Sugar Festival Committee anticipates great changes

The Sugar Festival Committee elected a new chair and two new co-chairs. Pictured: Co-Chair Pam Kelley, Chair Bianca Ross, Co-Chair Al Perry.

The Sugar Festival Committee elected a new chair and two new co-chairs. Pictured: Co-Chair Pam Kelley, Chair Bianca Ross, Co-Chair Al Perry.

The Sugar Festival Committee underwent some major changes at their first regular meeting of the year held Tuesday, Aug. 4.

For the first time in several years, U.S. Sugar Corporation is increasing its presence in the festival that was borne as a celebration of its end of harvest. U.S. Sugar will be pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the festival and positioned more manpower on the festival committee.

U.S. Sugar’s goal is bring around 30,000 people to this year’s festival, a nearly three-fold increase from years’ past.
On Tuesday night, the committee reorganized, creating new positions and appointing new people to serve on the board.

Several members stepped down last year, including former city manager Steven McKown, his wife Amy McKown and Betty Godsey.

Mr. McKown had served as accountant for the committee, Mrs. McKown had served as the chair of the advertising and marketing subcommittee, and Betty Godsey served as treasurer.

In a motion approved by the board, Bianca Ross will now serve as chairperson of the entire committee. Ross is a newly hired employee of U.S. Sugar and serves as the director of community relations. City Manager Al Perry and former chairperson Pam Kelley will serve as co-chairs; Naomi Gilde will serve as secretary; Chief Financial Officer for U.S. Sugar Elaine Wood will serve as treasurer, with First Bank employee Belinda Smith serving as assistant treasurer.

The board also appointed new chairs to eight of its nine subcommittees:
• Main Stage Committee – Pam Kelley
• Food booths – Barbara Edmonds
• Information/Arts and Crafts – Liz Shaw
• Sports tournaments – Lance Ramer
• Miss Sugar Pageants – Pam Kelley
• Logistics – Electa Waddell
• Law Enforcement – Chief Don Gutshall and Sheriff Steve Whidden
• Advertising and Marketing – Hillary Hyslope

The position of chair for the Sweet Taste of Sugar subcommittee remains open.

In another bold move, the board voted to move the date of the Sugar Festival up nearly one month, with the main events now scheduled for March 19. Ross explained that the new date would mean cooler weather, a chance for less rain, and more winter residents still in town to enjoy the festival. She also said U.S. Sugar does not have a problem moving the festival event up one month, since its harvest season now runs through April, May or even June.

Apart from the new festival date, Kelley announced she plans to add more age categories to the Miss Sugar Pageant and aims to include elementary aged kids up to age 19. The pageants are tentatively scheduled for the weekend of March 5, the same weekend as Chalo Nitka.

Board members also discussed the entertainment acts they hope to snag for this year’s event.

With an entertainment budget of $150,000, thanks to the generous contributions of U.S. Sugar, the board is looking to hire one of three main country acts: Eric Paslay, known for his songs “She Don’t Love You,” “Song About a Girl” and “Friday Night”; Chase Bryant, known for his song “Take It on Back”; and Randy Houser, known for his songs “Like a Cowboy,” “How Country Feels” and “Boots On.”

The board also addressed an element that was deeply missed at last year’s festival: the car club.

For years, dozens of classic cars drove the necessary miles to Clewiston for festival goers to admire and covet. Due to a drop in membership, the car club could no longer justify the $2,000 fee the Sugar Festival Committee was charging it to participate.

On Tuesday, Kelley made a motion to waive that fee this year.

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