The Downtown Corvallis Association this week announced that, after 25 years, it was pulling the plug on its summertime Red, White and Blue Riverfront Festival.
The announcement was understandably greeted with general dismay by local music fans who have fond memories of the event. But the reasons why the association's board made this decision also are understandable — and worth some extra consideration.
The executive director of the association, Jennifer Moreland, said the board made the decision only after months of deliberation and research, which included a survey of downtown businesses and a review of resources needed for the event.
Now, we haven't seen the results of the survey of downtown businesses, but our guess is that if every business enthusiastically had reported that the festival was extremely successful at bringing in new paying customers to their establishments, we probably wouldn't be writing this editorial.
It's worth remembering that events sponsored by the association need to fit with its mission to improve and promote downtown Corvallis. Maybe 25 years ago, the first Blues and Brews Festival cleanly fit with that mission. But it wouldn't be at all unusual for a long-running festival like this one to slip out of alignment with that mission — and the association is under no obligation to continue events just because it always has.
Moreland also pointed to the increasing difficulty of recruiting sufficient volunteers to run the festival — a problem that is, sadly, increasingly common for festivals and similar events, and not just in Corvallis.
In addition, the association struggled to raise the money needed to pay for the event. The city of Corvallis used to help fund the festival, but pulled its funding years ago, forcing the association to rely on sponsorship dollars. The association didn't charge admission to the event, but instead asked attendees for donations, an arrangement that became increasingly awkward and unwieldy.
For whatever reason, Corvallis can be a tough town for festivals. For many years, da Vinci Days was among the city's signature festivals, but it fell on hard financial times and has spent the last few years reinventing itself and regaining its financial footing. A handful of music festivals continue to show promise but focus on musical niches, such as the Chintimini Chamber Music Festival. (The exception that might prove the rule is the Fall Festival, which has the benefit of an ideal location, Central Park, for its displays by artisans.)
That location issue is particularly interesting in the light of Moreland's comments that the association is still interested in developing "fresh, new events to downtown Corvallis in the future." She said, for example, that she loves what the city of Albany has done with its annual River Rhythms series of summer concerts in Monteith Riverpark.
But there are a couple of things to note about River Rhythms: First, it's run by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, although the department works hard to gather sponsorship dollars.
Maybe more important, though, is the location: With its gentle downward slope leading to the stage, Montieth offers a lovely amphitheater-like locale for the shows. A similar site in Corvallis does not immediately come to mind — and, frankly, the riverfront doesn't appear to have adequate space.
We are familiar with other communities throughout the Northwest that have developed amphitheaters — and not that we're making a suggestion along these lines, but in a number of them, local microbreweries and craft beverage producers have been the driving forces.
Even with a suitable site, though, a summer music festival in Corvallis still would be tough to pull off: For starters, it's hard to attract even medium-sized acts who also have the option to play in Portland or Eugene or at a casino. But it's especially difficult if they don't have a suitable place to perform. (mm)