Palisade Town Board favors continued sponsorship of festival

After nearly breaking even in its first year, the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival - sponsored by the town of Palisade - lost more than $44,000 in 2010. A majority of town trustees favor continued sponsorship because the festival would help businesses, although some trustees said budget cutting is needed. The group Stray Grass, above, performs at Riverbend Park in June.

A year ago, the decision to move a bluegrass music festival from Hotchkiss to Palisade looked like a masterstroke. And it wasn’t just because organizers were moving the event to a larger venue with more lodging options.

In its first year, the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Festival nearly broke even, a rarity for first-time events. The three-day festival at Riverbend Park generated enough revenue for the town of Palisade, the event’s sponsor, that officials sunk $15,000 into the town’s general fund to partially reimburse town employees who had helped organize the festival.

The festival foundered in some respects this year, despite a near quadrupling of its marketing budget and a concerted effort to upgrade the talent. Revenue from ticket sales fell 36 percent. The town lost more than $44,000 — roughly 1 percent of its general fund.

Town Administrator Tim Sarmo called the slump “concerning and disappointing” and blamed the decline in attendance on the recession and a rainy June weekend during what normally is the driest month of the year in the Grand Valley.

During a workshop last week that was intended to review this year’s festival and determine whether the event should continue, a majority of town trustees said they supported the idea of the town continuing to subsidize the festival and pointed out the positive effect it can have for Palisade businesses. But some said they want to see a revised budget for next year’s festival, cautioning that the town can’t continue to invest so much money without a solid return.

“I want to make sure we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Trustee Dave Edwards said.

Even though attendance declined this year, Sarmo said the town received more revenue from sponsorships, vendors and liquor and merchandise sales.

One way to reduce the town’s potential financial exposure and defray costs would be to recruit a major sponsor, something that was suggested by Mayor Dave Walker and supported by several town trustees.

Festival promoter Josh Behrman told trustees several expenditures could be reduced next year without affecting the quality of the event. As an example, he noted the creation of a website this year, which was a one-time expense that won’t show up in next year’s budget.

A few trustees, as well as members of the public who attended the workshop, said the festival probably needs a four- or five-year run before officials will know whether it’s successful.

“This is the town’s baby, and I think it would be almost irresponsible for us to drop it,” Trustee Michael Krueger said.


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