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Orchestra to play at Fourth Fest

Concert promoter Craig Samborski is banking on a future of family-friendly Fourth Fests to bring financial stability back to the troubled annual festival.

Concert promoter Craig Samborski is banking on a future of family-friendly Fourth Fests to bring financial stability back to the troubled annual festival.

So, for the second year in a row, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra will be the main attraction at the July 4 festival at Bayfront Festival Park.

Last year, Samborski brought in the orchestra to save the event after promoter Lou Campbell of Campbell Productions pulled out weeks before the event.

"We knew we wanted to do it, because it needed to get done," said Andrew Berryhill, executive director of the orchestra.

Although Berryhill said the organization received a gift from a private donor to defray some costs, members performed largely for free.

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He viewed the event last year as an investment in the future, which he said is beginning to pay off this Fourth Fest, since the performance begins at 8:15 p.m. on July 4.

"It was great to take that risk," Berryhill said.

This year the city is paying more than $17,000 for the orchestra's appearance.

Samborski, who also is the director for Bayfront Festival Park, said though there's a chance he'll rehire the orchestra in future years -- he's running the event through 2011. He may hire some other traveling band with an orchestra.

Samborski increasingly views Fourth Fest as an event for families. An orchestra playing patriotic music for free on Independence Day is an ideal way to draw that crowd, he said.

"For many years Fourth Fest was about rock bands and country music," Samborski said. "I felt like we were missing a big demographic."

While Parks and Recreation Director Carl Seehus said he loves the orchestra, and the idea of keeping the event family-oriented and free, he'd prefer a mix of orchestras and bands.

"I would not do it as a steady diet," he said of bringing in only an orchestra.

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Berryhill, meanwhile, hopes Fourth Fest becomes a permanent home for the orchestra.

"We would be thrilled to be invited on the Fourth of July in our home town for the next 75 years," he said.

Markand Thakar, the orchestra's music director, also said Duluth is an ideal location, because it's still sometimes cool on July 4.

"It says America. It says Duluth. What more Duluth experience could you have than the Duluth Orchestra having a concert with a flotilla of boats behind them?" Thakar said.

Thakar said this year's music should sound familiar, even though the selections differ from last year's.

"It will all be recognizable. And frankly, it will all be pretty darn stirring," Thakar said.

While it may be successful for the thousands who trek out, it still isn't likely to be profitable, Samborski said.

"It was always a loser. It was just how much of a loss it will be.

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"The orchestra is relatively expensive, but affordable for the Fourth of July," Samborski said.

When the Charlie Daniels Band came to town, for example, it cost $25,000, Samborski said. Today, the figure would be more than double that, he estimated.

So, instead of trying to make money on Fourth Fest, Samborski is banking on other concerts to raise cash.

Because of a dispute over the Bayfront Blues Festival, Samborski got a late start on planning and isn't getting proceeds from alcohol sales like he was counting on because of changes to his contract with the city. The dispute over the bluesfest nearly shifted the event outside the city.

To compensate for lost revenue, the city is paying an extra $50,000 just this year, in addition to Samborski's $48,500 contract for the 23 events he's scheduled this summer.

According to his budget, he's likely to land in the red by $3,007, since he's estimating that running Fourth Fest ultimately will cost him $64,207 this year.

He also plans to stick to a single-day event, instead of spreading it out over two or three days, to save cash.

The one-day festival in 2003 cost $55,000. The three-day festival a year later shot up to $255,000, but only two of three days were free.

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"In light of all the politics that happened and some of the sore spots, I see this as a rebuilding year. We're forging new relationships, and kind of rekindling old ones," Samborski said. "Bayfront, I think, has suffered enough politics. It's time that we move forward."

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