May 23, 2014

Organizers moving Strawberry Music Festival to Grass Valley

Strawberry Music Festival organizers are moving the popular festival from its longtime home at Camp Mather to Grass Valley because the city of San Francisco denied its permit.

After having their permit denied for Camp Mather, organizers of the Strawberry Music Festival are moving it out of its longtime Tuolumne County home to a new spot in Nevada County in the fall.

The four-day folk/Americana/bluegrass festival on the edge of Yosemite National Park in Tuolumne County has been held at Camp Mather over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends for some 30 years. Last August’s festival was canceled because of the Rim fire, which erupted days before the festival gates were to open.

Organizers had planned to bring back the festival at Camp Mather this August, but clashed with the city of San Francisco, which owns and runs Camp Mather, over permitting. Last month, a grass-roots campaign was launched in hopes of urging the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department to approve the permit.

But earlier this month, Phil Ginsburg, general manager of the department, officially denied the request. So organizers have moved and pushed back the event to the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, Sept. 11-14.

“We are grateful beyond words to all of those who have supported us,” festival organizers said in a statement. “After months of working to this end, it is now clear that they never intended to issue a permit that they would honor. Therefore, we are moving on.”

Grass Valley is about 200 miles north of the festival’s Camp Mather location and about an hour from Sacramento.

Sarah Ballard, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, previously said the permit was rejected because of water shortage and forest safety issues. About 6,500 to 7,000 people – between staff and concertgoers – attend the Strawberry Music Festival.

None of the 360 acres of Camp Mather were burned in the Rim fire, but Evergreen Road leading to the site was damaged and has since reopened.

Camp Mather will open as planned for city of San Francisco residents, who have exclusive use of the recreational area as an annual summer vacation spot. About 5,500 to 6,000 San Francisco campers stay at the site during its 11-week season. This year, the camp celebrates its 90th anniversary.

The permit was denied despite urgings of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Craig Pedro, who wrote to the city asking that the festival be allowed to continue at Camp Mather. County officials said they would work with festival organizers to help mitigate the water supply and forest safety concerns.

The loss of the festival, one of the nation’s most prestigious, is another blow to the county and its tourism industry. The festival is one of the largest single-event draws in Tuolumne County each year and brings thousands into the area. The region is still reeling from the one-two punch of the Rim fire and federal government shutdown that followed.

Festival organizers said the move was necessary to ensure the event receives disaster relief funding from the Small Business Administration. The money, which would go largely toward issuing refunds to ticket holders of last August’s canceled event, was approved in January and hinged on having an approved permit for this year’s event.

Tickets for the fall festival should go on sale soon. Strawberry representatives have not determined if the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley will be the event’s new permanent home.

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