National Folk Festival organizers raising money for Butte event

By Susan Gallagher
Helena, Montana (AP) 4-08

The National Folk Festival comes to Montana this summer and organizers, who hope attendance will hit six figures, are working to raise about $1 million for expenses.

The National Council for the Traditional Arts chose Butte over 22 other cities that bid to host the three-day, multicultural festival for the coming three summers. Butte organizers must raise $3 million to cover the three-year run and say the financial need is divided roughly into thirds, with first-year expenses perhaps a bit higher. Some $675,000 has been raised for the festival July 11-13.

“It’s coming in pretty well,” said George Everett of Mainstreet Uptown Butte, a not-for-profit organization working on festival arrangements. Everett said he is optimistic the goal will be met.

The cost of having “music, dance and tradition from across America meet the Big Sky” – as the promotional literature says – includes payment, food and lodging for some 24 stage acts. Among them are Washington’s Wylie & the Wild West, a Western music group featuring Yahoo! yodeler Wylie Gustafson; Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas from Louisiana; the Alex Meisner polka band from Pennsylvania; and New York’s Yuri Yunakof Ensemble, performing Bulgarian wedding music.

Other expenses include sound systems, stages, seating, tents and insurance. Hundreds of volunteers to work at the event are being recruited.

There is no charge for admission to the festival, which features continuous performances, participatory dancing, children’s activities, ethnic foods and craft exhibits. The private, not-for-profit National Council for the Traditional Arts produces the event in cooperation with host communities. The festival took place in Richmond, Va., the past three summers and drew record attendance of 175,000 in 2007.

Richmond, with a population of some 1 million in the city and surrounding area compared to Butte-Silver Bow County’s 32,000, had a first-year budget of about $1.3 million. Butte’s fundraising progress appears comparable to Richmond’s, said Lisa Sims, who worked on festival promotion.

“You’re raising money until the last minute,” Sims said.

“We had the money each year and it’s been almost totally a wash. The festival is not a money maker. That’s not the goal.”

Sims said it put a spotlight on the Richmond waterfront and left the city “impressed with itself because it was such a volunteer effort.” Like other hosts, Richmond now plans an annual event along the lines of the National Folk Festival, but under a different banner.

Given economic slowdowns faced by some potential donors, the seven festival stages in Butte are more likely to be funded through joint sponsorships than by supporters prepared to make big outlays by themselves, said Barbara Miller of the Butte fundraising committee.

“Many of our national companies that we are approaching are in a much different situation than they were six months ago,” Miller said.

A check for about $75,000 would cover sponsorship of the main stage in a 10,000-seat amphitheater at a former mine yard left from Butte’s heyday as a world leader in the copper industry.

“We still have stages available if people want to sponsor them,” Uptown Butte’s Everett said.

Support includes $50,000 from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, $50,000 from Butte-Silver Bow County and $40,000 from the state tourism agency. SeaCast Corp., a Marysville, Wash., company preparing to open a foundry in Butte, has committed $25,000 for First Peoples’ Marketplace, a showcase for juried art by American Indians. Energy company PPL Montana is paying for golf-cart shuttles to transport the elderly or tired, and the Montana Historical Society will sponsor an information booth.

Several hundred festival volunteers have signed on and more are needed. Work includes site setup, backstage hospitality, traffic control and driving golf carts.

The festival in Butte will be followed by Evel Knievel Days, the city’s annual party July 24-26 celebrating the late motorcycle daredevil and native son. Butte’s An Ri Rah celebration of Irish culture is set for Aug. 8-10.

“We’re encouraging people to just hang around” and take in all of them, Everett said.

Colleague Miller called the folk festival “a shining-star type of event.”

“It’s like getting the Olympics,” she said.

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