Looking back at the fourth annual Central Music Festival (held Aug. 13 -14) organizer Mike Bradford had only one question, “Where are the people?”
About 800 people attended the event this year, not enough to balance the budget. Another 800 people and “We might have shown a little profit,” says Bradford.
“We do at least as good a job as anybody can for an event like this, with unpaid organizers and 150 volunteers. Musicians tell us this is one of the best festivals they’ve ever been to. We get people from Calgary and Edmonton who come here because it’s not crowded like the festivals there. We’ve got people coming back the last two or three years that tell us this is a great event, 18 hours of music, non-stop. The only component missing is the audience.
“The rule of thumb is that it takes eight years to establish an event like this,” said Bradford, who adds that they will keep trying.
They are already starting to plan next year’s festival and thinking about allowing camping out at the site, maybe spreading it out over three days instead of two and doing away with cheaper advance tickets, because few buy them.
Advance tickets for the Friday and Saturday concerts started as low as $45 for both days, advancing in stages to $75 just before the event. It’s $50 a day at the gate. Children under 13 are free with an adult and there are special plus 60 rates.
“Some people say it’s too expensive, but if it wasn’t for volunteers and donations and loans from local businesses admission would cost three times as much,” said Bradford. “We support local musicians; we encourage young performers to audition. There’s amazing talent out there. We’re trying to build a lasting cultural affair in Red Deer, with spinoffs for the local economy, for local hotels, restaurants and businesses. I don’t get the attitude. We have some kind of lack of regional self-esteem here and need to go off to bigger places for our entertainment.”
Some people have suggested the event needs more advertising, but Bradford says they spent $16,000 advertising in local media. Plus there was excellent news coverage from local media, and they put up 500 posters, distributed 7,000 cards, staffed a booth at the market for several weeks before the event, put information up on several websites and got coverage in Calgary and Edmonton event papers. He’s not sure what else they can do.
In the end, said Bradford, “People will use it or lose it. I won’t reveal numbers, but we’ve built up a fairly stiff deficit the last four years. The only way it’s going to get paid off is for more people in the City to come out.”
The festival featured nine acts on the Friday night including St. James Gate and The Trews and more than a dozen on Saturday including Oldbury, the Doll Sisters, Ponty Bone & the Squeezetones and Shane Yellowbird.
There is also entertainment for the kids, food and drink vendors, crafts and a beer garden. The festival takes place just north of the City off the C & E trail in a natural, grassed amphitheatre.