West Virginia Strawberry Festival Board President Shane Jenkins speaks during a Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur meeting. (Photo by Monica Zalaznik / My Buckhannon)

Strawberry Festival’s sweet comeback includes 600% entertainment budget boost for 2024

BUCKHANNON – Prepare for a Mardi Gras-themed extravaganza like no other. The West Virginia Strawberry Festival has increased its entertainment budget by 600 percent for the 2024 event, which will feature international marching bands, breakthrough country artist Ashley Cooke and a grand feature parade that’s set to be 25 percent larger than before.

Strawberry Festival board president Shane Jenkins attended the April 2 Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur meeting to highlight the plethora of entertainment options for the 82nd festival and reflect on trials they have gone through since the COVID pandemic forced the board to postpone the event in 2020.

“COVID was a big hit on us; it was not easy when I first took over our organization,” Jenkins said.
“We had $9.76 in the bank.”

The board rallied to produce a modified festival in 2021 while maintaining COVID-19 protocols, but the slimmed-down version didn’t feel “quite right,” Jenkins said.

“Coming out of that year, our finances were starting to look a little better, and we were starting to get back on track with some relationships in the community,” Jenkins said. “We knew coming out of that year that we had to really hit it hard to start planning for an actual large-scale festival again. We started to improve relationships in the community with our sponsors, the city, with the county and with the state. Those people bailed us out big time, including our sponsors and the people who support us.”

In his third year as president, the board was finally able to produce the event they wanted, but there were still improvements to be made.

“Last year, you probably saw some fairly small improvements, and then this year, I’m sure you’ve already seen we were not holding back at all,” Jenkins said. “We’ve received huge support from the community and from our governmental organizations to make that happen, and we have our Mardi Gras theme to work with.”

The Strawberry Festival board has also partnered with the World Association of Marching Show Bands to attract international bands to participate in the festival’s parades and other proposed events, as outlined in a previous My Buckhannon article.

“We have increased our total production budget for this year compared to last year by 75 percent,” Jenkins said. “Specific increases include a 600 percent increase in budget for our entertainment, and that includes a professional-level stage and sound for a musical headliner. I’m sure you’ve seen Ashley Cooke will be that headliner. She’s a Nashville artist and had one of her songs reach the top 15 on the country billboards, so we’re really excited about her, as well as the Davidson Brothers coming in.”

The Grand Feature Parade will also see a 25 percent increase in its budget for the 2024 event.

“Each year, we really hyperfocus on something that we know we need to bring back to life a little bit, and this year, it has been our parades,” Jenkins said. “We put a lot more money into [the Grand Feature Parade], a lot more resources and time into making sure it is a better parade all around.”

The budget for all other parades has also been increased by 60 percent, and the board has increased the festival’s overall budget by nearly $100,000 compared to last year.

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