Nakusp Music Festival board faces tough choices after two years of losses
Even on a rainy Monday, 30 people from local businesses crowded into a room at Selkirk College in Nakusp after receiving a letter from the Nakusp Music Festival board.
"We now find ourselves in a position of deciding if a 2012 festival is possible and are working diligently to find a solution to continue," the note read, indicating the festival is in serious trouble.
It's no secret that ticket sales to the classic rock festival fell significantly in the last two years. Now, it looks like the fate of the Nakusp Music Fest (NMF) will be determined by mid-October.
Each year, commitments are made about which performers will be coming, which allow early-bird ticket sales to begin around the middle of October. This year, the choice isn't simply about who will be headlining, but whether or not the show will go on at all, giving the board just over two weeks until their deadline of October 14.
"In 2010 we lost $80,000," Donna Rebman, president of the NMF board. The financial hit prompted serious cost cutting.
Even so, the festival went on in 2011 even with the $80 grand deficit.
"When ticket sales go on in October, it starts covering [costs]," Rebman said. Last year the sales continued to look good over Christmas, and appeared to have the momentum to pay off the debt and create a busy 2011 festival.
"They were right on track and then in the spring – poof," she said. The first annual Sturgis North motorcycle festival in Salmon Arm that was held on the same weekend may have had an effect on ticket sales, by then it was too late to turn back.
"You've already booked bands by then," Rebman said, so organizers forged on with their plans for the 2011 festival.
"We were scrambling to cut costs and trying to do as much as we could," which included hosting bar nights for other Nakusp events Horizon and Targa, Rebman said.
At the end of the day, it wasn't enough. The board saw lack of admission sales as what made the difference, and what led to their current $200,000 debt.
"We were roughly 1,200 tickets short," Rebman said, "which also affected beer garden sales and merch sales."
"Our expense budget was right on track," the board president said, blaming the lowered attendance numbers for the $120,000 debt incurred.
The money the board is trying to raise will be going to people still waiting to be paid, mostly to vendors.
Currently, the Music Fest building on Broadway Street is up for sale as part of effort to pay down the debt, and the NMF is applying to the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) for a no- or low-interest loan of $100,000 until the building sells.
"We feel there is enough equity in the building to pay it off when it sells," Rebman said, clarifying that NMF owns the building. She said many people believe it is owned by production company Octopus Productions.
"At this stage, we don't have enough information," Vice-president of Investments at CBT Johnny Strilaeff told the Arrow Lakes News when asked if the CBT was likely to grant their request.
"We do understand there is some time sensitivity," he said, "and we've heard from different folks in the community that it's an important event." Strilaeff said he was in communication with Rebman about NMF's predicament.
The Festival is also applying to community businesses for funding support as well as ideas that would make the festival more successful.
"There were lots of awesome ideas at the meeting," Rebman noted, particularly ideas about off-site events throughout the community that will keep people downtown and that may allow the festival to open later in the afternoon.
"Somebody had an idea for corporate sponsors," she said, which is another possibility the board will be pursuing.
Although there has been some grumbling in the community about Nakusp being left behind with regards to CBT funding, Rebman disagrees.
"CBT has been wonderful as far as putting this plan together. It's a board decision with them," she noted.
"It's not an easy process, and it's a long process," said Rebman, who expressed gratitude for the help and guidance the CBT has been giving the festival board to try and meet their objectives on time.
What will the board do if they don't raise the money by their deadline of October 14th?
"We don't know," she admitted, "We don't want to collapse."
"There's lots of rumours going around," the president said, "we're still working on it, and we don't know if we can do it. We've given ourselves a timeline to work on it."
The informal meeting on Monday was held to see if there was enough community support to warrant the board moving forward in terms of pursuing funding, or to start the process of dissolving the Nakusp Music Fest.
Buoyed by the show of support, the board is inviting anyone interested in supporting the festival financially or anyone with ideas that will make it possible for the festival to continue to contact them via the NMF email address.
The level of support has been "awesome" in Rebman's words, and said that even though financially the festival didn't succeed this past summer, the event itself was still great.
"It was one of my favourite festivals," Rebman said about the 2011 festival, "The crowd was just awesome. Everybody was happy it was so positive."