In its first three years, Drake’s OVO Fest can only be described as a monumental success, and evidently, the Ontario government agrees. Yesterday, Global News reported that the two-day festival was awarded a $300,000 tourism grant. People weren’t impressed. At first glance, giving a millionaire rapper that much of tax payers’ money seems absurd, especially given the infrastructural uncertainties solidifying under Kathleen Wynne’s watch.
But what if it’s a good thing?
OVO Fest is scheduled yearly at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, a Toronto venue with an official capacity of 16,000. Global will tell you that they’re limited to that number; as someone who worked behind the scenes at the first two OVO Festivals, I can tell you that’s a lie. But the fact Live Nation can swarm the lawns well beyond official capacity isn’t what’s relevant here: Instead, it’s the gaggle of fans that can’t get in worth focusing on.
Every year since its first, OVO Fest has been known as much for its guests as its headliners, and while last year’s fest was thrown a wedge when Frank Ocean’s voice blew out, limiting it to one day, Drake and co. still managed to bring out some pretty big names—no Stevie Wonder, but Kanye West wasn’t bad as a compromise.
Where I’m going with that is this: Those guest spots aren’t always favours. Look at Québec’s massive Festival D’été, which last July the Government of Canada pledged $1.3 million toward. Its 2014 line-up hasn’t yet been announced, but that money has gone to everyone from Metallica to Elton John in years’ past. So why are we fretting over Drake getting a fraction of it? This is how this works.
More than anything, it’s easy to forget that while Drake considers himself an ambassador for the city—and he is—he’s still in it to make money. He didn’t sign on with the Toronto Raptors because he grew up watching Vince Carter, he did it to solidify his brand. And while OVO Fest can likely afford to use its own money to put towards bigger acts, why should it have to?
Until now, the annual hip-hop festival has benefitted from Toronto’s Caribana festival spill over. Every year, hordes of Americans cross the border to walk the streets and take in the Carribean festival’s mix of urban and island culture. In OVO Fest’s first year, that meant the usual crew of fringe basketball players—I still remember the hyper-pleasant Morris Peterson stuck in line for hours—but within years NBA champions Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo were hanging out backstage. Last year, it spiralled into OVO’s basketball tournament, which brought out Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings, Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson, plus the requisite Canadian cadre of Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins.
Basketball players hanging out in Toronto in the summer is nothing new to anyone who remembers all of the “White Vegas” think pieces from a few years back, but the OVO tournament is closely tied to Canadian Interuniversity Sport. The CIS isn’t the NCAA—these student athletes are actually students, and the organization can really use the exposure.
Global points out that OVO Fest now gets $7,000 more than the TD Toronto Jazz Fest. Okay. But OVO Fest isn’t funded by a national bank.
What this $300,000 amounts to is an even more enhanced ambassador program. It allows Drake to keep more of his money, which in turn means he’d be more enthused to spend on big guests. Ontarians lost more than $1 billion in the gas plant scandal. At least this gives us Outkast.
(Tyler Munro, AUX)