Regrouping on Summerfest

Livingston’s Summerfest has seen some good years and some bad years, some highs and some lows.

Lately it’s been lows.

The annual festival held in July at Miles Park features bands from around Montana and the country, vendors selling their wares and activities for families. Proceeds support city Recreation Department programs, including scholarships for children who can’t afford fees, and they also help maintain the Livingston Civic Center.

When everything clicks, it’s a fun time for the community, especially when the weather is just right, with families and their kids out enjoying different events and people dancing to great music in front of the iconic band shell stage.

But Summerfest has experienced a drop in attendance the past few years. In 2015, the festival even lost money.

For quite a while, Summerfest was a three-day event. Last year it was two days. And now Livingston interim City Manager Lisa Lowy recently announced the city is cutting it to one day — Friday, July 15, with events starting in the early afternoon.

What is the problem? We can only speculate. One complaint being voiced on social media is Summerfest’s entry fee, which last year was $20 for a two-day pass. 

Perhaps another issue is competition for attention from free events like the Livingston Hoot, which has been held in August.

Or is it a sign of these digital times, when people’s interest in local events is distracted by any number of entertainment alternatives? Perhaps that’s one reason why another event, the Park County Fair, is facing its own challenges, which were addressed by a recent Park County Commission public meeting.

Regardless, it’s a good idea for the city to, for now, make Summerfest a one-day venue. If something isn’t working well, you fall back, regroup and figure out what to do.

As the city contemplates its next move, it should at least review the admission price and perhaps reconsider the Friday date. Most people are still working on a Friday afternoon. An all-day Saturday event might boost attendance and also give vendors a better opportunity.

Summerfest is a great family festival, a fun time in the middle of Livingston’s glorious summer. Let’s hope the city, and all of us, can figure out a way to keep it going as a local tradition that can support the Recreation Department’s worthy programs.

– Dwight Harriman
Enterprise News Editor