Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
The stormy skies that once threatened the future of the Razzamajazz have cleared, and it looks like smooth sailing ahead for organizers.
In a letter to the Stratford Finance and Labour Relations Subcommittee this past week, Stratford Tourism Alliance executive director, Eugene Zakreski, announced his organization has agreed to terms with the Stratford Power and Sail Squadron for a second consecutive year to keep the music barge on the Avon River throughout July and August.
Sail Squadron volunteers will continue to operate the floating stage and manage its musical program, while the alliance will pay for the musicians, maintenance, and any routine costs associated with barge, such as fuel, as well as promote the Razzamajazz on its website and events calendar.
Longtime sail squadron member, Robert Paton, says the 2014 summer was a very positive experience.
The sail squadron had been involved in the barge for a number of years before taking on an expanded role last year. Its members often supplied drivers, assisted with repairs, and helped train other community volunteers.
But for the group, whose members all have a passion for pleasure boating, its involvement with the Razzamajazz has never seemed like work.
"It's a boatload of happiness, and I love doing it," says Paton.
The barge was previously operated by the Stratford Lions Club, but its five-year agreement with the city ended in 2013 and the service club opted to step aside due to a lack of volunteer and financial interest amongst its members.
Before that arrangement, the tourism alliance, which assumed control of the barge after incorporating in 2007, also expressed some hesitation, stating at the time the Razzamajazz was of little interest to tourists and not within its mandate.
But since then the alliance, whose total commitment for the barge this year will be around $2,500, appears to have changed its tune. Zakreski told the Gazette in an email that the barge is viewed as a “good way to entertain visitors along the river during the summer.”
Paton, who was often behind the wheel of the barge himself last year, agrees. While it may not be the sole reason someone will travel here, the barge is “one of the cherries on the cake” that makes Stratford a special place to visit, he says, adding he estimates he had his photo taken on the barge thousands of times during the summer by tourists enjoying the “quaint boat with happy music.”
Last summer the Razzamajazz operated on Friday evenings and the odd Sunday. But there wasn’t always a crowd. So this year Paton’s plan is to not follow a fixed schedule and instead take the barge out at more opportune times - before and after shows at the Tom Patterson Theatre, for instance - and stay home when the weather’s poor.
"There's no point going out on the water and paying a band if no one is there to watch,” he notes.
The barge that hits the water this summer will be in much better shape than in recent years. Repairs including a new deck and railings were recently completed with the assistance of woodworking students at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School. The cost of the materials for the improvements, about $900, was funded by the tourism alliance.