Volume 104, Number 18 - May 3, 2007
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Blues Fest Rocked
“I’m very worried about Blues Fest. If I don’t find some funding for it soon, there’s a good chance it’ll be canceled,” Dan Abernathy, Blues Fest organizer and proprietor of Rock Rabbit, said with a concerned look, while as if on cue, Dr. John sung over his speakers.
An interview for a preview article on the booked bands and performers had gained a somber mood when Abernathy revealed that though fully booked, the revered festival may not happen.
According to Abernathy, 60 percent of the funding for the festival was donated by Gayle Kinnison, who passed away in December. None of Kinnison’s trust is allocated for the festival, for this year or the next. In fact, Abernathy even had to change the name of the weekend of fun. Formerly the Pinedale Blues Festival, it is now the Pinedale Music Festival.
Kinnison had held the previous name, and Wells Fargo bank, which holds her trust, was unwilling to allow Abernathy to use it unless he bought it.
Optimistic even after that setback, Abernathy explained the name change would open up the festival for a variety of styles. “It will always have a big emphasis on the blues,” he said, then quoted Muddy Waters, “‘The blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll.’ So we’ll get some old rock and roll bands here.”
That is, however, only if the Music Festival finds funds and can continue, a desperate note reflected in Abernathy’s comments. “It’s dire. If people want it, they’re going to have to start coming together,” he said. The festival has no profit, Abernathy explained. Only the vendors and the performers walk away with checks. And it is some of those performers who are now looking for checks to secure their commitment.
Last year, the festival had a budget of $280,000, with oil and gas companies (EnCana and Questar are the most generous according to Abernathy) and ticket sales covering what Kinnison’s funds did not. Abernathy expects this year to need the same, or a little less, in the budget. Currently, he has only about 25 percent of the costs covered. Exploring local and regional fundraisers and monies, Abernathy said that the Pinedale Fine Arts Council is “100 percent behind it” but cannot afford to fund it.
The festival formerly known as the blues fest has gained regional and national notoriety, with the blues industry recognizing it now that it is listed as one of the top 10 music festivals in the nation. In its seventh year, the festival attracts big names like Blues Traveler last year, and always garners repeats. “Everybody wants to come here to play,” said Abernathy, adding, “They like the atmosphere of it.”
Though the festival’s future is uncertain, its play list is not, and features notable names like Jonny Lang, on Saturday night, and Dr. John on Sunday night. Eric Sardinas, Sherman Robertson, Bobby Rush and Blinddog Smokin’ top the list as repeats, as well as the well-recognized Miss Blues who will “always be here.” “I’m really excited about Dr. John,” Abernathy mused, and when asked why, answered, “Dr. John is just Dr. John. He’s been around forever.”
“That’s a local favorite,” commented Terrie Swift, the membership and events coordinator for the Chamber of Commerce. “I can’t imagine not having it. It would be a shame to see it go.” Swift called the festival “vital” to the summer tourism season. “I know the hotel/motel industry does very well that weekend, as well as everyone from the grocery store down to the gas stations,” she said.
Last year, tourism was responsible for 570 jobs in Sublette County, according to Mindi Crabb, the Tourism Marketing Director for the Sublette County Tourism Board. It generates $41.5 million annually to the county’s economy.
“If we didn’t have any special events like the Blues Fest, those numbers would certainly go down significantly,” Crabb asserted. Losing the festival would “be a big hole in the tourism season for everyone,” she said. Over 3,000 people attended the blues fest last year.
Crabb noted that most of the festival attendees are from out of county, and some stay to recreate in other ways. She remembered some folks who came for the fest, brought their horses, and went on a pack trip when it was over.
This exposure to other aspects of the county diversifies its economy, and keeps Sublette County on the tourism map, Crabb emphasized.
From a local economy perspective, the fest organizers spent $27,000 alone on lodging for performers and their crews last year. That does not take into account the numbers quantifying the expenditures of tourists at the fest, which organizers and the tourism board believe to be very significant. And it’s not just the economy.
“It’s very important to tourism, but also to the local community,” Crabb added. “It’s important to have special events like that, which people can take pride in and invite their friends to come visit for.”
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