BBQ Festival canceled for 2017

Published 4:46 pm Friday, January 20, 2017

Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce has regrettably canceled the 2017 Blue Ridge BBQ & Music Festival because of decreased attendance, lack of funding, and ongoing contract negotiations.

The recommendation to cancel the longstanding community festival came Wednesday, Jan. 18, during a BBQ Festival Committee meeting. The festival’s primary purpose has been to raise funds for the chamber of commerce through a nationally recognized family-oriented two-day event.

“I am personally saddened by this decision,” Allison Gillespie, the committee chair, said. “This would have been our 24th year, and we had plans to make some major changes and improvements, such as adding new programming and bringing in well known musicians. Unfortunately, several circumstances have made it financially impossible for us to go forward this year. I sincerely hope we can find the ways and means to regroup and bring the festival back in 2018.”

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In a presentation by the committee’s vice chair, it was discussed that attendance to the festival has been on a downward trend for the past five years. In 2012, the paid attendance was just more than 12,000. In 2013, the attendance was 11,782. The trend continued with last year’s attendance being 7,499. In the festival’s best year, 2011, the attendance for those paying the gate fee was 17,000.

“With the declining attendance coupled with increased potential insurance costs, it became painfully obvious that we needed to take a break and rethink how the festival should continue,” Chamber President Kathy Toomey said. “For the past three festivals, the financial goals were not met. Despite having excellent media coverage and promotions, the attendance has dropped.

“As a result, the Chamber will now be looking at new fundraising events,” Toomey said. “Our fundraising revenue helps to keep the membership dues as low as possible.”

Also contributing to the decision was the Chamber’s and Town of Tryon’s inability to finalize their contract to use Harmon Field. “Insurance costs have greatly contributed to this situation,” Toomey added.

“The BBQ Festival has become not only a very beloved community event,” Gillespie said, “it has also been a major contributor to the local economy. In 2010, an outside agency surveyed the community and festival-goers and determined that each year the BBQ and Music Festival generates from $750,000 to more than $1 million in economic impact to the local community.”

The festival was originally created so the chamber of commerce could hire a full-time director. Since 1999, $185,000 in grants have been made to local charities and nonprofits through the chamber foundation.

“I think is very important to assure the chamber members that the chamber of commerce will continue to provide the same level of services,” Janet Sciacca, chamber executive director, said. “We will have to make some changes, do some new things, but we will be fine. The festival is important to the chamber, but the chamber is not totally dependent on it. We have strong membership in a strong community. Commerce in the Carolina Foothills will continue and will continue to thrive.”

Submitted by Steve Wong