Bluegrass lovers in the state of Florida are fortunate to have Ernie and Debi Evans on their team. The two are tireless bluegrass entrepreneurs, managing a dozen festivals each year, while also performing together in a band, and hosing a weekly bluegrass radio program on WFCF in St Augustine.
But their really special talent is as festival turnaround specialists. The husband-and-wife crew have become known for their ability to take on the management of failing festivals, and bringing them back to life through close engagement with the regular attendees, and by lining up the talent they want to see on stage. In many cases these festivals have come back bigger than ever, even eclipsing the numbers they achieved in their earlier days.
The most recent success story is the Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival in Brooksville, FL. Sertoma is a national service organization dedicated to assistance for deaf and hearing-impaired people, and their Tampa chapter runs the Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville for the benefit of all children in the state. The spring bluegrass festival was a major fundraiser for the camp, along with another held in November each year. But since its founding in 1977, attendance at the spring event had been foundering, and it was in serious danger of being cancelled until the Evanses stepped in.
Let’s let Ernie tell the story…
“5 years ago, we received a phone call to consider assuming management of the Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival that was being run by the board and its volunteers. We were told that there was consideration to discontinue it due to lack of attendance and the loss of revenue needed for operations. Debi and I had already taken on 5 other festivals that had been in the same condition, and were doing all we could to turn those around. However, we felt that one more wouldn’t hurt and, in many ways, the things we were doing and the strategy we had put in place would easily apply to this venture as well without having to once again reinvent the wheel.
Fast forwarding to this past weekend and the 2017 festival, it took every bit of 4 years to not only nurse it back to health, but to exceed numbers we haven’t seen there in a while. The future looks bright once again but make no mistake about it, there is much more work to be done.”
An awful lot of bluegrass fans in Florida, and in Alabama and Georgia as well, have attended the spring Sertoma festival over the past 40 years. It’s the oldest in the state, and a great way to welcome springtime weather each year. Hats off to Ernie and Debi for pulling this one out of the fire.
They have already booked the 2018 event, and are looking forward to even bigger things for the Sertoma Spring Bluegrass Festival.
To find out how you can volunteer to help in their efforts at any of 12 annual events, you can contact them online.