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Late summer festival plans in place

By Mike Genet

After the disappointment of having to cancel the Santa-Cali-Gon Days festival last year, organizers with the Independence Chamber of Commerce quickly started on plans for the 2021 festival over Labor Day weekend, including the headline entertainment.

In a good year, the Santa-Cali-Gon Days festival can bring 300,000 people to the Independence Square over four days on Labor Day weekend.

The chamber has already announced that country band Sawyer Brown will be the headline act on Saturday night, and Little Texas will be the Friday night headliner.

“We didn’t have the post-festival stress, and everyone got wiped out this past year and was trying to book for the next year,” said Tom Lesnak, president/CEO of the chamber. “It’s one big thing we can check off our list that is usually a time consumer.”

“They’re all hungry to get back on the road, and pricing didn’t change a whole lot.”

Sawyer Brown, formed in the early 1980s, has garnered three gold records among its 23 studio albums and saw its biggest chart success in the 1990s. Opening for the group will be the duo Pryor & Lee, which formed after Pryor Baird and Kaleb Lee were roommates on NBC’s singing competition “The Voice.” 

Friday headliner Little Texas was part of the “young country” movement of the early 1990s, bringing a modern rock feel to traditional country themes, and last year released its eighth studio album.

Lesnak said the chamber is keeping an eye on public-health restrictions and precautions, which right now wouldn’t allow such a festival locally, but COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed.

“I’m comfortable knowing, right now at the end of January, our situation’s going to be so much better then,” he said. 

Given the open access of Santa-Cali-Gon and its use of public grounds around the Square, something like a vaccination requirement for attendees is not particularly feasible. Lesnak said the festival will have hand sanitizer and hand wash systems available, and “we’ll encourage mask wearing” and for people to space out when possible.

“Hopefully by that time people will be in a situation where the risk of spread will be much lower,” he said. “It’s a matter of, how do we mitigate any risk that might still be there.” 

About 80 percent of vendors rolled over their 2020 deposits for 2021, Lesnak said, and beyond that since Jan. 1 the chamber has had a steady flow of vendors putting down deposits for this year, including some who’d requested a refund in 2020 for financial reasons. The online shops offered to vendors who rolled over their 2020 deposits will remain available on the festival website until shortly before Labor Day weekend. 

The chamber is selling VIP wristbands – 1,000 total, at $30 each – for premium locations near the Main Stage for those entertainment acts. 

The smaller, community stage typically isn’t booked until late spring or early summer, and Lesnak said the chamber has started having conversations with potential artists, which are generally more regional in scope.

While moving ahead with this year’s festival plans, Lesnak said they haven’t thought about any timeline of ultimately deciding, if the pandemic doesn’t noticeably improve, to go ahead with the festival or shutter it.

“We’re not really there, in part because you don’t want to create that anxiety,” he said. “A lot of it is going to come down to how quickly the vaccine gets out.”