Port officials irked by buccaneer-themed event embrace new family-oriented festival set for June 7,8
Port Washington aldermen approved plans for a new June festival Tuesday, effectively cutting ties with the organizers of Pirate Festival who have clashed with the city over concerns about how the event is managed.
Shortly after being told of the city’s plans to approve a new festival — Port Harbor Family Festival on June 7 and 8 — Pirate Festival was cancelled.
“Please make plans to invade another port June 7, 8 and 9th, 2013, you are not wanted in Port Washington,” a notice sent via e-mail and posted on Facebook read. “We are so sorry to pass along the bad news. Hopefully in the future we can find a port where we and our money are welcome.”
The council’s action came two months after aldermen had a contentious meeting with Pirate Festival founder Kim McCulloch over concerns with the operation of the festival.
Officials made it clear at the time that something had to change in order for the festival to continue, but said they had not heard anything from event organizers since then.
Mayor Tom Mlada said Tuesday, “For me, the bottom line is that hosting an event within our city is a privilege, not a right, and as city representatives we have the responsibility to be welcoming but very clear in our requirements and expectations of those who wish to partner with us.
“A partnership built on respect, accountability, commitment, trust and the expectation of excellence is an absolute must or we cannot move forward.”
Port Harbor Family Festival, which will be sponsored by the Grafton Blues Association, will be neither a blues festival nor a pirate-themed event, organizers Kris and Peter Raymond said. Instead, it will be a family-oriented festival with a wide variety of music and activities for people of all ages.
Among the events planned for the weekend are a BMX stunt team show, inflatables for children to play in and a tent where music of all genres would be played.
Two bands would play on Friday night, including a ZZ Top tribute band, and five on Saturday. The performers will include a jug band, rock, blues and country bands.
The Raymonds said they are considering a sand pit near the stage where children can play while their parents enjoy the music.
A scavenger hunt at downtown businesses is also in the plans.
Mlada said he is confident in the Raymonds’ ability to stage a successful event.
“Clearly, we’re very excited about what this new partnership means for our city now and in the long-term — a sustainable, reputable, well-organized, well-run, fun family-friendly event of which we can be proud,” he said.
The Raymonds, who are among the founders of the Grafton Blues Association, said they have been looking to create an event in Port Washington for some time, given the musical connection between the communities.
The association is best known for the successful Paramount Blues Festival in Grafton, which began in 2006 as a way to pay tribute to the artists who recorded in the 1920s and ‘30s for the Paramount label in Grafton, a division of the former Wisconsin Chair Co. in Port Washington.
“For us, it’s all about the music and promoting live music,” Kris Raymond said.
Originally, the Raymonds were hoping to do an event in Port Washington in late summer. When they couldn’t find a date that worked for the city and the association, Parks and Recreation Director Charlie Imig suggested they consider an event in conjunction with the June 22 opening of Coal Dock Park.
After they started working on that, the Raymonds said, the city called and suggested the June 7 and 8 dates instead.
Given the short time frame, the festival won’t match their long-term plan, the couple said, but they’re already working on plans for an event next year that will bring their vision to fruition.
“We definitely would like to make this an annual event,” Kris Raymond said.
The Common Council on Tuesday approved a liquor license and the closing of streets and parking lots to accommodate the Port Harbor Family Festival. The BMX show will be on the east end of East Grand Avenue and the family activities in Rotary Park, while the music tent will be in the parking lot behind Duluth Trading Co.
The council’s action effectively ended Pirate Festival, which had been slated for June 7 through 9. McCulloch said Monday she was still planning to hold the event, but hours before Tuesday’s council meeting, the festival was cancelled.
After the council meeting, McCulloch said she had been “flooded with requests to move the festival everywhere. We’re truly sad to leave Port Washington, but we are not at all welcomed here.”
Pirate Festival had been a staple of Port’s festival scene for eight years, effectively opening the city’s summer tourism season. But the festival, which drew as many as 30,000 people to the city annually, was plagued by poor weather and other problems.
City officials grew concerned about a lack of security and clean-up, Mlada said, and told McCulloch last year that by Jan. 1 they wanted to see a more structured approach to the festival planning, with specific individuals designated to handle various aspects of the event.
The city also asked that the festival submit items such as the permit and license applications, certificate of insurance, a security contract and ground plans by Feb. 1.
Neither happened, officials said, adding the final straw was when a number of vendors from last year’s festival contacted them because they hadn’t been paid.
McCulloch said Monday she was working on paying last year’s vendors and organizing this summer’s event.
“We would love to do a lovely festival for the city. It baffles every person on our (organizing) committee why we have been targeted for annihilation,” she said, adding the group’s application for the festival was refused by city staff.
But officials said they had not received any applications.
“The licence committee has not received any applications to act on,” Ald. Doug Biggs, a member of the Finance and License Committee, said after the meeting. “The council has not cancelled any events. It was entirely the decision of Pirate Festival.