Sturgis Canada goes out of Merritt with a whimper

Event closes early: Some local businesses still have outstanding debts from the first 2011 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Salmon Arm. - Observer file photo
Event closes early: Some local businesses still have outstanding debts from the first 2011 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Salmon Arm.
— image credit: Observer file photo

By Dale Bass,
Kamloops This Week

In the opinion of the man charged with booking the bands, many problems led to an abrupt early end to the Sturgis Music Festival in Merritt last weekend.

Keith Sharp, a Toronto-based talent manager and booking agent, said issues included a disagreement with the sound and lighting provider, RCMP roadblocks and motorcycle seizures, two days of rain and “just bad planning.”

However, Merritt RCMP are calling into question some of the claims.

Sharp said starting the festival on Thursday, Aug. 21, was a mistake that was compounded by a storm that hit the area. Another storm on Friday, Aug. 22, affected the number of walk-up festival-goers, even though the showers stopped by early evening.

The third day of the festival — Saturday, Aug. 23 — was good, Sharp said, with a crowd he estimated at about 5,000 in the field outside Merritt for the evening’s headliner, Burton Cummings.

Sunday’s lineup, however, did not take the stage, Sharp said.

“In a nutshell, he ran out of money,” Sharp said of organizer Ray Sasseville.

Each band scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 24, kept its deposit, an amount Sharp described as about half what they had agreed to be paid.

He said he can confirm other bands were paid “because I was walking around with envelopes of cash to give to them before they went on stage.”

Sharp criticized the City of Merritt, saying it had worked with the RCMP to set up roadblocks and seize bikes that violated the city’s noise bylaw.

“Fifty bikes were impounded, so that was 50 bikers who were unhappy and telling others about it, so that was a problem,” Sharp said.

The many roadblocks were also a deterrent, he said, claiming Cummings was stopped three times as he tried to get to the venue.

Merritt RCMP Sgt. Sheila White, however, said no motorcycles were seized during the festival.

She took issue with Sharp’s contention Cummings was stopped three times, explaining he was stopped once on his way to the festival.

White said there were only a few violations over the course of the weekend. Tickets were issued for having an improper helmet and for having an improper driver’s licence.

During the festival, White said, police responded to four calls at the site of the music festival and two arrests were made for being drunk in public.

White said police responded to “a consensual fight” between a member of the Hell’s Angels and a member of another motorcycle club on Saturday night during Cummings’ concert.

City of Merritt chief administrative officer Allan Chabot said he hasn’t received word from Sturgis Canada as to whether the event will return to Merritt.

Chabot pointed out, however, the venue is not in the city, but part of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and all Merritt can do is support any event that might use the site.

Chabot said he has heard through other media sources it has been suggested the Merritt RCMP had too many roadblocks at the festival, which caused too many problems, something with which Chabot disagrees.

“I think some accusations have been made and, certainly that’s of a concern to us, particularly if they’re not accurate,” Chabot said.

On the Sturgis Canada Rally Facebook page, Sturgis Canada Rally stated the police “were a huge issue.”

This is not the first time Sasseville has had difficulty with the festival.

Sturgis festivals in Salmon Arm in 2011 and Vernon in 2012 also had financial issues.

A 2013 event planned for Chase and, later, Merritt, was cancelled.

Lawsuits resulted from the earlier events, with Sasseville launching action earlier this year against the District of Sicamous, the Sicamous Chamber of Commerce, musician and promoter Bernie Aubin and several other people.

Earlier this year, Sasseville and business partner Joan Hansen started a process to drop the suit against six of the seven defendants, but their lawyer was suspended by the Law Society of British Columbia, throwing the situation into what one Salmon Arm lawyer called “crazily complicated.”

In 2012, the Spallumcheen Motoplex Speedway and Event Park near Vernon, where that year’s event has been planned, sued Sturgis North Encore Productions for $400,000.

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