Though it was one of the largest and longest-running regional gatherings in the metro area, Stillwater’s Lumberjack Days garnered enough negative feedback from its community and ran into steep enough financial challenges that it was shut down by the city in 2011. But residents in the area knew that the St. Croix riverside community deserved a better-run and more locally focused festival.
Thanks to the power of one buzzed-about Facebook page, “Keep Lumberjack Days Local,” and one grassroots nonprofit, appropriately calling themselves The Locals, the Stillwater City Council has approved a bid to resurrect Lumberjack Days as a brand new, locally focused event, Stillwater Log Jam.
They plan to keep music at the center of the event, and the Log Jam will also feature Lumberjack Days staples like a soap box derby, dragon boat races, a Miss Stillwater pageant, and a fireworks show.
One of organizers behind the festival, Paul Creager, is already a familiar name for local music fans—he’s the founder and booker of the annual Square Lake Film and Music Festival, which showcases some of the best emerging Minnesota talent alongside independent films. I caught up with Paul over email to ask how his group The Locals came together, and what they have planned for the Stillwater Log Jam when it returns in 2014.
Tell me more about The Locals. How long have you been working together, and what was the impetus for forming your group?
Paul Creager: We’re a nonprofit group that formed about a year ago specifically to create a proposal for Lumberjack Days. Each member of the group is from Stillwater, and brings a lot of talent to the table. Erin McQuay is a prolific grant writer and arts advocate. She runs Cuckoo Productions in Stillwater alongside Cassie McLemore. Cassie has organized numerous annual arts events in Stillwater for years. Shawn Smalley is a nationally renowned chef, a high school friend of mine, and owner of Smalley’s Carribean BBQ. Brad Glyns is one of the founders of Lift Bridge Brewery, and programs a lot of their music events. Both Brad and Shawn’s businesses are great assets to the town. As for me, I bring my experience organizing events like the Square Lake Film & Music Festival and my educational background as Curriculum & Media Arts Coordinator in St. Paul Public Schools. I’m really excited about the chemistry of our group.
Lumberjack Days ended on a sour note, but I’m curious what you feel worked about that event, and what would you like to preserve as you start planning a new festival?
I grew up in Stillwater, so my memories of the event span between 1975-1995. What worked during those years was the event’s focus on being a great small town event: beer gardens, bingo, live music and parades. Between 1995-2010 the festival became music ticket sales driven and lost its sense of place. Though the type of music programming used between ’95-’10 isn’t something we plan to replicate, I do think that the event proved that people would take a drive out to Stillwater for live music. There’s nothing wrong with that. We hope to curate a multi-day music program that complements the small town event that will draw Twin Cities music fans to the Stillwater area.
Are there challenges involved in taking over an event that ended in an unflattering way?
Definitely. We named ourselves The Locals precisely because we needed to distinguish ourselves from the larger, for profit production companies that were our competitors for the summer festival contract from the City Council. Our strategy worked. The flip side is that because we’re a locally-based group we’re more accountable to our neighbors to produce an event that complements the town. We’re in town for the 362 days of the year that there isn’t a festival, so we want to get it right and we will.
How did the Facebook page “Keep Lumberjack Days Local” tie in with your campaign?
The Facebook page appeared a week or so before the council vote, and really helped embolden us and our supporters. As the number of friends on that page grew all the way to 1,200 in just a few days, the page was able to solicit the volume of emails to the Stillwater City Council to influence the vote. After the council vote was over, I believe one of the council members joked to us “now tell your fans to stop emailing us!” The whole experience re-affirmed my trust in local politics. If you’re willing to beat the pavement for your cause, that will inspire people to raise their voice and elected officials respond. Lumberjack Days has always been a locally produced event, so there is a lot of support amongst the town.
Since Stillwater is the birthplace of Minnesota, we want it to be an event that the town, (and in fact the entire state) is proud of. We want to do that by weaving together activities that highlight the scenic St. Croix Valley, rich historical programming for all ages, family fun events, and impressive musical programming that takes advantage of the many outdoor music locales in Stillwater parks. Attendees should expect a focus on Minnesota music, with an occasional regional act mixed in. We don’t have any acts booked yet, but we’re very interested in working with acts that have put Minnesota’s music on the map like: The Suburbs, Jayhawks, The Replacements, etc. We’re going to program a wide spectrum of music, some of which meets people’s ears right where they’re at right now, and other music that might be on the periphery of what they typically listen to.
What have you learned from programming the Square Lake Festival that you think might translate to this new event, and what do you think makes the Stillwater area a good place for hosting outdoor music festivals?
Three things come to mind.
The Square Lake Festival has maintained its focus: music, film, community. Mission/vision make or break events, and I’ve learned that to do a few things well instead of getting spread too thin is what makes events thrive.
Organizing the Square Lake Festival has taught me that our state, especially the metro area, has some of the most dedicated music fans in the world. They’ll ride a bike 80 miles round trip for the Square Lake Festival, so I know they’ll do the same for an event in Stillwater.
I try to organize music events that incorporate multiple genres of music. There should be a chemistry within a musical line up. Presenting a wide spectrum of music is a way to show respect to the attendees, even if they’re not self proclaimed music fans. Attendees tell us that we do this well with the Square Lake Festival, and there is an opportunity for that to happen with Lumberjack Days.
Stillwater really is an incredible location for hosting outdoor music. Stillwater has the river and history…age old muses to the arts. The nearby Metro Area, the scenic river valley, the numerous picturesque parks, the historic town and the numerous restaurants/bars in the downtown area all add up to a great setting for a festival. Stillwater is often listed as one of the most scenic towns in America. I grew up there and I agree. I see the parks as being very conducive to different performance stages.
Anything else we should know to get excited about Stillwater Log Jam next year?
Mark your calendars for July 18-20 and stay tuned for updates about our musical line up.