By Keith Sharp
Anyone who spent time backstage at the Timmins Ontario Stars and Thunder Music/Fireworks Festival which ran June 24th to July 1st could not have failed to notice the young man, for the most part bedecked in tee shirt, shorts and sandals, scurrying about, making announcements on stage, plugging and announcing winners of the event’s nightly 50-50 draw and helping out at the VIP Meet and Greets with the festival’s array of talent by snapping cell phone pictures for appreciative guests.
Hard to believe that the young man in question is the same person who served as the driving force behind a festival that attracted over 100,000 spectators to his eight-day event: Timmins mayor Steven Black.
Now back in his council chambers after executing one crazy but highly successful event for this gold-mining city located 680 kilometres north of Toronto, Black is ecstatic that this eight-day event which featured performances by the likes of Keith Urban, Johnny Reid, Simple Plan, Hedley, Tom Cochrane, April Wine and Michel Pagliaro plus amazing fireworks displays on four of the eight days has created an economic boon to his community while proving that this city has the capacity and desire to successfully execute a major cultural festival.
Along with veteran promoter Ron Sakamoto and Toronto-based Word Travels Fast, Black was able to stage a major concert each night from the opening June 24th Sainte Jean Baptist Day event which starred Michel Pagliaro and the surprisingly entertaining Le Groupe Swing to the Canada Day finale which packed 25,000 people into downtown Hollinger Park to view an all-star line up which featured Aussie Country Star, Keith Urban, Scottish-Canadian Johnny Reid, rising Country star,
Meghan Patrick and Timmins’ own Sons of Maxwell and Larry Berrio.
For the most part. Stars and Thunder avoided inclement conditions which ruined many other major festivals nationally and even when it did rain on Thursday and Friday, crowds pulled on their parkas and braved the elements.
“It was a great week, it was a turning point for our community when it came to creating community and municipal pride,” enthused Black over the phone. “A lot of people were very positive about what took place. Whether it was people in the park or people outside the park enjoying the fireworks display, everyone had a great time last week.”
Black is aware that, prior to the festival, there were many skeptics, on council and regular residents, who questioned the feasibility of the event or the budgeting of funds to finance the festival. “Many of those former skeptics have reached out and congratulated me,” Black noted. “They told me they had reservations about the event but by the third or fourth day they were buying tickets. They realized something special was going on.”
Probably the only disappointment was that, due to shifting wind conditions, the highly-touted International Fireworks display could only be launched four of the eight nights, but when they did ignite, they were amazing. “Unfortunately if the wind was blowing towards the crowd, we couldn’t risk it as the air would be full of canisters and fireworks,” Black noted. “But when they did go off, people were telling me it was the most spectacular fireworks display they had ever seen>”
The festival’s impact was felt across the city with hotels operating at full capacity, restaurants crammed with visitors and even shopping malls packed during a weekend where residents are normally heading out of town for the long weekend but instead elected to stay home and support the festival.
“I was talking to one shopping mall manager and she said it was like Christmas in June,” enthused Sakamoto, a legendary Lethbridge Alberta based promoter/agent who has won the CCMA’s Agent Of The Year so many times, they have now named the award after him. “This whole event has been incredible, to pull off an eight-day festival and draw the kinds of crowds they have drawn has been amazing. The downtown park is a perfect location and all the artists are impressed with the overall organization and the size of the crowds each day.”
Sakamoto, the first agent in Canada to book the likes of Kiss and The Doobie Brothers, has also exclusively promoted Shania Twain’s Canadian tours and delivered Keith Urban, Johhny Reid, Tom Cochrane and Meghan Patrick to Stars and Thunder as well as Country star Beverley Mahood who not only performed but served as the event host with Mayor Black.
Sakamoto also served as stage organizer and promoter of Stars and Thunder and said he would gladly come back and organize a sequel if demand dictated.
Black himself agreed that there is community support for a repeat event in 2018 but a lot depends on the feedback he receives from council. “We are currently executing a survey amongst the business community to gauge their feedback comparing sales this year with previous years and I have already heard back from some people that their sales are up 40%. I am also waiting for a financial report back on the festival and I am sure council will have some response to that report”
But as Black notes, “The taps have been turned on and it will be hard to turn off those taps. There’s a positive vibe in this community, the artists themselves have been feeding positive reports back to their agencies and we will just have to see if a festival next year is viable.”