Burlington Steamboat Days (BSD) has been a staple of the community for more than 50 years. But organizers have announced that the annual music festival along the riverfront will not be held in 2019 so they can focus on opportunities to provide live entertainment year-round.
Amy Burkhart, President of the BSD Board of Directors, said the group has paid attention to feedback from surveys: more hard rock and country acts, ticket prices, etc. But she said attendance has declined for six consecutive years.
“The live entertainment business is undergoing a lot of big changes, and venues – regardless of size – are having to adapt,” said Burkhart. “The traditional Steamboat Days music festival model that people are used to is becoming less and less viable.”
Burkhart said it’s more expensive to bring in headline acts and there are a lot more opportunities for entertainment out there. She said the decision to postpone was difficult, knowing that the event might not recover from even a one year delay.
“We certainly had those discussions,” said Burkhart, “but we also felt it was better to take this risk then to just let the festival continue to decline and deteriorate. We wanted to take this pause while there was still something to save if you will.”
Burkhart said the year away will allow the BSD Board and volunteers to “reorganize, research, and reinvent” what entertainment along the riverfront looks like in the future.
“We’re not in much a different position that many other small town festivals,” said Burkhart. “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.”
That partner is American Music Festival (AMF), which is a locally-run non-profit that manages Memorial Auditorium, the Port of Burlington, and the downtown train depot. And the partnership between BSD & AMF is going to become even closer because the organizations have agreed to join together to form Burlington Riverfront Entertainment (BRE).
Burkhart said by joining forces, the organizations will be able to better utilize their resources to provide live entertainment throughout the year along the riverfront without competing with each other.
KC Fleming, who chairs AMF, said this will benefit everyone involved as well as the community.
“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 said the bottom line is that attendance will determine the future of all entertainment opportunities along the riverfront, be it Burlington Steamboat Days or an AMF sponsored event.
“We need people to attend our events, that’s really what it boils down to,” said Burkhart. “This is where the rubber meets the road. If people want entertainment options to be available right here in their backyard, they need to come forward and attend them. That’s the biggest need: for people to get engaged and be excited.”