Newly merged Steamboat Days group postpones 2019 festival

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

BURLINGTON – Burlington officials announced this morning that the annual Steamboat Days music festival on the riverfront in downtown Burlington is being postponed for 2019 and whether the festival will be brought back at a future date is in question.

The announcement was made as part of a larger decision to merge Burlington Steamboat Days and the American Music Festival, the non-profit arm of Steamboat Days, beginning Jan. 1, 2019

Steamboat Days 2018 Board President Amy Burkhart said Tuesday the entire Steamboat Days festival is being postponed including the carnival portion of the event.

“The whole thing has been canceled. There are a handful of events already in the works for the summer, but it’s too soon to say what a festival may look like in the future,” Burkhart said.

She said a lot of the planning for how the riverfront, depot and auditorium can be used on a year-round basis has been underway for the past 11 months.

“We’ve got a handful of events already in the works for next summer, so don’t think we’re going away – we’re just going to look a little different.” Burkhart wrote in a release this morning.

At its November meeting, the Burlington Steamboat Days Board of Directors voted to join forces with the American Music Festival to develop entertainment programming starting in January. Collectively, the organizations will be called Burlington Riverfront Entertainment. In addition, organizers voted to postpone the traditional multi-day music festival in 2019 so that the newly-combined partnership can focus on expanding live entertainment offerings on the Burlington riverfront year-round.

The AMF was reorganized in early 2018 as part of an arrangement with the City of Burlington to operate the Memorial Auditorium, the Port of Burlington and the train depot.

Burkhart says the two organizations have been in talks since late summer looking for ways to leverage each other’s strengths and focus on future entertainment offerings.

“After we got AMF up and running managing the Auditorium, Port of Burlington and the depot, we saw a lot of overlap in our two organizations which help neither of us accomplish our mission to provide quality entertainment to the community,” said Burkhart. “Combining the boards clears the way for us to streamline operations, use our funds more wisely, and focus our volunteer efforts more effectively.”

Burkhart said the decision to postpone the 2019 event was a strategic move.

“The live entertainment business is undergoing a lot of big changes, and venues – regardless of size – are having to adapt,” continues Burkhart. “The traditional Steamboat Days music festival model that people are used to is becoming less and less viable.”

The rising cost of entertainment, industry consolidation, and competing entertainment options for consumers all mean that community festivals like Burlington Steamboat Days have to adapt.

Burkhart said that organizers will use the year off to “reorganize, research and reinvent” what entertainment on the Burlington riverfront looks like in the future.

“We’re not in much a different position than many other small town festivals. However where we fare much better is having a strong partner organization that has access to year-round venues and a motivated and experienced staff.

Burkhart pointed to the Haunted Auditorium and the Big Church Night Out as recent successful events hosted by AMF.

KC Fleming, Chair of the American Music Festival, echoed Burkhart.

“With the improvements to the riverfront, and a focus on bringing the kind of entertainment the community wants to see in our downtown venues, this partnership will enable us to provide a variety of events beyond just music all year long,” said Fleming. “Diversifying is good for everyone.”

Burkhart added that in recent years organizers have made tweaks to the festival that showed a lot of promise. “Now instead of planning and hosting one big blow-out event every summer, we can look for ways to provide great entertainment all year long, whether that’s under the stars or under a roof.”

Even though Steamboat Days attendance has gone down, sponsorship support for the festival has been on the upswing for a number of years.

“There is tremendous support for our two organizations among the business community, and the City of Burlington has been a great partner as well,” said Burkhart. “People believe in us and want this venture to succeed. I know we’re on the right track.”

Burkhart and Fleming both said that volunteers are the lifeblood of any civic organization. BSD and AMF are no different.

“It takes over 100 volunteers to host an event like Steamboat Days, and as AMF ramps up its offerings, their need for volunteers is increasing as well,” said Burkhart. “Both organizations have some of the most talented and dedicated people you’ll ever meet but we’re always looking to bring people in to help move our organizations forward.”

Burkhart invites anyone interested in volunteering to contact her at amyburkhart@titanburlington.com.

While there will not be a multi-day concert in the middle of June, Burkhart said that doesn’t mean there won’t be fun things to do on the riverfront.

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