A Tuolumne County festival promotion company is getting out of the business after 45 years due to declining attendance and rising costs.
Fire on the Mountain, founded by the late Richard Burleigh, announced the final Twain Harte Summer Arts and Wine Festival will be July 27 and 28, while the final Sonora Christmas Craft Fair and Music Festival will be from Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.
“I’m 64, I could work for nothing in my 30s and 40s, but I can’t do it at this age,” said Burleigh’s widow, Corinne Grandstaff, who has organized the festivals by herself since his death at 67 in 2016.
Grandstaff, of Soulsbyville, said the Sonora Christmas Craft Fair and Music Festival hasn’t turned a profit in several years due to a declining base of both customers and vendors. The festival has been held every year at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds since 1975,
The festival used to easily draw 16,000 people at its height during the 1980s and 1990s, but Grandstaff said that the typical attendance now is between 8,000 and 10,000.
“I’m not sure why we’re not seeing younger families,” she said. “Craft people are passing away and retiring on me faster than I can replace them… There’s just not young people picking up where they are leaving it off.”
Grandstaff said the 2008 economic recession made a noticeable impact on the business due to people having less expendable income. The crisis also forced the company to discontinue a festival in Auburn it had been organizing for about 25 years.
Other festivals the company used to promote include the Sonora Blues Festival that ran from 1996 to 2011 and the Central Coast Blues Festival.
One of the parts about the business that Grandstaff said she’ll miss most is the relationships that are formed with the regular vendors and customers who go to the festivals every year.
“Some of the craft people have been doing our shows for 30 years, so they are extended family,” she said. “I will continue to stay in touch with them.”
The company isn’t entirely going away, however.
Fire on the Mountain will continue teaming with Tuolumne County Arts to promote the annual Richard Burleigh Memorial Concert in February.
Burleigh was the founder of the Central Sierra Arts Council, which was the predecessor Tuolumne County Arts.
Grandstaff said she isn’t selling the company because she doesn’t want to see someone else take over and run it into the ground.
“I want to go out with the same reputation we’ve had for putting on quality events,” she said.
Grandstaff and Burleigh met in 1986 and got married at the Strawberry Music Festival in the spring of 1990.
Burleigh was a stained glass artist whose work was well known throughout the state. He started the Sonora festival in 1975 and the one in Twain Harte the following summer as a way to show his work.
“He did a little show at the Eproson House (in Twain Harte) and it grew from that,” Grandstaff said.
The couple had a daughter, Kailee Burleigh, who’s now 30, and Grandstaff had two children before meeting Burleigh, Christopher Grandstaff, 44, and Sarah Loughmiller, 40.
Corinne Grandstaff said her children considered taking over the duties of promoting the festivals, but she couldn’t let them do it knowing that they would be running the risk of losing money.
“If I was making money I would continue,” she said. “I could pretty much do these shows with my eyes closed, but you work all year. I quit drawing a salary last year from Fire on the Mountain. There’s nothing really to draw, so it just kind of didn’t make any difference.”
It will be the 42nd annual Twain Harte Summer Arts and Wine Festival later this month and 45th annual Sonora Christmas Craft Fair and Music Festival in December.
Corinne Grandstaff said she and her husband always envisioned stopping after the 50th annual Sonora festival, though she never thought that she would be doing it by herself. She said one of the things that set the festivals apart from others were the quality of entertainment he brought.
One of the musical acts scheduled for the final Sonora Christmas Craft Fair and Music Festival later this year is Bob Cole and Chris Stevenson, who performed in the group Fiddlesticks at the first festival in 1975.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.