Attendance suffers over soggy weekend

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Last weekend's rains had quite a dampening effect on Cape Girardeau's big weekend of entertainment, reducing numbers at the SEMO District Fair and the River City Music Festival.

But organizers said things could have been worse.

The SEMO District Fair opened Saturday, when scattered showers threatened the entire first day of the event -- a threat that lingered on Sunday. The River City Music Festival opened on a stormy Friday and continued into Saturday, when some forecasts were calling for a 100 percent chance of storms.

Despite the rainy weather, fair organizers reported a drop of only 8 percent -- about 4,000 people -- from last year's opening weekend, when weather was fair.

"On Saturday the crowds didn't start to build until just before show time with the tractor pull," said fair spokesman Pete Poe. "Yesterday [Sunday] they were in and out all day. We're real happy it's been as strong as it has been."

Poe said he thinks the fair will make up the loss in weekend attendance through this week, with good weather expected.

Despite the bad weather, postponements and cancellations were kept to a minimum, Poe said. Saturday morning's antique tractor pull was postponed until this coming Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Southeast Missouri Hospital's educational brain balloon's appearance was scrapped over the weekend, as well, but everything else went on as planned.

The fair has built something of a local legend, with people saying rains always seem to accompany the event. Poe said such talk is only a benefit to the fair.

"We're happy people talk about it. It's flattering," said Poe.

Less flattering is some of the talk posted on online forums like and the Southeast Missourian Web site about the River City Music Festival. Users of the sites started posting comments Friday about the festival, saying organizers weren't prepared for the rains.

But festival organizer Mary Ramsey said plans were in place all along to bring the festival in out of the rain. On Friday night Port Cape Girardeau and The Listening Room above Garden Gallery were reserved as rain sites, Ramsey said, while Ragsdales was secured as a site on Saturday.

On Friday all three outdoor stages were brought inside. On Saturday, stages at Themis and Independence streets continued to operate outside, while the Broadway stage was moved indoors.

Ramsey said the festival went off well considering the weather.

"There was not one thing that we couldn't overcome with an umbrella or a dry shirt or towel," said Ramsey.

Volunteers like Bill Shivelbine worked hard to help defeat the conditions. Shivelbine provided equipment for the show at the risk of ruining it in the rain, Ramsey said. Shivelbine also brought his equipment inside and ran sound himself in Port Cape on Friday night, she said.

Port Cape Girardeau owner Dennis "Doc" Cain said a capacity crowd showed up to see Friday night's transplanted acts.

Musician Patrick Koetting, bassist for the Tone Def All Stars, said his band played to a crowd similar to one they'd see on a dry year Saturday night, when rain was mostly kept to sprinkles early on. The band played to heavy indoor crowds on Friday and Saturday night, Koetting said.

But the rain did cause problems for at least one band Saturday night, shutting down the guitar amps of metal band Emaciation a few minutes into their Independence Street stage set.

"We got up there and gave it a shot, but both guitar amps gave out," said Emaciation frontman Kirby Ray.

Ramsey said the weather did reduce the size of the festival crowd, though she didn't have a crowd count Monday. Organizers were expecting about 3,000 festival goers. But Ramsey said the lower attendance this year shouldn't jeopardize festival plans next year.

335-6611, extension 182

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