Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
The Stratford Blues & Ribfest will be held this June over three days, but it will do so without help from the City of Stratford.
Last Tuesday, council rejected a last-ditch attempt by the festival’s organizers to get the city to contribute $3,000 towards the festival, along with free rental of the Allman Arena, free bus transportation and any further in-kind donations.
Reached for comment earlier this week, Blues and Ribfest co-chair Stew Laing was optimistic the event would move forward successfully, even without the city’s financial support.
“The city has a very tight budget and those people are elected to watch over that budget, and any decision they make our committee totally respects,” said Laing. “You still have to try every avenue you can.”
He was also quick to point out that while monetary support many not be forthcoming, the city still supports the event in many ways.
“They’re wonderful and try to make it as easy as possible,” he said.
Last year, organizers of the festival were faced with a “substantial” financial loss after crowds were smaller than expected. However, Laing said the outlook for this year’s event – which will take place June 22-24 along the banks of the Avon River, with entertainment at the William Allman Arena – is much rosier.
To date, about three-quarters of the festival’s budget has been covered, whereas last year at this time only about one-quarter had been raised.
“That’s less than a quarter we have to make at the door, and we’re not even there yet so we might do better by then because there’s still some sponsorship leads we’re hitting on,” he said, noting much of the support thus far has come from small to mid-size businesses in the city. “We’re doing far better.”
And he’s hoping this year’s line-up attracts music lovers from Perth County and beyond. Headlining the event is Maple Blues Award winner Shakura S’Aida and British bluesman Matt Schofield, along with Robbie Antone’s Blues Machine, local music legend John Till and his band Plum Loco.
Along with the indoor entertainment, which is ticketed and licenced, there’s plenty of free outdoor activities and live music to enjoy. There will be an antique tractor show on the Saturday, and a car and motorcycle show and shines on the Sunday. The Lions Club will present a community breakfast Sunday morning.
Organizers also expect to have more outdoor vendors this year, along with kids’ activities, which is a new addition and shows the growth of the event, Laing said. And then there’s the ribs. Three award-winning ribbers will be serving up their specialties, including Kentucky Smokehouse from Illinois, Ribs Royale from Nevada and local favourites Jack the Ribber from Woodstock, Ontario.
A larger budget this year has allowed for more advertising which Laing is confident will attract larger crowds. Last year, 250 tickets were sold for the indoor entertainment, a figure which he anticipates to surpass. A total of 3,000 people came through the site, which is a number he also thinks will double.
Considering Stratford’s rich music history, and the fact Perth County is the pork capital of Ontario, it’s only natural to host an event like Blues and Ribfest, Laing said.
“It’s a celebration of our area,” he said. “We have a wonderful city here, let’s celebrate what we have.”
His optimism is buoyed by the support of the event’s organizing committee and volunteers, along with its major sponsor, the Kinsmen Club of Stratford.
“The people we have on board have been absolutely phenomenal, just wonderful people,” Laing said.
The festival is still actively accepting sponsorships and donations, and anyone interested in contributing or volunteering is encouraged to check out www.stratfordbluesandribfest.ca, where a full line-up of events can also be found.
Tickets for the headlining acts are available locally at Long and McQuade, Filsinger Music, Needles, Anything Grows and Palmer’s Motorcycles, or online at www.ticketscene.ca.