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An annual Gillette music festival is on pause because of a lack of funds and board members

Donkey Creek Festival

The Donkey Creek Festival, an annual two-day free music festival held at Gillette College, has been suspended indefinitely due to a lack of funding and board volunteers. This comes after the city and county pulled their financial support due to a slowdown in the local economy. Private donations also helped to fund the annual festival, which was held each June.

“It was funded by the county and the city, and then private donations for all of its existence up until 2018, [when] the county stopped funding,” explained Elizabeth Albin, co-chair of the festival’s planning committee. “It was kind of the economic downturn and that was one of the things that had to be cut for budget’s sake and then the city stopped funding it in 2021. We were able to pull off the 2022 festival because we had money from the canceled festival in 2020 [due to the pandemic].”

The festival began approximately 17 years ago as the brainchild of a community member. It was initially launched as a jazz event before changing its focus into more of an all-around music focus. Before the funding was withdrawn, Campbell County had previously allocated amounts ranging from $5,000 and upwards of $10,000 to $15,000 at times while the city of Gillette contributed approximately $30,000. The event takes $45,000 at minimum to put on each year.

“It's just an opportunity for people to come out and kind of celebrate the end of winter and enjoy some sunshine,” she said.

Activities for kids, such as a bounce house, a beer garden, in addition to music acts and the vendors often attracted hundreds of attendees.

But despite the festival’s suspension, there’s hope that it can be revived for future years.

“We’re purposeful with our wording when we suspended it, so we said we suspended it indefinitely, we didn't say it canceled it, [or] it’s no longer here because we want to leave the door open for, if situations change, or more people become interested in stepping up and helping us plan it,” Albin explained. “We didn't want to say it's never going to happen, but we wanted to look at the future realistically and say it's not in the cards for this [next] year, at least. And so that's why we were careful with how we phrase it. So, we don't want to say never.”

A lack of board members also hampered efforts. The festival’s board has positions for nine members, though there were only four when it was suspended. Albin said that all board members were volunteers and had full-time jobs and family commitments in addition to their board work. But she added that the festival was a popular community event, and its suspension doesn’t reflect on dwindling attendance or a lack of business or community relationships.

“People love it, people have nothing but positive interactions with everybody,” she reiterated. “We've had great support from businesses and community members for years and years and this is not a reflection on the community. It's just kind of where we're sitting right now and hopefully, it'll come back in the future, and we'll look forward to that if it does.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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