The third annual Underwater Music Festival, which was expected to bring up to 10,000 boaters to the waters of South Puget Sound next Saturday, has become a victim of its own success.
But the good news, organizer Sean Hensley said, is that the festival will return in the summer of 2013.
Hensley said he had to cancel this year’s festival after being unable to raise about half of the approximately $27,000 he needed to put on the event, scheduled to be held Saturday, July 28 in the waters off Cutts, Kopachuck and Raft islands.
The event was first held in 2010 and attracted around 1,500 boaters, Hensley said. Last year it grew to more than 5,000 attendees and this year up to 10,000 were expected. With that came higher costs associated with Pierce County’s requirements for security, insurance and a $3,000 event permit, he said.
Hensley said he raised enough to cover the county’s requirements but fell short on the cash needed for a barge, sound equipment and to pay the bands scheduled to perform.
“The costs for law enforcement, safety and security, sanitation — all the stuff that comes with an event that large — is obviously growing,” he said.
The first Underwater Music Festival was organized by a group of college students and started as a backyard barbecue party, Hensley said. Then someone came up with the idea to have a band playing on the water, he said, and the event grew into an alcohol-fueled “mess.”
In 2011, Hensley, who owns music consulting and artist management company Setlist Music Solutions, offered to help organize the event and ended up taking it over. Last year’s festival, he said, had five bands playing on a 100 by 40-foot barge that faced the Sound so the music wouldn’t disturb people on land.
Attendees showed up from as far away as Portland. The event wrapped up at 6 p.m. and the barge was promptly towed away, Hensley said, to give boaters enough time to pack up and head home during before dark.
As far as he knows, Hensley said, there’s nothing like the Underwater Music Festival anywhere else in the country.
“There’s no other event that has multiple artists playing on the water and is family-friendly,” he said.
Hensley, who has a 4-year-old son, said he plans to keep the event family-friendly and will not take sponsorships from beer companies or others that don’t fit with that vision. The money raised for this year’s event will be used for next year’s festival, he said, and $500 of it will be donated to Crime Stoppers’ “Groove: Music for Youth” program, which provides musical instruments to underprivileged school kids.
Hensley plans to partner with the Northwest Marine Trade Association to lend the event credibility, and is optimistic that it will return next year and be a success.
“Every single sponsor has kept their money in the pot for next year,” he said. “There’s no question this event will stay around here. We just need to make sure from an organizational standpoint that we’re good with the local government.”