Mother Nature was not kind to the annual Wild West Festival in Hays last year.
The 25th annual event celebrating the July 4th holiday was plagued by two consecutive nights of rainfall. Usually, rain is welcomed in Hays but it put a damper on the three-day event.
Attendance at two of the three concerts in Municipal Park was down significantly, resulting in lost revenue.
Summer rains also delayed the area wheat harvest and people who normally planned to attend the festival were instead working in their fields.
“2019 was one of the worst years we had with weather,” said longtime committee member Joleen Younger.
Wild West Festival is not a money maker, but “the public just needs to know it takes a lot of money to put on this kind of festival each year,” she added.
“Regardless of whether a band performs or not, we have to pay them.”
The festival has numerous volunteers and sponsors. Some donations are in-kind while others are cash donations.
“We appreciate everything that everybody does for us, because if we didn’t have that, this event wouldn’t go on.”
Committee members have planned a family-friendly fundraiser on Feb. 22 to help close the financial gap.
A traditional “wedding roast dinner” with sides and dessert, all homemade, will be presented 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday evening in the Schenk Building at the Ellis County Fairgrounds.
Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Children 12 and younger are $10 at the door. Advance tickets are available at the Hays Welcome Center, 2700 Vine, or from any WWF committee member.
The evening will also include a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle.
Music will be provided by the local band DoC and a cash bar will be available.
The social hour kicks off at 5 p.m. with dinner served at 6:30 p.m.
New committee member Melissa Dixon joked “it doesn’t matter what the weather does, because we’re gonna be indoors.” As of Wednesday morning, about 300 tickets had been sold, she reported.
Even when the mid-summer weather cooperates, costs for the Wild West Festival keep increasing as bands charge more their appearances.
Many of the $20 WWF tickets are sold in advance at area outlets.
“Where else are you going to get three days of entertainment – country and rock concerts, a carnival, a parade, and a huge fireworks display for just $20?,” Younger pointed out.
The free fireworks show costs about $1,000 a minute and “we try to have about a 25-minute show, so you can add that up,” she said.
The professional concert stage and lighting are the biggest expenses.
Dixon, executive director of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, knows the Wild West Festival draws people from out of town and has an economic impact on the city.
“The motel rooms are pretty well filled,” Dixon said, “so we encourage people to book their rooms early for the holiday.”
The city provides some in-kind labor in preparing the park for the festival and also supports it monetarily.
Last summer, parks department employees put down mulch to help dry out the festival grounds following the rainstorms.
Younger works with an events agency in Nashville to book the musical entertainment. She likes to keep the total budget at about $50,000.
That’s not nearly enough to hire country icons such as George Strait or Tim McGraw who command anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million and up per appearance.
Even the smaller, lesser known groups can get expensive in a hurry.
“A small act with one hit is already asking $15,000 to $20,000. And if they get another hit song or an award, they’re just out of our range.”
This year’s acts have already been booked and announced on the WWF Facebook page.
Country music singer and songwriter Michael Ray will appear on Wednesday, July 1, the Country Throwback Tour with Restless Heart AND Shenandoah is Thursday, July 2, and rock band FireHouse performs Friday, July 3. The fireworks show will be Saturday, July 4.
WEEE Entertainment out of Ford, near Dodge City, will provide the carnival Wednesday through Saturday evenings.