Santa-Cali-Gon still happening

By Mike Genet
The Examiner USA TODAY NETWORK

Though case numbers, positive test percentages and hospitalizations from COVID-19 have jumped significantly over the past month in the metro area, the Independence Chamber of Commerce still plans to host the annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival over Labor Day weekend around the Independence Square. 

Tom Lesnak, president/CEO of the chamber, said most vendors and musical artists remain committed to be at the festival, which has canceled last year due to the pandemic but in years past has drawn up to about 300,000 over the long weekend. It is the chamber’s signature fundraiser event. 

“The festival is still on. The challenge for us is it changes from day to day,” Lesnak said, “and anyone who’s dealing with events or anything that can be impacted by COVID or Delta variant is figuring out, ‘What’s your plan B or plan C.’” 

Lesnak said it should help that Santa-Cali-Gon has no indoor spaces, and most of the booth spaces and tents have good airflow throughout. Organizers plan to remove some fencing from years past around the main stage and community stage to help spread people out, and they will try to spread vendors out a bit, but Lesnak said masks will not be mandated. 

“We’re encouraging people to do what you’re comfortable with,” he said. “Everybody’s got to be responsible for themselves.” 

Many of the performing artists scheduled for Santa-Cali-Gon have been on the road touring since the spring, Lesnak said. Many of them were booked by the end of 2020. 

“So far, what we’ve heard from their travel managers is they’re not having issues,” he said. “Some are not doing meet-and-greets like before, but that’s really the big thing.” 

About 80 percent of vendors scheduled for the 2020 festival took advantage of the chamber’s offer to roll over their deposits for this year, Lesnak said, and only a few have dropped out since. The chamber usually sees a late rush of vendors in the weeks leading up the festival, depending on how business goes at the Missouri State Fair, which opens this week. 

“Some, for health reasons, are not doing any shows at all this year,” Lesnak said. 

Most food vendors have returned, he said, and Wade Shows will again provide the carnivalt. 

“They’ve gone to a mostly touchless system and the armbands, and they’re sanitizing after rides,” Lesnak said of the carnival. “Our intent, unless there’s a government mandate that prevents us, is to hold Santa-Cali-Gon.”