Attendance at this year's Bull Durham Blues Festival set new records: Dianne Pledger, president and CEO of festival presenter St. Joseph's Historic Foundation, says around 23,000 people attended the 20th annual festival over three days. An estimated 12,500 people attended Friday's five-band program, which included performances by soul legend Percy Sledge and blues guitarist Buddy Guy.
"It's all-around the most well-rounded, best festival we've ever produced," says Pledger. Still, she says, the foundation has fielded the same complaint it hears with every festival: Ticket prices—ranging between $30 and $45 with an $85 option for a three-day pass—are too high. Some say ticket prices, which were $5 more this year than in 2006, discourage attendance from a wider range of Durham residents.
Pledger says that lower prices don't necessarily mean bigger crowds. And Annette Smith—administrative services coordinator for Durham Parks & Recreation who serves as a liaison between the festival and the city— says the park can't accommodate a crowd twice as big as Friday's record setter.
But the DAP Renovation Project—a $4 million bond approved by the city in 2002—will bring much-needed renovations to the park between October and April. When that project is complete, Minor League Baseball will become the park's operator for at least three years. The improvements include an optional mobile field cover that would allow stages—such as the one used for the Bull Durham Blues Festival—to be in the outfield. The stadium's seating could be used for a bigger audience. Yet Pledger says the festival won't be dropping ticket prices just because the crowd could be larger.
"We will continue to bring in the best quality performances we can. I don't foresee the ticket prices dropping," she says. "Our festival is comparable to festivals in the Triangle and around the country. People pay $85 to go see one act or just B.B. King or just one act at Walnut Creek. I think our price is very reasonable."
Smith says that, even with the new tenant in place, the city hopes to keep the park affordable for the three large events it houses—the Bimbe Festival, World Beer Festival and Bull Durham Blues Festival.
"Those festival are major anchors for Durham as cultural events," says Smith. "We don't want to put those festivals in a position where they can't afford the field."