Town staff presented the aldermen with several different options to consider for Labor Day festivities Monday during a special meeting. While the board was considering increasing the Labor Day budget from $20,000 to $135,000 to bring in a popular musical artist, members quickly changed their minds when they saw the price tag.
In a staff report from Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss, it stated that staff was prepared to make offers to Chris Young, Chase Rice or Easton Corbin — all chart-topping country artists. All artists would cost between $50,000 to $60,000 for a Sunday night concert plus another $32,000 to pay the booking agent, production crew and other associated costs.
That price was expected, but the $15,000 fee to use the Pisgah High School stadium as the venue was not expected. Hendler-Voss said the school system was willing to work with the town but had concerns about potential damage to the football field turf. The school system would not allow a portable stage to be placed on the field.
“So the use of the field as discussed is not feasible because of the schools’ concerns,” he said.
Hendler-Voss said the cost could be lessened with sponsorships and ticket sales, but board members weren’t that impressed with the selection of available artists either.
“I had to call my daughter and ask about the artists because I’d never heard of them,” said Alderman Carole Edwards.
Hendler-Voss said the good news was local bluegrass band Balsam Range is available Labor Day weekend and willing to perform in their hometown of Canton as the opener or the headlining act.
He said Balsam Range’s management said the band would be willing to play Sunday night or Monday for a negotiable price. Aldermen seemed confident that a free concert from Balsam Range would bring a good crowd but were uncertain about whether people would pay $20 a ticket to see the other country artists.
Aldermen argued over how many days the Labor Day festivities would go on and where it should be located. All festivities have been held at the recreation park in the past, but staff recommended moving it to Sorrells Street Park in downtown to increase its visibility. Staff also recommended shortening the celebration from four days to two.
The thought behind having the celebration downtown was to draw more people to downtown and hopefully help create traffic for local businesses. However, a few residents in the audience were still against having any of the entertainment at Sorrells Street Park.
“I want to keep it at the rec park — I don’t really have a reason other than it’s a tradition thing,” said Roy Taylor, adding that businesses never stayed open for events anyway. “Nobody cares about downtown Canton.”
Aldermen Ralph Hamlett and Zeb Smathers interrupted Taylor to say they care about downtown Canton.
“If we’re going to bring new business downtown, we have to bring people downtown to see it,” Smathers said.
Mayor Mike Ray said he also wanted all the events to stay at the rec center where all the town’s resources are located, including water, power, bathrooms, the swimming pool, playground and covered staging area. He added that he would rather see the town put any additional money toward business recruitment downtown.
“If we’re going to risk money, it should be risked on our downtown with getting businesses,” he said. “…We need to show them downtown when we’re ready.”
Edwards agreed that there weren’t any businesses downtown that visitors would want to frequent while attending the Labor Day celebration.
“We’re losing businesses, we’re not gaining any,” she said.
Ray also said he was against having any concert Sunday night, claiming he heard feedback from some 20 pastors who were opposed to the idea because of church services.
Hamlett suggested keeping it at four days and spreading the events out at both locations in order to include activities to entertain all ages of residents.
After much discussion about what would work best, aldermen approved the following basic schedule: Friday night would kick off with Pickin in the Park; Saturday would include entertainment of some sort at Sorrells Street Park and the annual car show; Sunday would include gospel singing Sunday after church at the Colonial Theatre; Balsam Range could perform at Sorrells Park Sunday night and Monday would include the annual Labor Day parade followed by a kids zone at Sorrells Street Park with concessions, food trucks and the traditional fair and local musical entertainment would stay at the rec park.
With the direction from the board, Hendler-Voss said staff would begin working out all the details, book Balsam Range for Sunday night and start booking other local and regional acts that would appeal to younger residents and also bring in people from other counties.