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Americana Music Festival on hiatus; no event in 2013

POULSBO — The Poulsbo Americana Music Festival is, apparently, a victim of its own success.

The annual September festival has featured such music luminaries as Vicci Martinez (2009) and Magic Carpet Ride (2012). But as the festival grew, so did the time commitment required of volunteers.  Alas, in the dawn of its sixth year, the sponsor — the Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce — has announced that it can’t summon the volunteers needed to organize, stage and promote the festival.

“It’s on hiatus,” said Jan Harrison, executive director of the chamber. “I hate saying this out loud, but there’s too little time [to produce the event].”

Harrison invited proposals from event planners and promoters that might want to take it over; the chamber asked for $3,000 for the use of the music festival’s name. She received six proposals; none panned out.

Harrison said she hopes to bring the festival back in 2014. “Hopefully, we’ll have enough people who will miss it,” she said. “If someone says they miss it, I’m taking down names. It’s too good an event to let go.”

Past organizers say the festival has attracted audiences of between 700 and 1,000. The festival is free and is funded by sponsorships and donations. Money raised benefits the Chamber of Commerce and local causes, among them Eli’s Place, Stand Up for Kids and, in 2012, Coffee Oasis.

Sponsors of the 2012 event were Kitsap Credit Union, Taco Time, Clearwater Casino Resort, Les Schwab Tires, The Dance Within, Ted Brown Music, Pepsi, and Blue Sky Printing.

The music festival was the brainchild of Charles DeWilde, a Poulsbo chiropractor who organized a bluegrass festival on Bainbridge Island. That event attracted the attention of then-mayor Kathryn Quade, who told DeWilde that Poulsbo needed an event like that.

DeWilde organized the Americana Music Festival as a free event that would be “fun, family-oriented and safe, a celebration of the music of America,” he said. The first three festivals were held at Raab Park. “It was like an old-fashioned state fair,” he said. “We had hamburgers, apple pie and gunny sack races.”

In addition to the aforementioned luminaries, the entertainment lineup included regional favorites such as the Tune Stranglers, country/bluegrass; and the Konzelman Family Band, bluegrass. In 2011, the festival moved to Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park.

DeWilde said the festival committee had a strong group of volunteers: Wendy Armstrong, Linda Foster, Lynanne White, Sheila Zopfi. But organizing the festival required a lot of time – time away from families and paying jobs. The 2011 festival was DeWilde’s last.

Financial figures were not released, but most people involved with the festival said it never made much money. In 2012, committee member Jim Hartley, a sound engineer who has worked with major recording artists in San Francisco and Seattle, felt a more prominent headliner would mean bigger crowds and more donations and sponsorships. He recruited Magic Carpet Ride, which is comprised of former members of Steppenwolf.

Some of the stumbling blocks he ran into: The festival has to pay for police; the event is in September, when a lot of sponsorship money has already been spent on spring and summer events; and city regulations require the festival to end by 7:30 p.m. “We could have kept them playing until 8 or 9 o’ clock,” Hartley said of Magic Carpet Ride.

Many people who have been involved in the festival say planning for the next festival begins as soon as the music stops.

“Usually, for an event this size, you’re getting tentative commitments from vendors and musicians the next day,” Harrison said. “You could take a month off and start again, but by January at the latest you should know who’s on first and who’s going to do what.”

Of trying to find a coordinator for the 2013 festival, Harrison said, “I’ve been working on this since December.”

Lynanne White, a festival committee member and owner of American Rose Bridal, said the festival is a lot of work.

“One of the big things is dealing with City Hall, finding out how many police officers were needed, working with HDPA and finding sponsors,” she said. “We’re all volunteers and we all work or have our own businesses. It’s hard for one person to have that much responsibility.”

She said she worked about 40 hours coordinating the children’s area; the 2012 children’s area had a bouncy house, a dunk tank, face painting and arts activities.

As vice president of the Viking Fest Corporation, Kathy Foresee knows what it takes to consistently produce a successful event. The Viking Fest Corporation presents Viking Fest in May and the 3rd of July celebration. And it’s not easy. The Viking Fest Corporation, she said, benefits from sponsorships and longevity.

“You’ve got to have the sponsorships. Nowadays, it’s like pulling teeth [because of the economy],” she said. “And you’ve got to put in hours and hours and hours, and have a committee that knows what it’s doing. Ron Krell has been involved since 1969 or 1970. I’m coming up on 16 years. So there’s stability — it’s the same committee, the same people putting it on.”

Foresee hopes the Americana Music Festival will be resurrected. “It’s an event we hate to see fall,” she said. She thinks there’s still time to produce a 2013 event, and said she gave the chamber her list of vendors to pull from.

“If you get the right person in there to do it, if you’ve got people who are really ambitious about it, you could do it,” she said. “If we were in June, I would say [no]. But it’s March. You could still pull it off.”

 

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