On occasion, this editorial space is devoted to a recollection of lives that made an impact in fields of business, civics, sports or the arts.
Last weekend could be viewed as the one-year anniversary of another loss felt in St. Joseph: that of the end-of-summer festival known as Trails West! We don’t speak ill of the dead, and we’ll try to maintain that tradition in remembering what was billed for a quarter century as St. Joseph’s biggest arts festival.
The final Trails West! was held last year, from Aug. 15 to 17. Had the festival not been canceled amid dwindling attendance — or put on pause, in the phrasing of the Allied Arts Council — Civic Center Park likely would have been filled with live music and walking tacos last weekend.
The festival began in 1993, back when great floods were a rare occurrence, and it seemed to display a can-do spirit for a city that experienced significant hardship and economic loss when the Missouri River spilled its banks. Organizers could boast of success over the years, not the least of which was a knack for attracting up-and-coming country acts like Taylor Swift and Lee Ann Womack.
The festival was free in its early incarnation, which no doubt was part of the appeal. That didn’t last forever, with fencing and paid admission becoming part of the routine. Like any plucky startup, the festival became associated with the establishment as time went on, with Trails West! once receiving nearly half of the city’s $50,000 allotment for funding festival events in St. Joseph.
The city allocated about $30,000 for Trails West! in recent years, although budget officials said that funding might not have been available anyway in 2019. That’s because the festival funding came from riverboat gaming revenue, which dried up when this year’s flooding closed the casino for several weeks.
One year after the final act on a hot August night at Civic Center Park, it’s worth asking what was lost with the demise of Trails West! Certainly, there are other places to get fried festival food. Nostalgia rock bands seem to make the rounds at area casinos. Do you know many people who actually purchased the art?
The festival’s sprawling nature involved everything from period re-enactments and yard crafts to fine painting and live music. That was part of the draw, but in an entertainment landscape that’s more narrow and compartmentalized, it became a tougher sell.
Maybe the time had come to pull the plug. People don’t seem to have much trouble moving on, but perhaps what was lost was the sense that St. Joseph could find a away to take a big idea and run with it.
We think it was a good run.