Economic woes testing Indiana’s festivals-WEB ONLY

The lingering recession is forcing the organizers of some of Indiana’s festivals to scale back their events or move them to more affordable venues before the state’s festival season gets under way.

In Indianapolis, not-for-profit Storytelling Arts of Indiana canceled its long-running fall festival this year because it anticipates large cuts in city and state grant funding, it announced April 22. What would have been the 22nd annual Hoosier Storytelling Festival was planned for Sept. 24-26 in Military Park. The event typically draws 4,000 attendees, including 3,000 or more schoolchildren for performances by locally and nationally known storytellers.

To hold down costs, Tippecanoe County’s LayFlats Arts & Music Festival will have only a single stage during its September run, instead of the multiple stages used in past years.

The music festival is also being moved from the Tippecanoe County Amphitheater to West Lafayette’s Tapawingo Park, which is less expensive to rent.

LayFlats promoter Johnny Klemme said the move will bring the festival closer to its fans.

“The amphitheater is beautiful, but there were people who couldn’t afford to drive out,” he said. “It’s a community festival. A lot of people don’t have cars. And this will get more youth involved.”

With the recession limiting many Indiana residents’ extra spending money, some are scaling back their entertainment plans, including restricting how many festivals they plan to attend.

Heather Baumgardt said she and her boyfriend, Jeff Groves, intend to visit two festivals this year: the Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering and the LayFlats Arts Festival.

“We can’t afford to go to the big ones,” Baumgardt said. “But I’ve been going to Fiddlers’ for the past five or six years. Jeff has gone for the past 10 or 11 years. We camp there. We’d never miss it.”

While the slow economy could hurt festival attendance this year, some organizers say a sharp drop in gasoline prices – about $2 a gallon compared with $4 – is going to help attendance.

To some festival organizers, gas prices and weather are a greater concern than the economy.

High gas prices in 2008 hurt attendance at Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, said Kathy Atwell, executive director of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association, which organizes the popular fall festival.

Last September, about 40,000 attended the annual recreation of an 18th century gathering of the French and American Americans, but that was short of the 45,000 attendance goal.

“Four dollars a gallon definitely hurt us last year,” she said.

To recoup, Atwell looked closely at expenses and decided that there would be fewer Feast performers in 2009 and less advertising. She even went with a less expensive printer.

With ticket prices holding steady and the Feast moving back to its familiar October calendar spot, Atwell hopes the festival will rebound to a weekend attendance of 45,000.

Times may be tight,but Montgomery County is defying the economic conditions and launching a new festival this year. Bulldog Days, named after the mascot of the long-closed Linden High School, will be Linden’s first summer festival in five years.

The festival will offer a pancake breakfast, fish fry, bean-bag toss tournament, car show, food and craft booths and live music.

While potentially risky for a town of 700 to sponsor, volunteer labor should hopefully offset much of the event’s costs, said Kara Edie, one of the festival organizers.

Linden businesses are pitching in sponsorship money, and she hopes several hundred people will turn out for the Sept. 4-5 festival.

“The annual festival was a cherished tradition in Linden for years that really bolstered civic pride, and we’d like to keep that pride alive,” Edie said.

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