The 2014 Strawberry Fall Music Festival will take place after all, but not at Camp Mather and not over Labor Day weekend.Festival founder Charlie Cran announced Wednesday that the festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 11 to 15, at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley.
He said the venue offered him "sanctuary" after the City and County of San Francisco formally rejected his request for a fall permit at Camp Mather, where the festival has been held for more than 30 years.
In a three-page letter dated May 1, officials at the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department cited public safety concerns resulting from the 2013 Rim Fire and a questionable water supply from the current drought as primary reasons for denying the permit.
Susan Skalski, superintendent of the Stanislaus National Forest, also had voiced her concerns over public safety following the fire.
Cran said he has reached an agreement with officials at the Nevada County Fairgrounds and was traveling there today to sign the contract. Once the papers are signed, they will be forwarded to the U.S. Small Business Administration for review.
After having the 2013 fall festival at Camp Mather cancelled because of the Rim Fire, festival organizers qualified for a federal disaster relief loan. However, the loan - which would provide refunds for 2013 ticket holders along with some operating costs - was contingent upon staging a 2014 fall festival.
"We have recently been offered sanctuary in a new location," the Strawberry staff said in an open letter posted on its website May 9, without specifying the venue. "Earlier this week, we received a letter from Phil Ginsburg, General Manager at SFR&PD, officially denying our permit for Fall 2014 at Camp Mather. Therefore, we are moving on."
Cran said festival plans are still uncertain beyond this year.
"We're definitely looking to the future," he said. "Our ultimate goal is to do something of substance in this county, but we need a location and it will probably need to be developed.
"Believe me, I've looked everywhere."
Performers at the Grass Valley show are also undetermined at present. Cran said about half of the acts booked last fall will probably appear in September, with the rest to be recruited.
He said the structure of the festival and the number of performers will be essentially the same.
"It's a wonderful fairgrounds," he said. "It's bigger than ours with tall trees. I suspect it's not as beautiful as Camp Mather, but it is a beautiful place."
Several other festivals are held there each year, including California Worldfest, California Bluegrass Association Father's Day Bluegrass Festival and KVMR Celtic Festival.
The venue bills itself as "California's Most Beautiful Fairgrounds."
Ginsburg's letter left open the possibility of Strawberry returning to Camp Mather next year.
"We consider Strawberry an essential part of the Camp Mather community," Ginsburg said. "Accordingly, I would like to pledge the full dedication of department staff in preparing for the 2015 Strawberry Festival."
However, Cran said that was unlikely to happen, especially since the dates previously offered for 2015 were in mid-October.
"It's exhilarating to be working with straightforward, straight dealing folks," he said of the officials at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. "Once we get this settled, we're probably going to respond to that letter and it will have all kinds of goodies in it."