Although the cold temperatures and snow showers seem to never end, summer will eventually arrive, and with it will come Madison’s festival season. This year’s lineup is shaping up to be another great year, starting with the RiverRoots Music and Folk Arts Festival in May, Madison Ribberfest in August and Madison Chautauqua Festival of Arts in September.
These three major events on the city’s riverfront are planned and conducted by three separate all-volunteer committees with paid directors who report to VisitMadison Inc., the city’s tourism bureau. The Madison Regatta Festival, meanwhile, is operated not by tourism but by the nonprofit, all-volunteer Madison Regatta Inc. as a prelude to its annual Unlimited hydroplane race weekend.
• RiverRoots. As a reflection of this festival committee’s success over the past two years, RiverRoots director Greg Ziesemer received a raise in his annual stipend, from $8,400 to $10,000. While it ranks far below that of Ribberfest director Kathy Ayers ($21,000) or Madison Chautauqua director Georgie Kelly (who also received a $2,650 bump to $29,150 this year), it is meaningful when you consider that the RiverRoots was once on the brink of extinction a few years ago. Now entering its ninth year (and the third full year under Ziesemer), the festival is on solid footing and backed by a vigorous and enthusiastic committee of volunteers.
The festival is coming off its biggest year after attracting an estimated crowd of 3,500 on Saturday night in 2013 with headliner, the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The two-day festival reaped a $10,000 profit, Ziesemer reported.
Committee members manned a booth at last October’s Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew contest, raising $1,400. They then held a benefit party last November, raising another $740. And on March 21, they raised $2,000 at their spring “RiverRoots Kickoff Party,” designed to generate community support.
This year’s festival is set for May 16-17 and will feature two days of music with 14 acts appearing on two stages, plus a folk arts village and a wide selection of domestic and craft beers, plus local wines. There’s even a craft beer brewing contest. Friday night’s headline is The Black Lillies, while Saturday night’s headliner is Rusted Root. The committee has garnered several new sponsors, including a title sponsorship from Morgan Foods.
In addition to the musical format and staging, what’s new this year will be the ticket pricing and food purchase system. Presale tickets for both days began in January, with the weekend wristband costing $20 before May 1. Presale weekend wristbands sold after May 1 will be $25, but the cost will increase to $30 at the gate. There will be no single day ticket pricing. Children 12 and under are free.
Alcoholic beverages will be sold by the ticket, as in past years. But food will be sold on a cash basis directly by the vendors, who will pay a set vendor fee to the festival.
• Madison Ribberfest. The Madison Ribberfest saw its biggest crowd ever in 2013, with an estimated 10,000 people in attendance on sales of 7,636 wristbands – about half of which are sold prior to the event. In addition to those who purchased wristbands, the attendance figure includes committee staff, musicians, vendors and others.
As a result of the growing crowds, the committee is making plans to expand the seating area for the Aug. 15-16 festival by moving the VIP tents at the top of the hill farther back to allow for more viewing area. Committee members had hoped the city would have been able to do more terracing at the top of the hill before this year’s festival, but they have been told by the mayor’s office that the city won’t be able to do the work until fall. Ayers also has been exploring the possibility of adding a jumbo screen for the VIP tent-holders, but that decision has not been finalized.
Meantime, Ribberfest director Ayers has been trying to find a new title sponsor for the 13th annual festival ever since Gaylor announced last fall that it was not renewing its title sponsorship. The company, based in Indianapolis, had sponsored the festival ever since its inception in 2002. After months of looking for a new sponsor, Ayers is now trying to convince one of the existing sponsors to step up to become the title sponsor, according to tourism director Linda Lytle.
The festival committee has no plans to change the format of its wildly successful event this year. It already has booked most of its bands for the two-day Blues Bash, with Roy Rogers & the Delta Rhythm Kings to headline on Friday night, and the Taj Mahal Trio to headline on Saturday night.
• Madison Chautauqua. Kelly received a $2,000 raise this year to manage Madison’s largest festival after having received no raise for the past five years. While the festival itself is still in the early planning stages, the Chautauqua committee has been discussing an art piece it wants to donate to the city to be placed at Madison Bicentennial Park. Details to come at a later date.
In addition to these major festivals, VisitMadison Inc. has been asked to help launch two new tourism events this year: the Wine, Stein and Barrel fundraiser for the Madison Riverfront Development Committee, and the inaugural Mad Town Mud Climb fundraiser event for the Lide White Boys & Girls Club.
The Wine, Stein & Barrel is planned for Saturday, June 21, at the gazebo area of the Madison riverfront. An entry fee will allow participants to sample and purchase wines and craft beer while enjoying food and music. Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Riverfront Development Committee. Margaret Bridgford is helping to plan the event for the committee.
The Mad Town Mud Climb, planned for Saturday, Sept. 13, will feature a 3.1K run with obstacles up the steep Heritage Trail of Madison. The race will begin at the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center on First Street and conclude at the Boys & Girls Club on the hilltop, where an awards ceremony and after party will take place, according to organizer and Boys & Girls Club director Ray Black. A similar “Mudathlon” has proven successful in recent years at Gen. Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton, Ky., and features 40 obstacles.
The Jefferson County Board of Tourism at its March meeting agreed to provide $5,000 to establish permanent obstacles along the Heritage Trail, plus a climbing wall near the Boys & Girls Club building that will be used in the Mud Climb event.
Watch for more details on these two new events in the coming months.
In other tourism news, the VisitMadison Inc. (tourism) board recently voted to add a third at-large seat to replace that once held by the county’s economic development agency, Jefferson County Industrial Development Corp. The agency asked to withdraw its seat and its representation on the tourism board. The move drew surprised reaction among board members, since tourism is considered an important tool for attracting new businesses and employees to the area.
As a result, the tourism board now consists of the following members and their affiliations: Nathan Montoya, president (at large); Dave Adams, vice president (at large); Andrew Forrester, secretary-treasurer (City of Madison); Renie Stephens (Jefferson County Board of Tourism); John Nyberg (at large); Joe Craig (County Council); Laura Hodges (JCBT); Lucy Dattilo (Chamber); and Dee Comstock (City Council).
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.