Town To Co-Sponsor Blues Festival

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"Shakey" Joe Harless has struggled year after year to keep the June Bug Blues Festival going in the face of limited funds, attendees and conducive venues.

In a meeting between Harless, Bill Schwind, director of Payson Parks and Recreation, and Mayor Ken Murphy, the town agreed to co-sponsor the event to kick-off the Concert in the Park series at Green Valley Park June 6 and 7.

"The Concert in the Park series is a very popular event, and having the Blues Festival in Green Valley Park will be much better than the event center," Murphy said. "Until the event center is covered, it won't be an enjoyable venue for things like the June Bug Festival."

After examining the pros and cons of sites like Rumsey Park or the Payson Event Center, the three decided that with some additional fencing, limited vendors and expanded insurance coverage, Green Valley Park would be the ideal spot for residents and out-of-towners to enjoy good music and beautiful scenery.

Schwind saw some of the problems with Rumsey Park as the more than 45 softball teams that use every field at the park as well as the limited parking.

The event center would require significant expenditures on astroturf to keep the dust down, and tents for shade.

With its ample parking, lawn and easy access, Green Valley Park was the favored choice.

The town's co-sponsorship consists of providing use of the park and the help of employees to make sure things run smoothly. Harless must still cover the cost of insurance, security and entertainment among other things.

In the past nine years, the June Bug Blues Festival has brought more than 100 major bands and solo entertainers to the Rim country. Among the more high-profile acts have been Iggy Pop, Lazy Lester, The Mighty Flyers, Lightnin' Willie & the Poorboys, Chicago blues legends such as Carey Bell and Chico Chism as well as international jazz artists such as Doug Macleod.

June Bug is one of the few blues festivals in the U.S. which has sought out female artists such as Rena Haus, Sistah Blue and Sweet Mama Cotton.

This year, Harless has so far booked 10 acts from across the country to play the festival, and renowned artists, Walkin' Cane Mark and the Disciples of Soul for the pre-party at Famous Sam's.

Harless is working hard to get sponsors for the festival.

While the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce is willing to advertise the event in its literature, Director Bob Ware said that they cannot assist financially.

"We don't have the money," Ware said. "We are running a deficit and have a lot of unpaid chamber dues. We just don't have the money to financially sponsor the festival."

The Mazatzal Casino, according to Manager Jim Gannarelli, will be a minor sponsor of the June Bug Festival.

"We're not going to be a major sponsor this year," Gannarelli said, "but we are going to make a financial contribution of $500."

Budweiser is a major sponsor of the festival, and proceeds from beer sales help recoup costs as well as allow contributions to local charities.

While one staff member of the Parks and Recreation department doubted whether alcohol sales would be permitted in Green Valley Park, Murphy said that decision will be left to the town council. According to Murphy, the town council votes on whether the festival will be allowed to sell alcohol.

"It's not Parks and Rec that makes the decision, it's the town council," Murphy said.

During at least one of the past Concerts in the Park, alcohol has been sold, and Harless said that a fenced-off beer garden, similar to what was done previously at the park, is what he has planned.

According to Harless, the festival has never had any alcohol-related problems.

"In the festival's nine-year history, there has never been a single disturbance such as a fight or a violation at the event," Harless said. "We are pro-active in regards to any alcohol-related problems and provide free taxi service for anyone leaving the festival from 4 p.m. to close."

Police Sgt. Rod Mamero said that there have been a few minor incidences, but nothing significant during the past nine festivals.

The issue is due to come before the council in the coming weeks when they will cast their votes and decide the fate of the festival that has brought talent, fans and business to Payson for the past nine years.

The June Bug Blues Festival has typically been an entire day of entertainment. Through its proceeds, it has supported several nonprofit organizations and has supported music education locally.

"We have supported all types of music locally, donated music equipment to the schools, taught free harmonica lessons and contributed time, money and effort to local events, charities and organizations," Harless said.

Keeping the June Bug Blues Festival alive is important to those who appreciate music, and for the many businesses that can benefit from the out-of-town traffic.

Meanwhile, Harless continues his work to keep one of Payson's two -- the other being the fiddler's contest -- remaining festivals alive.

Any individuals or businesses who wish to sponsor the June Bug Blues festival can call 474-2448.

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