Festival Season

Madison volunteers are busy at work
planning this summer's major events

RiverRoots kicks off the series
of four festivals in mid-May

(April 2015)
Read previous Don Ward columns!
Don Ward

(April 2015) – Spring is here and with it comes anticipation for great weather and summer festivals. In Madison, Ind., that means planning is in high gear by many volunteers to stage the city’s four major festivals – RiverRoots, Regatta, Ribberfest and the Chautauqua Festival of Art.
Here’s a brief look at the planning that is under way for these popular events.

River Roots Festival

2015 Madison Major
Festival Dates

  • May 15-16: RiverRoots Music & Folk Arts Festival
  • July 3-5: Madison Regatta
  • Aug. 21-22: Madison Ribberfest
  • Sept. 26-27: Madison Chautauqua
  • Information: (812) 265-2956 or

Planning for the 10th anniversary of the RiverRoots Music and Folk Arts Festival is in high gear, with the committee coming up with some new elements for the May 15-16 event on the Madison, Ind., riverfront.
One new element is the addition of a VIP tent, which will be set up just east of the stage with ideal viewing. The VIP Tent package will include food, beer and wine in a fenced, seating area. The group also is marketing its “Friends of the Festival” fundraising drive, which now combines membership and sponsorship drives into one, according to festival coordinator Greg Ziesemer’s reports to the VisitMadison Inc. tourism board.
Most of the bands have been booked for the 2015 festival, which will enjoy a $60,000 boost in the budget for hiring the bands. This year’s Saturday night headliner will be The Wood Brothers. Friday night’s headliner will be Scythian.
The festival committee in 2013 added a second “River Stage,” offering additional acts. This year, the River Stage has been expanded and together with the “Main Stage,” the festival will present 16 musical acts. That is double the number of acts in 2012, said Ziesemer, in his fifth year as the festival’s coordinator.
Back in September 2014, the group launched its new RiverRoots Music Series, with monthly concerts held through March 2015 at the Red Bicycle Hall at 125 E. Main St., Madison. Several groups that have been booked for the 2015 festival have been performing at these monthly concerts.

Greg Ziesemer

The committee also has revamped its “Halfway to RiverRoots” party, previously held in November, and its former March “Kickoff Party” to instead hold a “Lineup Announcement Party,” which was held at the Music Series Concert in late January. That party launched the committee’s Membership Drive.
The committee also plans to hold a “Kickoff Event,” set for the Thursday night before the festival, on May 14 at the Boneyard Grill on the Madison hilltop. The sponsored event will feature one of the Main Stage level bands.
“I am extremely proud of the exponential growth this festival is achieving,” Ziesemer wrote in a recent tourism board report. “Consider the huge leaps we have made in the last five years as we approach our 10th anniversary.
I think (the late festival coordinator) John Walburn would have been as proud as I am, and I am looking forward to a great celebration.”
Last year’s event attracted its largest crowd to date and netted $5,650, Ziesemer reported. Sponsorships reached an all-time high.

Madison Regatta

Plans are under way for the 2015 Madison Regatta Festival and race weekend, set for July 3-5. Now that the Milton-Madison Bridge is complete, the race course will be reset to a 2.5-mile course that runs under the bridge. The course had been shortened to two miles and moved west and away from the bridge during the construction. The Regatta committee also shortened the event to two days last year to save money.

Steve David

This year’s schedule has been extended from two days to three days by expanding the race program to include Grand Prix West class boats. These smaller but louder boats last raced in Madison in 1977. Racing is being planned on the Ohio River all three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Race officials expect at least 11 Unlimiteds to compete this year at the Madison Regatta, which will serve as the season opener for the series.
Meantime, H1 Unlimited, which governs the Unlimiteds, is now under the leadership of former Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison Unlimited hydroplane driver Steve David. He states in his online letter to the racing community that the H1 Unlimited Series is working to improve the racing series by establishing stronger unity among its member race sites.
Writing on the H1 Unlimited website recently, David said he believes “H1 is regaining its integrity and poised to give you the best season in years.”
The series experienced some rocky years recently, with some teams not showing up for races and some payouts delayed. David took over the leadership of the organization late last year, replacing Sam Cole as president.
David bases his optimism on several changes in store for the series in 2015. He lists them as follows:
• For the first time in our sports history we have teams that are signing a competition contract with H1. These contracts guarantee appearance, behavior, readiness and number of races they will attend.
• Prize purses will be based on performance and not merely showing up.
• We will have 11 national teams committed to the entire tour.
• We will have a new contract for a web-based TV program from a highly successful producer with approximately 1.2 million viewers, and it’s free to you. (More on the production company in the near future.)
• We are united as never before. Ted Porter has always said “Two boats, one team.” With Ted’s help, we’ve coined the phrase “H1, Every Team United.”
• Our rules are wide open for new power plants of any nature. All we ask is proof of sustainability, and that it will run when it shows up. (The current T55 turbine rules remain intact.)
• What you see in the final heat is how we’ll call the event. If we discover something amiss, we’ll assess the penalties the week following the race.

