2014 Swiss Wine Festival the good, the bad, the muddy

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The 43rd Swiss Wine Festival brought large crowds to the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park beginning last Thursday; but a huge summer storm on Saturday night dampened the festival grounds as well as the spirits of attendees – causing several of the premier events to be delayed or canceled all together.

“I think everybody has a good time, despite the weather,” Swiss Wine Festival President Kirk Works said. “The weather created a lot of havoc and disruption. There were a lot of side effects from the rain that I didn’t think about. There are just a lot of ripple and side effects that happen, and that’s all out of our control.”

Some of those side effects were things like water puddles in vendor spots; vehicles getting stuck in the mud after the grass parking lots were swamped by rain. Many of the ground fault breakers which provided power to the booths and the entertainment venues were tripping due to moisture.

“We haven’t had rain like this, maybe ever, on a Saturday night,” Kirk Works said. “Nobody can remember a time when it rained this much on a Saturday night. This much, anyway. We’ve had a quick shower, but never this much.”

The rains on Saturday night followed three days of high temperatures and high humidity; which may have helped fuel a lower than expected crowd throughout the weekend.

Those reductions in attendance, along with people staying away due to the rain on Saturday and the loss of revenues through paying for various acts and events on Saturday, probably means that this year’s festival won’t be as successful financially.

“We’re going to have a big financial loss,” Kirk Works said. “We’ll have to see what we can do about that, obviously, but that will be the first time ever.”

And revenues come from many different aspects of the festival.

“Our revenue was way down in many areas,” Kirk Works said. “We haven’t got it all accounted and analyzed, but the revenues were all down in parking, gate, beer and wine – which are really the big ones.”

One of the many positives coming out of the weekend was that visitors enjoyed the new amusement rides, which Kirk Works said the committee had many positive comments on from attendees. He also said that the wineries did well and were happy, and people ate plenty of food.

“One of the vendors said that they had dedicated people on Saturday night who were standing under the umbrellas holding on for dear life, but who were wanting to eat food,” Kirk Works laughed. “So that was positive.”

But not only did the presence of rain hurt the festival; but when the rain came – Saturday evening at about 8:15 p.m. – was nearly crippling, because Saturday night is traditionally a huge attendance night.

And attendance means money.

“It was probably the worst possible time it could have hit,” Kirk Works said. “It was Saturday night when everybody was there and eating and getting ready to do everything. It probably couldn’t have been at a worse time; but this is the first time that anybody can remember that we’ve had a rain like this, so I don’t think we need to concentrate on it so much. We’ve just got to write it off as a bad year and go on.”

And something else about Saturday:

“If it would have happened on Friday night, we had rain insurance for Friday,” Kirk Works said. “But not on Saturday.”

The committee had to cancel all of the entertainment on all of the stages on Saturday night after the heavy rains and strong lightning. All of those acts still have to be paid, but could not perform in that weather.

The laser light show was also canceled; as well as the fireworks show.

Kirk Works said that the fireworks riverboat cruise did go out as scheduled, but there were no fireworks to see. He noted that people who purchased tickets for the fireworks cruise but who didn’t use them because of the weather will be able to exchange them for fireworks cruise tickets at the 2015 Swiss Wine Festival.

As for the fireworks, the weather completely wiped them out, and Kirk Works said that because of the expense of having to bring in people qualified to shoot off the fireworks, there are no plans to shoot them off at a later date.

“We’re going to just do it next year,” Kirk Works said. “So many people had left and it was raining and was just miserable. If they could have shot them – and that was questionable because it was so wet - I don’t think anybody could have enjoyed them, so it was just a waste.”

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Aside from the weather on Saturday, the entire weekend was again a success.

The crowds on Thursday night for the opening events were big; helped in part by the Switzerland County School Board’s decision to close schools on Friday.

Friday night saw a big crowd for the concert by Diamond Rio; as well as other entertainers on various stages and around the event grounds. The BMX and Motocross show was a big hit with audiences.”

“Thursday went well. Friday night went well,” Kirk Works said. “I think our crowd was down somewhat on Friday night, but it went well. On Saturday, the parade went very well, we had a lot of compliments on the parade. I think we had almost as many entries as we did last year for the Bicentennial Parade, so we had a huge amount of entries.”

He also said that another big positive was that the festival hosted the Dorman Company picnic on Saturday afternoon, which went really well and there was a lot of positive feedback from the company.

Kirk Works said that there was a lot of positive feedback on the Diamond Rio concert. With this being the third straight year that there has been nationally-known entertainment on Friday night, the festival committee is already investigating acts that could be here in 2015.

Because, even as the 2014 festival closed its gates, the committee is already eyeing next year.

“We’re already working,” Kirk Works said. “We just have to get through this year and figure out how we’re going to recover financially, and then we’ll move on towards next year.”