Merritt takes big hit with loss of Mountainfest, mayor says

Jason Hewlett / Kamloops Daily News
May 23, 2012 01:00 AM

At the height of its popularity, the Merritt Mountain Music Festival brought a $9-million economic boost to the Nicola Valley community.

With Tuesday's announcement that this summer's festival won't proceed and co-founder Claude Lelievre bowing out of any future festivals, the village of Merritt is left wondering how to fill the void.

"It is an impact for us, both economy-wise and for our branding," Mayor Susan Roline said Wednesday. "We were branded (the Country Music Capital of Canada) because of the music fest and worked hard to put other things in place because of the branding."

Roline was left reeling by the news that this year's Merritt Mountain was cancelled - the second time in the event's 19-year history.

Citing ticket sales that have slumped in 2012, Active Mountain Entertainment posted a cancellation notice on its website late Tuesday.

Roline hopes Active Mountain will reconsider and try again in 2013. But Lelievre told The Daily News he's done with the festival.

"I've gotten close enough to crazy and I'm just going to stop there," he said. "I've done it."

Lelievre said he intends to stay in Merritt and will work with the village and Walk of Stars to help the community maintain its status as the Country Music Capital of Canada.

"I love Merritt," he said, adding he isn't sure what his next move will be.

Merritt still has the Great Canadian Bike Rally from July 12 to 15 to fall back on, but tickets are slow in selling for it, too, said Roline. She fears ours has become a last-minute society unwilling to commit to events far in advance.

Which makes it hard for festival planners to pull off a large-scale event. She said there's an outpouring of cash for organizers like Lelievre, who need some indication a festival is going to be profitable in advance of the show starting.

"Because so many decisions now have to be made by the first of June, and payment of monies made, he (Lelievre) had to make a decision now if he was able to proceed or not," said Roline.

All three days of the festival had been booked, with Lelievre lining up acts like Gord Bamford, Gary Allen and Credence Clearwater Revival. But the turnout just wasn't enough to justify continuing, he said.

He asked anyone who purchased tickets to call their credit card provider to request a refund.

Although attendance dropped after he cut out the infamous Campsite C, Lelievre doesn't regret the move. He said too many people turned out to party, not hear the music.

"We were getting too big," he said.

Darrel Brooks, secretary treasurer for the Merritt Chamber of Commerce, is convinced the village will be fine without the festival. In time, he believes the bike rally and annual garlic festival will be draws unto themselves, he said.

"There not on a calibre of entertainers showing up, but they are certainly exciting local things going on," said Brooks.

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