For 14 years, Campbell County residents and visitors would bring their beach chairs and picnics onto the Gillette College lawn in late June, sit back and enjoy the sounds of soothing jazz or toe-tapping rock or folk music.
That won’t happen this year.
The Donkey Creek Festival Committee has announced it has canceled the event that was to be June 26-27 because of COVID-19 and the uncertainty about federal and state social distancing guidelines.
It was a heart-wrenching decision. The committee thought that having the festival would be a good opportunity for the “community to come out of hiding,” said Donkey Creek Festival Committee Chairman Doug McGee.
Because the festival is a family friendly event, going forward with so much uncertainty would not have been the responsible thing to do, he said.
Instead, the committee said the focus already is on next year’s event as it could not reschedule for later in the year because performers have their schedules booked months in advance.
The decision to cancel the Donkey Creek Festival is a disappointment for local musicians like Natives of Nowhere drummer Bridger Love.
“As one of the few local bands out of Gillette, we are kinda bummed out about the cancellation because, as you might already know, Gillette is not a booming artistic town,” Love said. “Yes, we have great art programs at the educational level, but past that we don’t have much.
“Donkey Creek is the only well-advertised music festival Gillette has to offer and it’s really the only time we can share what we love to do with the general public that may not have heard of us.”
The event has been a Gillette summer staple since 2006. The first concert included only one band and an audience of about 50 people. A few years later, it had grown into a three-day festival featuring music that included nationally known musicians.
“I enjoy it just because I love live music,” said Steve Oakley, Campbell County High School band director and head of the annual Rock Band Camp. “I’m really disappointed (about the decision), but I understand why. It’s just with all these summer things, I canceled my Rock Band Camp. It’s going to be a different summer.
“It will be different, but better safe than sorry.”
Among the local participants at last year’s Donkey Creek Festival were students from the Rock Band Camp, which attempts to inspire young musicians to continue their pursuit of music and dreams of forming their own bands.
“It’s a chance for them to play at something super cool,” Oakley said. “There’s a great audience there. It’s a chance for these kids to go out and have a ball and experience what it’s like to be a professional musician.”
He said students are disappointed, but not surprised by the cancellation.
“They kind of expected it too,” Oakley said. “There’s a lot of people who are stilling holding on and hoping (virus shutdowns) don’t last that long.”
Was the Donkey Creek Festival Committee’s decision to cancel two months before the event too premature?
“It can go either way,” Oakley said. “It feels like it’s too early, but when you think about the bands that travel in, people need time to fit (the festival) into their schedules and make travel arraignments.
“I don’t think it’s too crazy early, but being a local and waiting (for the event), it feels like it’s super early. Overall, they are making the right decision. It’s better safe than sorry.”