Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Buzz grows over possible Strawberry move

The Strawberry Music Festival email list is buzzing today with talk about a possible move to a new location that could become necessary for the 2009 season. The festival's long-time home, Camp Mather outside the gates of Yosemite National Park, is an ideal setting that thousands of fans have come to think of as their home away from home. It is owned by the City of San Francisco, and the festival's contract for occupying the camp for two holiday weekends each summer is up for renewal, according to several posters on the list.

Once before, the festival went toe-to-toe with the city in contract negotiations, but ended up with a settlement. The posters are suggesting that the city might insist on more favorable terms this time around. The hints we have been hearing could be leaks from the festival, either to prepare fans for the possibility of a difficult move or to show a willingness to move as a hard-nose negotiating tactic.

[Update: Subsequent postings suggest the issues are more complex than this analysis. We'll follow developments.]

If the change happens, knowledgeable fans believe it could be announced before or during the Fall festival August 28-31. (Tickets for that festival sold out last week.) While a site change would surely be a daunting challenge for the festival and its fans, it could also yield long-term benefits.

This year, an analogous east coast festival, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, is undergoing a site change after 31 years in the same location. The first Grey Fox festival at the new site on a farm in Oak Hill NY is coming up July 17-20.

The results of the move will be seen then, but from all I have seen both the festival and the fan base are making a relatively smooth transition. Sure, some problems can be expected to arise and attendance may be off a tad due to the uncertainty, but it would appear that the Grey Fox team is on its way to having successfully managed a wrenching transition.

Should the Strawberry rumors come true, we can hope that Strawberry management does an equally good job of preparing the festival regulars for what is sure to be a difficult experience. — Dan Ruby

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