We’re encouraged that there’s an organized effort to try to make up for the loss of Country Stampede. We’d encourage participants to think hard about a couple of principles. Back to that in a minute.
The Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau has organized a task force to address the issue. The problem is pretty simple: Country Stampede departed for Topeka. With it went about $8 million in economic impact to our area from the tens of thousands of visitors who came here for the event.
There were a couple of great aspects of Stampede: First, it was during the summer, when K-State is more or less dormant and therefore our area is pretty slow.
Second — and this is what we’d encourage people to think hard about — it tapped into and reinforced a very strong subculture.
Stampede became its own world, populated by fans of country music and what we’d call the country-music-festival lifestyle. People spoke the same language; they wore the clothes. They went there year after year to see each other in a sort of ritual.
Manhattan fit that subculture reasonably well, being the home of the ag school in a Midwestern state. As a college town, we’re also used to hosting blowout parties, or at least putting up with them.
It’s important for everyone to realize that that is now over. We take Stampede officials at their word that the economics of putting on a festival of that sort had become economically unsustainable here, due to the cost of bringing in headlining acts compared to the market for tickets.
So…what? What’s next? That’s the first question, as posed by CVB director Karen Hibbard. And these are the key questions: What works? What fits?
We’re not in a position to pass judgment. The point should be to bring lots of visitors here at a time when we can accommodate them. Should that be a music event? Not necessarily. Should it be sports-related? Should it connect to the educational mission of K-State? Should it make use of the river, or the lake? Maybe it should be YouTubers, or Harry Potter re-enactors, or Instagram influencers. We don’t know; we would just encourage broad thinking.
The key to sustainable big numbers, as Stampede and K-State football Saturdays demonstrate, is to tap into an emerging subculture. We want people to want to come here to connect with each other, in a way that becomes part of their identity, part of their regular lives.
That’s not easy, and it’s likely that what will work will emerge from the free market, outside of a conference room at the Chamber of Commerce. But thinking seriously about this is a great place to start, and we’re glad the committee is taking on the task.