Bluegrass festival hits discordant note; more green needed

At Palisade’s bluegrass festival last month, Gweny Ott and her sister, Zoe, hula hoop during the opening act at Riverband Park. Way Down Yonder performs on stage. “This is one festival that needs the support of the town,” said Mayor Roger Granat in discussing the future of the festival.

The third year of the town-sponsored Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival struck both harmonious and harsh chords, as attendees and downtown businesses offered positive reviews even as ticket sales stagnated and the town lost money on the event for the second year in a row.

“I feel the festival was a success. But certainly there were some disappointments,” Town Administrator Tim Sarmo told town trustees during a meeting last week.

The three-day festival has had a mixed history in Palisade after relocating to the Grand Valley from Hotchkiss in 2009. In its first year, the town made more than $14,000 off the event and sold more than 1,400 tickets. Town officials ramped up spending on marketing and talent in 2010, only to lose nearly $40,000 and watch ticket sales plummet 28 percent.

Town leaders attributed last year’s slump to the recession and rainy weather. This year, flooding of the Colorado River and the festival venue, Riverbend Park, forced organizers to shift the festival site and campground.

The town nearly halved its marketing budget and reduced operations and personnel costs to try to slash overall spending. It also made online ticket sales more user-friendly and boosted the number of ticket outlets. The results were mixed.

Palisade lost close to $23,000 this year, an improvement over 2010. Overall revenue and ticket sales, however, slid 3 and 4 percent, respectively.

“I was really pleased with the festival,” Sarmo said. “It went off very well. People had a wonderful time. The lineup was outstanding. I heard almost exclusively positive comments from attendees, visitors from out of town and downtown merchants.”

He also credited town staff for coordinating the event and making adjustments precipitated by flooding.

On the flip side, Sarmo said he was disappointed about the festival failing to draw more people and the gap that remains between revenue and expenditures.

“Ticket sales did not grow, and I think we really have to make that a priority goal,” he said.

Sarmo said the multiday festival aligns with several elements of the town’s economic development strategy, including creating an attractive atmosphere for businesses, showcasing Palisade to visitors and benefiting local businesses.

But should the event return for a fourth year in 2012, Sarmo said some changes need to be made to boost attendance and slice costs.

Among his suggestions:

Draw more local residents and make the festival more affordable for families.

Consider using more electronic and social media to advertise the event.

Broaden the number of underwriters.

Improve cross-promotion and presence on other bluegrass festival websites.

Start marketing early.

“If the board chooses to do this, my advice would be to evaluate the data, decide quickly and really get on it a little bit faster,” Sarmo said.

Two Town Board members said this week they would like to see the festival continue.

“Everybody is ecstatic about this event,” Trustee Jim Harkreader said, adding there need to be changes.

“This is one festival that needs the support of the town,” Mayor Roger Granat said.

Town officials are expected to discuss the festival’s future during an upcoming work session.


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