Rockin’ River Festival in Merritt, B.C., latest to cancel 2023 edition over ‘economic obstacles’

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The Rockin’ River country music festival in Merritt, B.C., will not be returning in 2023, with festival organizers confirming “economic obstacles” have halted yet another high-profile B.C. event.

Rockin’ River started in 2008 out of Mission, B.C., in the Fraser Valley and has been in Merritt since 2015. It has seen country music legends like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard perform in the past.

Now is the latest music festival to cancel its 2023 edition as rising production costs and a changing event landscape continue to affect organizers. 

Earlier this month, the Vancouver Folk Festival also announced it would not resume in 2023, though the society behind the event later announced it was exploring its options.


That’s not the case with the Rockin’ River festival, with organizers saying on social media that they “tried their best” to get past economic hurdles.

“We want to thank the City of Merritt who has always welcomed us with open arms, the incredible artists, staff and most importantly – you, the fans,” a spokesperson wrote online. “We hope to see you again soon!”

A spokesperson for events behemoth LiveNation — which operates the ticket website Ticketmaster and is a co-organizer of the festival — told CBC News that they would release information on future editions of the festival “as it becomes available”.

CBC News has reached out to the City of Merritt for comment on this story.

Event founder says flood damage a factor

Kenny Hess, a country musician and one of the original co-founders of Rockin’ River back in 2008, said it was “heartbreaking” to see the festival not return for another year. 

He said the Merritt festival was a huge attraction to the small city in B.C.’s Nicola Valley, and that it was a spiritual successor to the Merritt Mountain Music Festival that ran before 2008.

“At some point, you have to kind of pull the pin and say, you know, you can’t continue,” he told CBC News.

A person stares at a children's slide and playset surrounded by brown floodwaters.
Floodwaters swept through Merritt, B.C., on Nov. 15, 2021. Hess says the damage from the flooding catastrophe was a factor in the event’s cancellation in 2023, especially since it led to rising costs for organizers. (Maggie Macpherson/CBC)

Hess said COVID-19 was partly to blame for the event’s demise, but he also cited the historic 2021 floods in Merritt and its aftermath as a reason for the shutdown this year.

“There [were] whole campsites that were lost,” he said. “The owners of the land … they were left with a massive bill to try and clean the land up.

“They did a great job in doing that, but at the same time we were left with a lot less camping and just a lot less time to rebuild.”

A number of people, many of them shirtless, gather along a riverbank.
Festival-goers cool off in the Coldwater River in this undated photo. (Rockin’ River Music Fest)

Hess said the festival shutdown would also affect musicians, who primarily rely on touring and live performances to make money.

“Hope we can do the triumphant return story [in] 2024,” he said.

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