News Column

Americana event off to a slow start Saturday in Old Sacramento

August 30, 2014

By Richard Chang, The Sacramento Bee

Aug. 30--Old Sacramento's "Americana" got off to a slow start Saturday, with early crowds representing only a fraction of the attendance on Gold Rush Days, the event it was meant to replace.

A few hundred people were seen strolling down Front Street, but the side streets were nearly deserted in the early afternoon. Billed as a four-day event featuring live music, educational activities and a car show, Americana was conceived by the Sacramento Visitors and Convention Bureau after the annual Gold Rush Days was canceled because of the drought. Americana started Friday night.

The Wild West festival, held since 2000, drew upward of 100,000 people when the city transformed the area into a historic town filled with performers and props by piling in 200 tons of dirt. But to recreate the 1850s atmosphere, 3,000 gallons of water was needed daily to keep the dust down, and another 100,000 gallons of water to wash the dirt away at the end. The cancellation caught the Sacramento City Council by surprise and drew the ire of the area's business owners.

On Saturday, several shop owners had harsh words for Americana.

"This is a nonevent," said Dennis Larson, owner of the Turtles sweets shop on Second Street. "They canceled Gold Rush Days and put this half-baked thing together."

Just before 1 p.m., Larson had only a handful of customers browsing the candy racks. He estimates that business would be down at least 50 percent compared with Gold Rush Days, reflecting the sentiment of other businesses interviewed.

Mike Testa, senior vice president at the visitors bureau, rebutted claims that Americana was poorly planned.

"This is not a halfway event. A lot of planning took place," he said. "It's not Gold Rush Days, but we've tried to give people reasons to come down to Old Sacramento."

Asked Saturday whether Americana was meeting his expectations, Testa said, "You need to look at it this way: what would be the traffic in Old Sacramento if there was nothing?"

Testa said the visitors bureau wouldn't have attendance numbers until Tuesday. He declined to provide an estimate Saturday, but said, "We didn't expect to have Gold Rush Day numbers out here, but there's an awful lot of people coming down to the program."

The antique cars and museum tours didn't impress Armando Tovar, however.

"It's nothing like Gold Rush Days," said Armando Tovar, a Cameron Park resident who attended with his wife, Reina, and son, Issac. "They could have done better."

Reina Tovar added, "why couldn't they use hay instead of dirt?"

The visitors bureau said earlier that the event wouldn't be safe without dirt because performers needed it as a cushion.

Several attendees interviewed on Saturday by The Sacramento Bee had not heard about the controversy surrounding the dueling Labor Day weekend events. Laura Ontiveros of Yuba City stopped by on the way to south Sacramento.

"We had no idea this was going on," said Ontiveros, standing on the wooden planked sidewalk.

Deanna and Don Stalker of Vacaville saw the event advertised on television Friday night and decided to show up. Don Stalker, who toured the railroad museum and lunched at Joe's Crab Shack, said he enjoyed Americana.

"It's a relaxing, laid back day of nothing," he said with a chuckle.



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Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)

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