WINCHESTER — Last month's inaugural Fiddles and Fifths Festival lost a significant amount of money, and that will have a significant impact on upcoming community events in downtown Winchester.
Alex Flanigan, manager of the Main Street program administered by the Winchester Economic Development Department, told the city's Economic Development Authority (EDA) on Tuesday morning that it cost $103,100 to stage the festival Aug. 26-27, but only $23,500 in revenues were collected through event sponsorships and vendor table sales.
Because of the $79,600 financial loss, Flanigan told the EDA that Old Town event spending has been frozen by the Economic Development Department for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30. That means there will be no more money spent on the following planned celebrations:
- Windependent Weekend (November)
- Holiday Open House (December)
- Chocolate Escape (February)
- Celtic Fest (March)
- KidzFest (May)
- First Fridays (year-round)
- Old Town Vibe (year-round)
Despite incurring a significant financial loss, Flanigan said Fiddles and Fifths — a celebration of bluegrass music and Virginia bourbon — could return next summer as a one- or two-day festival and possibly move from this year's location north of the Loudoun Street Mall to the more visible pedestrian mall itself.
EDA member Cary Craig said he was on the mall during last month's two-day festival and encountered some people that had no idea the event was taking place a short distance away. Flanigan admitted she also heard criticism about a lack of public awareness.
Flanigan said the two-day Fiddles and Fifths Festival still drew large crowds, but told the EDA "exact numbers are impossible to determine."
"Saturday was much more well attended, but we had great numbers on Friday as well," she said.
Despite the generally positive reaction to the festival, its success was hindered due to a series of setbacks during the planning process.
According to information presented by Flanigan to the EDA on Tuesday, a "short organizational window" made it difficult for her to secure the lowest prices from service providers and negotiate better rates for participating musical acts. For example, more than a third of the festival's total cost was spent on headlining act Railroad Earth from Stillwater, New Jersey, which was paid $35,000 for its performance on Aug. 27.
While that was $25,350 more than was paid to the festival's other three musical acts combined, EDA Chairman Jeff Buettner said having a bluegrass band as renowned as Railroad Earth "did bring people to Winchester who hadn't been here before."
Buettner said Flanigan did very well with the time and resources she had to stage the festival.
"Alex had a lot of this dumped in her lap and did a really great job," he said.
EDA Vice Chairwoman Lauri Bridgeforth also praised Flanigan's organizational efforts, noting the alcohol-themed event was closely monitored by safety officials so there were no significant negative incidents reported.
"I didn't see any bad behavior," Bridgeforth said.
Flanigan has already worked up two prospective budgets if the city decides to continue its Fiddles and Fifths Festival. The first budget covers a two-day event that would cost an estimated $63,870 while bringing in approximately $43,900 in revenues from ticket sales, sponsorships and vendor fees. The second budget is for a one-day event that would cost a projected $53,220 and bring in about $37,600.
A decision on whether to bring the festival back next year is expected to be made in the coming months.
Attending Tuesday morning's Winchester Economic Development Authority meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman Jeff Buettner, Vice Chairwoman Lauri Bridgeforth and members Cary Craig, Ryan Hall and Addie Lingle. Members James Imoh and Sandra Bloom were absent.