December 15th, 2017

Music festival has potential


By Lethbridge Herald on July 14, 2017.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald
abeeber@lethbridgeherald.com
If Timmins, Ont. can pull it off, maybe Lethbridge could, too
Ron Sakamoto knows how to put on a party. For eight days in June, culminating with an explosive July 1 finale, the city promoter handled the entertainment component of the Stars and Thunder music and fireworks festival in Timmins, Ont.
Timmins, a city of 45,000 in the wilderness of northeastern Ontario, recruited Sakamoto to line up eight days of musical entertainment to coincide with an international fireworks festival, featuring teams from around the world.
It was a massive undertaking, one which drew thousands to the city, located deep in the Canadian Shield. Unless you’re familiar with names like Cochrane, Iroquois Falls or Kapuskasing, you’ll likely have to Google Timmins to find out where it is.
But despite its relative isolation, the City of Timmins took a chance and invested about $4 million into staging the festival which, according to Sakamoto, generated roughly $50 million in spinoffs for area business.
Every campground within 80 kilometres was packed, hotels sold camping spots in their parking lots and restaurants ran out of food, said Sakamoto, who capped the festival with a Canada Day performance by Johnny Reid and country superstar Keith Urban.
Ticket sales for the concerts alone generated $3.9 million. And those thirsty music fans threw back plenty of beer, mostly from locally owned breweries which Sakamoto got onboard for the festival.
One of those breweries sold 60,000 cups of cold, frothy goodness in one day at $6 a pop. Another sold $600,000 worth of beer in one week and one nearly ran dry.
This is in a city which many would consider being in the middle of nowhere. Being a guy who considers northern Ontario my second home, I think that region is paradise and would have been there in a heartbeat if I’d had vacation despite the lengthy drive. The distance didn’t stop people coming from all 10 provinces, five American states and four countries, said Sakamoto.
And that brings the question: Would this type of event work in sunny southern Alberta?
It could if council was willing to invest the millions of dollars necessary to bring in the fireworks teams and the lineup of mostly Canadian talent Sakamoto had performing at Timmins. According to Sakamoto, the city of Timmins recouped its investment and maybe made money, a win-win proposition for taxpayers and commercial enterprises.
Lethbridge is arguably far more accessible to tourists than Timmins with its proximity to Calgary and Edmonton as well as centres in Montana, B.C. and Saskatchewan.
We also have plenty of hotels, restaurants and campgrounds in the surrounding area. We have consistently sunny summer weather and a burgeoning craft beer industry which would surely welcome the opportunity to gain exposure and sales.
“It was a tremendous success all-around,” Sakamoto told me recently.
“For me, it was a big undertaking but the volunteers and the city of Timmins were so enthusiastic, it made it easy.”
And while fans were being entertained, $200,000 was also raised for local charity through 50/50 draws that were staged every day.
The festival gave fans a wide range of Canadian musical talent to see, putting homegrown talent in a massive spotlight. But the spinoff benefits to the community are what probably mattered most. Any economy would benefit by having $50 million dropped into it in a single week.
And if a city half the size of Lethbridge can achieve success with a music and fireworks festival, why couldn’t this one?
It’s a question that needs to be asked. The potential for Lethbridge could be enormous given our own population and our closeness to other major centres.
The initial investment for the city certainly sounds like a daunting number, and the logistics are enormous but considering how Lethbridge has pulled off many other massive undertakings, something like this should be in the realm of possibility.
And we have living in our own city the man who has proven he can pull it off.
Maybe we should give him the chance.
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