Rock Ledge ‘Fiddles’ hits financial high notes

       Exact numbers are not known yet, but it appears that the annual Fiddles, Vittles & Vino festival July 25 at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site had the most financial success of any in its six-year history.

The restored Orchard House and costumed docents Christine Nekl (foreground, tending the fire) and Christine Braun (left, making lace) add historical touches to Rock Ledge Ranch's Fiddles, Vittles & Vino July 25. At far left, the Stanleytones band (unseen) plays on the Showmobile stage, and the crowd enjoys the music and/or the food in the tents.
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       With rainless skies for the first time since 2007, ranch manager Andy Morris estimated that close to 1,000 people attended the six-hour event - a number that's been attained in the past, except that this year “they were virtually all paying customers.”
       That's especially good news for Rock Ledge this year, as its volunteer Living History Association (LHA) scrambles to raise money to keep the ranch open in 2011. The city owns the 230-acre facility at the southeast side of the Garden of the Gods, but as part of across-the-board 2010 budget cuts, City Council eliminated nearly all subsides to the ranch after March. Before July 25, the ranch was more than $51,000 short of its goal for 2011, according to LHA President Ron Wright.
       The best that Morris and Wright could do this week, when asked about finances, was to confirm that Fiddles brought in several thousand dollars, possibly into the five-digit range. “All the bills and total of the money will be taken care of prior to finding out the amount that will go into the Rock Ledge Foundation,” Wright said.
       The “vittles and vino” aspects of Fiddles each year are donated through a restaurant-chef consortium called Club 9, which partnered with the ranch to start the event in 2005. The ranch pays the bands to come and perform, although Morris said he believes they keep their fees as low as possible. “They appreciate what we're up against,” he said.
       Other costs include Rock Ledge tent rentals and set-up costs incurred by Club 9. Ranch volunteers help out with ticket-taking and cleanup.

On the stage behind the Orchard House, the Blue Canyon Boys entertain adults while children entertain themselves.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Festival attendees this year got to sample food from about 30 different restaurants or suppliers and wine or beer from about 20 liquor vendors and to hear music from four nationally known bluegrass bands (49 Special, the Blue Canyon Boys, the Stanleytones and Finders & Youngberg).
       During 49 Special's closing set, “we probably had 60 people dancing in front of the stage,” Morris said. “It ended up being really, really cool.”

Finders & Youngberg (from left, Aaron and Erin Youngberg and Mike Finders) were one of four bluegrass bands playing at Fiddles, Vittles & Vino at Rock Ledge Ranch July 25. Performing mostly original Finders tunes, the band had also played at the event in 2008, with the difference being that Mike's wife Amy was then part of the band. The group had been promoted as a foursome again this year, based on a website that hadn't been updated. Ranch manager Andy Morris said he only learned at the last moment, before announcing the band, that Mike and Amy had broken up and the group is now a trio.
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