Madison Ribberfest

The Madison Ribberfest committee is busy planning the details of the 14th annual festival, set for Aug. 21-22 on the Madison, Ind., riverfront. Koehler Tire has agreed to again serve as the event’s title sponsor, while longtime Blues Bash sponsor Craig Toyota also returns

Kathy Ayers

This year’s festival will feature Saturday night headliner Keb’ Mo’, with Southern Hospitality performing in the 7:30 p.m. slot. Friday night’s headliner Jimmie Vaughan. Walter “Wolfman” Washington is scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Friday. He will be preceded by The Lionel Young Band, which kicks off the two-day blues show at 6 p.m. Other performers on Saturday are Da Mudcats at 11:30 a.m.; Boscoe France at 1:30 p.m.; Tee Dee Young at 3:30 p.m.; and The Mark Hummel Combo with Little Charlie at 5:30 p.m.
As usual, the event will offer barbecue vendors while pro and amateur barbecue teams will compete on Friday and Saturday. The pro cooking competition is sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
Admission wristbands will remain the same price as last year at $20 for advance sales and $25 at the gate each day. A $25 wristband purchased on Friday at the gate will be good for both days.
New this year will be the completion of two more tiers of grass at Bicentennial Park, which will create some changes for the VIP tent layout of the festival. The city of Madison plans to complete the two tiers immediately after the RiverRoots Festival is over in mid-May.
Last year’s event enjoyed a large crowd, but it was down about 15 percent from 2013, festival coordinator Kathy Ayers reported to the VisitMadison Inc. tourism board. Last year’s event netted approximately $34,000, according to Ayers’ reports. The net profit enabled her to deposit $60,000 to the festival’s certificate of deposits, which now total $146,470.
Ayers says her board “requires that we keep enough money on hand to put on the event should something bad happen that would prevent us from having the event one year. We would still have to pay the bands and replace any damaged equipment.”

Madison Chautauqua

After 18 years at the helm, Georgie Kelly on Feb. 23 announced she is stepping down as coordinator of the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art after this year. She plans to use this final year to train her successors – Jenny Straub Youngblood and Amy Fischmer, who will serve as co-coordinators beginning in 2016. The two women have been before a Chautauqua selection committee and accepted as co-coordinators. Their selection was approved by the tourism board and each will be paid $5,000 this year for the training period. They have committed to co-coordinating the event for three years.
“Someone said that the secret to a long and happy life is knowing when it’s time to go, and I have decided that it is time for me to go,” said Kelly, 66, who has been involved in 23 Chautauquas in all.

Georgie Kelly

Kelly says she will continue to assist the committee as a consultant and volunteer. VisitMadison inc., which oversees the annual festival, will decide at a later time the pay structure for the two co-coordinators, who will each receive a stipend this year, said Linda Lytle, executive director of the city’s tourism board.
Lytle said the two women will not share in the same amount of pay that Kelly makes, which is $29,150 per year as a contract employee. The board will attempt to iron out those details at its March meeting, Lytle said.
Youngblood, 39, and Fischmer, 37, have served as volunteer committee members for the past three years and first met each other from that experience. Youngblood works as a juvenile probation officer for Jefferson County, Ind. Fischmer is an art teacher for K-12 grades at the Prince of Peace Catholic school system in Madison. Youngblood, also an artist, is a Hanover College graduate who majored in studio art in 1998. She also writes for the RoundAbout Entertainment Guide.
Fischmer earned a degree in graphic design at IU-PUI in Indianapolis. She also studied visual art at the Herron School of Art and Design, based at IU-PUI.
Kelly has spent 18 years as the Chautauqua coordinator, beginning in 1993-94. She stepped down the next five years to take care of her ailing father. She returned as coordinator in 2000 and has guided it ever since, with the help of an all-volunteer committee.
The Chautauqua does not receive funding from city or county sources but rather generates income from exhibitor fees, food vendor percentages and sponsorships from local businesses. It also sells merchandise, such as a limited edition poster, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Known throughout the region as a premier juried art show, the Chautauqua also has a large economic impact on the town and local businesses, and attracting an estimated 70,000-80,000 people over one weekend. It also features many musical performers and dramatic productions presented by local high school students during the art show.
This will be the 45th year of the event. Last year’s festival featured 214 exhibitors. In addition to annual net profits that last year nearly reached $10,000, the Chautauqua has more than $63,000 in invested in interest-bearing Certificates of Deposit. Some proceeds are used to purchase such things as communication radios and picnic tables for the city, to support various arts-related educational programming, and to establish an annual scholarship award to an art student graduating from one of the three area high schools.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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