Fate of this year's Riverfest could be decided this week

Foundation's Executive Committee will discuss plans on April 2

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Riverfest visitors cross Berg Bridge over the Animas River during the 2017 event. This year's festival is threatened by the coronavirus shutdown.
  • Riverfest is scheduled to take place May 24-26 in Berg and Animas parks on the Animas River.
  • The event typically attracts a crowd of approximately 30,000 people.
  • Preparations for this year's event were suspended weeks ago.

FARMINGTON — Riverfest, Farmington's annual three-day springtime celebration along the Animas River, is still nearly two months away. A decision about whether the event should be canceled this year could be made this week.

The Executive Committee of the River Reach Foundation, the nonprofit organization that stages the event, will hold a virtual meeting at 6 p.m. April 2 to discuss the issue, according to Gloria Lehmer, the chairman of the Riverfest Sponsorship Committee.

She said the foundation must have approval from the city of Farmington to stage the event — a decision that likely wouldn't come for at least several more weeks, as it is unclear when the prohibition against large public gatherings during the coronavirus shutdown will end.

But she said the committee simply could decide to cancel the event now, given the fact that preparations for the festival have ground to a halt during the shutdown.

Lehmer said no decision about whether to cancel Riverfest has been made, but she explained that organizers are growing increasingly worried about their obligations to music performers, vendors, sponsors and donors as the planned dates for the festival approach. Riverfest is scheduled to take place May 24-26 in Berg and Animas parks in Farmington.

She said organizers have been discussing several scenarios for weeks, and she is confident the executive committee will emerge from this week's meeting with a plan – either a cancellation of the event, a postponement to an indefinite date or a continuation of their wait-and-see approach about getting approval from the city for holding the festival as planned over Memorial Day weekend.

Kayakers paddle their way under the Berg Bridge on the Animas River during the 2017 Riverfest.

Lehmer said Riverfest organizers want to provide the vendors and musicians who are booked for the festival with as much notice as possible if the event is cancelled so they can pursue other opportunities.

"We would sure like to be able to have it," she said, noting that some of the performers who are scheduled to play have become fixtures at the event.

She also said the local businesses and community members who support the festival financially deserve an answer about whether the event will take place.

"We will do everything we can, especially in this economy, to make sure nobody loses out as far as any contributions," she said.

But perhaps the most compelling reason to make a decision now about the event is simply the amount of preparation that is required to stage it, she acknowledged.

Normally, organizers would be operating at full capacity at this point to plan the festival, but those activities have come to a stop during the shutdown. Festival organizers would need at least several weeks to gear back up if the event is held, and they are rapidly running out of time, she said.

She said a large fundraising push was scheduled last week for the festival, with organizers planning on approaching potential donors and sponsors on a face-to-face basis to solicit funding. But the shutdown nixed those plans, as well as any other activities related to event planning, she said.

A group of Riverfest visitors enjoys a tractor ride during the 2017 event in Animas Park.

Lehmer has been involved with Riverfest since its inception in 1981 on a direct or indirect basis. The event has been threatened before by fears of flooding or insufficient flow on the Animas River, but she said it has never faced a challenge like this one.

"There's nothing that compares," she said. " … We've always kept the planning moving forward because we thought we could hold it in tents or in another location."

But the wisdom of having 30,000 people gather in close proximity to each other over a three-day period in the river corridor this year is looking increasingly iffy as the spread of the virus continues.

Lehmer said a postponement of the festival until later in the summer — when it is hoped the threat of the virus will have receded — is a possibility. But she pointed out that move could conflict with other large-scale annual events – Farmington's Freedom Days celebration or the Connie Mack World Series, for instance – and festival organizers don't want to compete with those affairs.

First and foremost, she said, Riverfest organizers will make a decision based on the best interests of the community.

"Safety is the major issue," she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/216TU0e