photo: Edmonton Attractions

If you’re an Edmontonian, you probably know all about KDays. Maybe you’re like my dad and still call it Klondike Days, or my mom who calls it Heritage Days. The thing is, it’s an Edmonton staple. One big thing about KDays: the music.

This past KDays, the event managed to book big names such as Aqua, T-Pain, and AJR, among many others. Previous years saw Marianas Trench and Alessia Cara. Have you ever wondered what goes into these events? I definitely have. I’m lucky that I got the opportunity to find out more about what goes into planning an event as big as KDays.

Cassandra Nicol is the events manager and organizer for KDays and FarmFair (one of Canada’s top agricultural shows). This year, Cassandra won the Fair Champion Award in Halifax from the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (CAFE). Cassandra is also part of a future leader’s youth inspired program for those under thirty in the fair industry called Youth Inspired! where she won a Future Leaders award. The program is put on by CAFE in partnership with the Government of Canada and is geared towards youth aged 18 – 30 to “foster the next generation of leaders in the fair industry”.

I did a Q & A with Cassandra and asked her about her job, how she became event manager, and how KDays relates to a larger part of the Edmonton cultural scene.

Bachmier: I hear you’re the event manager at KDays. I was wondering if you could tell me how that came about, and how you got into it.

Nicol: For most of my younger life I was really into events and volunteered at a number of local ones. Throughout university, I was a summer student with Northlands, and then they brought me on as a coordinator, when I finished university. I’ve kind of worked my way up until now. Now I’m in a manager role. I love live events, love the fair industry, and the format right now.

Bachmier: Northlands: do they have a summer program that allows you to get experience with this kind of stuff?

Nicol: Yeah. I was hired on as a summer student. Every year we hire a number of summer students in different departments, just depending on where we need extra bodies. We want to support youth that are looking to get into the industry or event specific, and we also work with universities.

As manager, Cassandra books most of the musicians for KDays. Edmonton gets quite a few large names at Rogers Place, like Twenty One Pilots and Elton John. But, at KDays, the names aren’t as grand, but they still have quite the pull when it comes to known musicians.

Bachmier: Edmonton isn’t the biggest city in the world, or the most known. I was wondering how you guys get headliners, and if you try and get a mix of big names and local Edmonton musicians each year?

Nicol: So we have our headliners. In the Edmonton area, we kind of go for things that aren’t always here in the area, just to provide a more unique experience that you wouldn’t see.

We have a partnership with Alberta music, who reach out to artists for the more local talent. We created a partnership with them for the last two years, and we are going to continue it on for years to come.

We have our openers, the local operative talent, that we match them up with what genre that night is, and then we showcase them that way. They get great exposure, being in front of a huge headliner. That’s a good mark on their resumé for sure. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.

Bachmier: That’s awesome! Especially for the exposure of local artists.

Nicol: We like to give as much opportunity as we can to local artists. We have a number of different stages across the site where we do have just a more intimate setting with local artists. But that big stage is definitely the big-ticket item for them.

Bachmier: So, in regard to some of the larger musicians and artists, is it harder to book them or what goes into trying to get some bigger names?

Nicol: [Edmonton] is definitely not some[where] that’s always on their radar. We work with a talent buyer who is very good at letting them know what our mandate is, what it is we’re trying to put on, what it is as a festival, and then we work with routing. If the money’s right that is always a draw for them, but if we can get them multiple plays with other festivals, whether that be Calgary or somewhere in Saskatchewan, then they’ll definitely be interested in that.

Bachmier: Planning these types of events must take a lot of work! How early do you start each year and what goes into the planning process?

Nicol: We really are almost a 12-month cycle. We’re already in the swing of things. We obviously have FarmFair that happens in November, so right after KDays we take a little break. Then we go right into FarmFair. Once that’s over, we are simultaneously planning KDays for the next year. It’s about a nine to ten months cycle of planning. There’s a number of different departments involved in terms of marketing, ticketing, communication. There’s lots of different moving parts to try to bring new and exciting things for Edmontonians to experience at the fair. It’s a large project for sure.

