From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 24 - June 14, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Blues Fest still has a heartbeat

by Alecia Warren

Dan Abernathy doesn’t yet have exact figures showing how behind he is in raising the quarter million dollars needed for the 9th annual Pinedale Music Festival, which he puts on every year in addition to his duties as Rock Rabbit Gallery proprietor.

And Abernathy is definitely behind, he said. But he can’t kill the buzz shared by fans preparing to road trip across the state and country to congregate again on the grassy Pinedale Rendezvous Rodeo Grounds and worship iconic Blues musicians.

“There’s been a lot of out-of-town support, people calling in daily to ask ‘what’s going on,’ ‘how are you doing’ — I had a guy in here from Rock Springs in tears, thinking it was going to be cancelled,” Abernathy said. “We’re determined not to let it go under.”

He might need to make a few changes to ensure that, however. The 2007 music festival currently boasts a full booking of Blues and rock n’ roll performers, but Abernathy’s empty pockets might force him to turn away many, including huge names like Roy Rodgers.

“The pressure now is that deposits are due (for booking the bands),” he said, biting his lip inside Rock Rabbit late Tuesday morning. “I’m being creative with agents, and so far they’re OK with it.”

Currently scheduled for Aug. 18-19, the festival would attract thousands of jean-clad music fanatics to camp out in tents and witness a performance usually reserved for smoke-filled city nightclubs. Last year, the event brought 3,000 people.

After the December death of its leading financial contributor Gayle Kinnison, however, the nationally renowned festival fell prey to the rampant and often-lethal arts blight: lack of funds.

Unable to find other philanthropists to compensate for the 60 percent of funding that Kinnison provided, Abernathy is struggling to scrape together a fraction of last year’s $280,000 budget.

Some entertainers booked for the show assured him that they would network with various organizations to raise money. The Questar Corporation, an oil company that donated to the festival last year, offered to try wrangling contributions from Ultra and Shell. Abernathy could only spread his arms helplessly when asked how much money the outside efforts raised.

“It’s going to be a constant battle,” he said.

The jewelry-laden Blues fan said he is unsure about asking other community members like business owners to scatter around the responsibility that Kinnison dominated.

“Some people came in and said they’d give money, but I don’t think local businesses know what it costs,” he said. “I think the local community is still growing with their support of the concert.” But some business owners said they only need persuading.

“We make quite a number of donations to the town, I wouldn’t be against it,” said Wind River Pizzeria proprietor Maggie Palmer of donating money for the festival. “I guess (it depends on) if somebody came to me and asked me, and how that conversation ensued with them.”

Charlie Golden, Cowboy Bar manager, said he often donates to community charities too, though no one has contacted him about raising funds for the festival. He might be interested, he said, depending on how Abernathy makes his pitch.

“I really hate to see something like that die, but you never know,” Golden said. The formerly dubbed Blues Fest first graced Pinedale eight years ago. Although 1,500 miles from the Memphis streets where the rhythmic yet wistful genre first crystallized, Blues Fest quickly blossomed into a renowned magnet for musicians of mythic status like Sherman Robertson and Jackie Payne. Last year Elmore Magazine, a national music magazine published in New York, named the festival one of the Top 10 greatest in the country.

Locals view the festival as a cultural oasis in a town where rodeos previously monopolized the most anticipated performances. The passion pouring from horn players’ calloused lips and the slap of muted drumsticks contrast starkly against Pinedale’s usual background fillers, like clamoring crows and pick-up trucks gunning their engines.

“When they originally started it, it was an awesome opportunity, it was pre-oil-andgas, right on the verge of it, so there wasn’t a lot happening here in Pinedale,” said Palmer, who moved to Pinedale in 1992. Although local businesses like the Brew Pub gleen a profit from the festival selling concessions, many local business owners said they didn’t notice a difference in profits during the festival in recent years because music fans typically manage their own nourishment and habitation in their multi-colored tents on the rodeo grounds. Kim Durfey, manager of the Teton Court Motel, said even if some people do want rooms, construction workers and oil riggers already occupy all the vacancies.

Palmer doesn’t care about the festival’s moneymaking potential, though. Many of her former Pizzeria employees raved about how “awesome” past festivals were, she said, though her work obligations prevented her from attending herself. “There’s not a lot of opportunity here for the arts and for the community to get together,” she said.

Abernathy assumed control of the festival six years ago and flung himself into every aspect of its preparation.

“I work on this all year long,” he said, leaning forward on his elbows and knotting his eyebrows beneath the crook of his worn cowboy hat. “I work with agents, getting permits ready, getting insurance.”

Last year he emceed the show, dictated stage directions, picked up trash and set up and took down the 40-foot stage delivered in two semi trucks. Why does the “hippiestore” owner sacrifice so much?

“When you walk on stage and see nothing but a sea of faces and smiles, the energy is so great, it brings a lump in my throat to think that ‘I’m part of putting this on, and I’m bringing happiness and joy to a lot of people,’” Abernathy said. “It’s very humbling.”

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