While final attendance numbers are still being tallied, organizers of the inaugural Sturgis North Motorcycle Rally and Music Festival are feeling flush with success and say they intend to be back next year.
When it came to those who were critical of the event in its planning stages, Steve Hammer, the Sturgis North site manager, had a message: “All I will say right now is ‘I told you so.’ This was a great event in all aspects, in the calmness of the crowds, the business it brought into town, the fun people had. The reaction from the public, the police, the business community has been nothing but positive. My voicemail and text messages are full of people saying, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this to Salmon Arm.’”
Hammer says the weather, with thunderstorms nearly every day of the five-day event, did hold the expected crowds down, but that is a reality for any outdoor event.
Estimated attendance figures have varied widely, with the consensus at a daily briefing that included police, city officials, Neskonlith Band members, fire and emergency personnel, media and a private security firm contracted by Sturgis North loosely projecting between 10,000 to 15,000 people on the Neskonlith Band’s Gleneden site for the busiest nights Friday and Saturday. There was no direct representative from Sturgis North at those briefings.
Hammer says the Sturgis North organization should have a better tally later in the week, but thinks that estimate might have been low. There was no problem with overcrowding at both the fairgrounds and the Gleneden site, although there were long lineups for the 1,500 capacity beer gardens during the Friday and Saturday night events. Beer gardens at the fairgrounds never reached capacity and were closed early a few nights due to lack of business.
With crowds often appearing sparse at the two sites, a change for next year may be in the works.
“All in all, I think we’ll be going ahead next year, but the jury’s out on where it will be. We’ll be meeting about that later on,” said Hammer.
For the Neskonlith Indian Band, the event went without a hitch, says Chief Judy Wilson, who was on site for the full five days.
“I myself was quite excited and happy with the outcome,” she said, noting that the band did a lot of preparatory work with Sturgis organizers leading up to the event. “We were quite pleased with the part of biker associations who came out to enjoy the bands and bike rides.”
She was also pleased with funds raised for charity at the event.
Areas of improvement for next time would include better communication with the Neskonlith, contractors and vendors, she said, noting that communications were not easy because the event was such a massive undertaking. She would also like to see the Neskonlith displays moved forward to a more prominent location on the site.
Overall, “the chief complaint was the weather,” she said. “Everybody was real troopers through the whole event, including our members…”
About 20 Neskonlith members received invaluable training in security from some top-notch security companies at the event, she said. And the event was good for spreading information about the Neskonlith.
“It was really a good opportunity for people learning about Secwepemc. Really good connections were made… some could be lasting friendships. There was a real interest in learning about us and our community.”
RCMP Staff Sgt. Kevin Keane praised the Neskonlith site, saying it had distinct advantages: it was away from public view with limited impact on the more densely populated urban areas of Salmon Arm, the site was noise dampening, which reduced the impact to residents, and the remote location helped keep the party-goers on site, rather then spilling over to other parts of town.
“From our perspective that location was great,” said Keane.
He also said the one-road access on 50th Street NW helped police keep a handle on impaired driving because patrons knew they would meet a road check.
“The downtown pubs and bars were busy, but the downtown pedestrian events were not as congested as we expected they might be,” said Keane. “I think most people were visually expecting to see at the fairgrounds what they see at Roots and Blues and it wasn’t like that.”
Hammer says the most common complaint heard was that there were too many vendors on the sites.
“It’s a first-year event, there’s a learning curve. When it came to the vendors, you get crap if there’s not enough and crap if there’s too many.”