especially when he looks back at his overall partnership with the NSPE.
Ultimately, DeWolfe said, he only discovered the truth about the NSPE financial struggles through the media and after the NSPE was taken over by the province and the past commission members were relieved of their authority.
“So did they con me? Did they mislead me? Did they lie to me?” he asked, of the NSPE representatives he dealt with. “And then in the end, they screwed me over by leaving me in the hole. I had to now take on the responsibility of that whole entire portion of their debt.”
Nonetheless, DeWolfe said he believes wholeheartedly in the potential of the NSPE and he is looking forward to better times now that it is under different leadership.
“Dutch’s last words to me were, ‘David, don’t kill yourself to do this will ya,’” he said. “So here I am doing it and I think Dutch Mason is bigger than ever.
“He’s somebody we can all be proud of. This event is something we can all be proud of. The province is proud of it. The province supports it. The rest of Canada thinks it’s the best thing going. Dan Akroyd and Jim Belushi said in an interview that this is a famous festival for Canada ….
“I would say that in 10 years we’ve accomplished quite a bit. We’re proud of the fact that the only legacy event for the prime minister of the blues in Canada is right here.”