By Bruce Karnick [email protected] Many people know the consternation, confusion and concern that surrounded Rivertown Days 2021, none more than Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce President …
By Bruce Karnick
Many people know the consternation, confusion and concern that surrounded Rivertown Days 2021, none more than Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce President Kristy Barse. From the trolls on social media to legit concerns about weather, a multitude of logistical changes that came last minute around COVID, and the fact that this was a big change for the community.
“One of the big changes that I think was a little challenging for our community was the change in price, and I’ll be honest, we were beat up pretty significantly for it. But in the end, it turned out to be really, really successful, people loved the new change, they love the layout, they like the concept, and they paid for them,” explained Barse.
Like everything, there needs to be a balance of tradition and not being stagnant. Things always evolve or they become the ‘same old thing’ and that gets boring. Rivertown Days has had critics on both sides, ‘don’t change it’ and ‘make some changes’. How do you placate both? You take risks, and you weather the storm created by the detractors. You keep a positive message going about the changes and address questions the best you can. Once completed, you listen to the feedback, analyze the results and move forward. All things Barse and her team of community volunteers did well.
Something to keep in mind, until May 27, the committee was working with a 2500-person limit in the space they had selected to hold Rivertown Days. They were discussing ways to keep the numbers under that while still being able to have an event take place. 2500 buttons at five bucks each does not cover much when it comes to any kind of festival. Add to the conundrum, production issues, staffing issues and all the other stuff COVID related, this was not an easy year to plan anything for.
Attendance for the event was on par with past years. Over 8,500 buttons were sold along with the buttons given to sponsors and the downtown businesses and residents, factor in the folks that snuck in, there were well over 10,000 people that attended.
All 25 bands that played are wanting to return if the format holds, several of them had never been to Hastings before. Of those, three contacted Barse about an interest in moving to Hastings, so the community exposure was great.
With planning an event of this scale there are challenges, thankfully, community volunteers stepped up to help with those challenges, but there are always room for more. Volunteers that is, not challenges. The volunteers and/or groups that step up to expand Rivertown Days do not need to be part of the chamber’s Rivertown Days committee. In fact, many years ago when things like the flotilla, demolition derby, and softball/kittenball tournament happened, they were organized by groups not connected to the Rivertown Days committee at all. Those events were simply made official events.
Yes, even the parade and fireworks events have not been organized by the chamber. The chamber simply supported and provided guidance to help the community organizers make the connections with the city to have the proper permits and such in place. The Chamber sanctioned the events and made them part of Rivertown Days.
Speaking of fireworks. The cost of producing almost everything went up dramatically this summer, including fireworks. During an interview with the fireworks tech over the Fourth of July show here in Hastings, he said costs have at least tripled and in many cases are over four times higher than last year due to production issues. He did not give the exact amount for the show that Vermillion Bank sponsored, but hinted it was well over $50,000 for a 22-minute show compared to $20,000 for a similar show pre-COVID. That played a huge factor in the lack of a fireworks show for Rivertown Days, especially since there was one held two weeks prior.
What about the parade? The parade draws a lot of people downtown. A lot being around that 10,000 mark. The problem with parades? You can’t just whip a parade together in 60 days for a town festival. It takes a lot of planning, organizing and volunteers to pull off a parade. Parade planning is an event all on its own. Barse explained that the parade could be a fundraiser for a group looking to use it as such and she has not ruled the parade out for next year, she is just hoping to see a group step up to help organize it and other events.
This year’s event had many positives and while the chamber celebrated the things that went well, they learned from things that could have been done better, Barse explained. “One of the, the negatives that we got was, we didn’t have country bands and we strategically did not bring in country bands because of Rivertown Live [on September 11]. We were able to point people online to get their fill of country at that event.”
Another thing they discovered was the order of bands could work better. For example, have the nights end with cover bands. People enjoy original music, but by the end of the night, they want to dance to stuff they are familiar with.
Rivertown Days was not perfect, nothing ever truly is perfect, but in the grand scheme of things and with all the issues brought on by COVID, this year’s festival was a huge success. That is due to all the volunteers that stepped up to make it a success, both on the committee and working the front lines.
Barse isn’t ready to look past September of this year, so she has not put any thought into next year’s Rivertown Days other than during her recap with Rotary. Her main messages for next year are: First, the committee is always working to make things better each year and that means they will likely make some additional changes based on feedback from this year. Second, if you have the ability to do so, you are welcome to help organize events around town that are sanctioned events. She will be happy to provide resources and guidance to those looking to help make Rivertown Days better for everyone to enjoy.
Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce President Kristy Barse gives a recap of Rivertown Days and talks some of the logistics of a large-scale event downtown, that Rotary hopes to learn from, for their upcoming Rivertown Live Concert on September 11. Photo by Bruce Karnick