Bachmier: So, in terms of staying local, how do you guys try to implement some local Edmonton like things in between, or what would you say, the events mean to Edmonton and how these events represent Edmonton? If that makes sense.

Nicol: Yeah! I know every year we try to collaborate as much as possible, whether that be on the music side or more on the community program side. As much as we can, we work with different institutions, whether that be the UofA or MacEwan in their arts programs.

On the tech side of things, which is a huge driver these days, we’re really trying to just showcase some areas of the community that aren’t always in the forefront. We want to really give them that platform to showcase what they’re working on. We’re just trying to give these artists an opportunity, which really is Northlands mandate, as a whole, in any event we do.

Bachmier: In terms of working with the arts programs of different schools, how would you say that art is implemented within KDays and FarmFair, and how these festivals represent the Edmonton arts scene?

Nicol: I think I really lean towards the art and the music side of things, just because that is something that I mainly focus on. Just really giving them that platform, and taking as many artists as we can, whether that be on the main stage, or other components within KDays smaller stages’ more intimate setting. We work with our talent search committee for that program to connect with rural towns outside of the Edmonton area to expose as much talent as we can and bring them to that larger stage.

Bachmier: That’s awesome that you guys look in other areas to bring smaller artists out for exposure. In terms of visual arts, is there anything you can tell me about that?

Nicol: I don’t want to give too much away, in terms of what it is we’re doing next year, but we’re definitely having a focus on visual arts and technology. We are trying to get some things underway that I’m really excited about so that’s something you should check out this coming KDays! We’re trying to switch things up a bit.

Bachmier: That’s great that there will be a bit more focus on visual arts! Is there more focus on the visual arts this upcoming KDays than previous years?

Nicol: Yeah, we’re investing heavily into showcasing the different local artists around and bringing it to a global scale and introducing some global pieces. We want to integrate the two, showcasing what we’re doing here, as well as some other things that are happening around the world. That’s kind of where we’re at right now and we’re definitely connecting with Universities to bring them in and showcase what we’re doing locally here in Edmonton.

Bachmier: Speaking of exposure, I hear you recently won an award. I was wondering if you could tell me more about that.

Nicol: Oh yes, it was within the fair industry. We have the Canadian Association of Fairs and Exhibitions; I just recently won the Fair Champion Award in Halifax. I want to say it was who goes above and beyond in the fair industry, and I kind of made a splash this past year.

I’m also part of the Youth Inspired! Program, and won a Future Leaders award there, which was a nice surprise! It’s really that whole program is getting the youth involved in the fair industry. A lot of us are non-profits, so it’s really just gaining that interest in the fairs. A lot of the time they’re so community. That’s the future of the fairs industry, I think!

Bachmier: Well congratulations on your wins! That’s awesome and well deserved.

Nicol: Thank you!

Bachmier: So, I have one last question for you. What do the arts mean to you, and through event planning, do you try and bring more to the table in terms of the arts scene within Edmonton?

Nicol:  I personally have a number of friends, whether it be people that are working with plays in the Fringe or events, so I really enjoy going out and just exploring the different arts that I mentioned that Edmonton has to offer.

I think sometimes, not everyone is as aware of what is actually going on in the arts community that we have in Edmonton. We’re trying to show through our events, as much as we can to try and showcase what is out there and to bring that to a broader audience. These artists can then prosper throughout the year, not just at our event. Whether they’re a strong presence at our event, to start them up, and then that helps them throughout the year to showcase themselves. It’s really giving them that opportunity to be known, right off the bat, on the larger scale is really something where we push for.

So much goes on behind the scenes that the general public doesn’t know about. From planning, to finding musicians and bringing attention to local and foreign artists to the forefront of Edmontonians. It was great to learn what goes on behind the curtain of Edmonton’s biggest fair. Crafting the festival is an art itself, and I’m glad I got to learn more about the process.

KDays is on from July 17-26, 2020, and Cassandra and her team are surely planning away. I’m excited to go next year and see what musicians and visual arts next year’s exhibition has to offer.