At age 39, KIOTAC over too soon

Once was mocked, now is lost: Editor Carolyn Grant reflects on the community's loss of KIOTAC.

Editor Carolyn Grant reflects on the loss of KIOTAC.

Editor Carolyn Grant reflects on the loss of KIOTAC.

Say it ain’t so. We complained about it. We made jokes about it.

Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?

A. To get away from the accordion recital.

Q. What is the best thing to play on an accordion?

A. A flame thrower.

Q. What’s the difference between an accordion and a trampoline?

A. You should take your shoes off before jumping on a trampoline.

Q. What’s the difference between an accordion and an onion?

A. People cry when you chop up an onion.

Yup, we mocked, but secretly, we loved. We loved the smiling faces in the Platzl. We loved watching people dance outdoors. We loved seeing the Platzl jammed with people every day. I think we even loved the campers everywhere in Kimberley, just because it was such a unique KIOTAC experience.

And I don’t think anyone in Kimberley ever thought there would be a day when we didn’t hear accordion music rolling out of the Platzl in July.

But the sad truth is that it’s over. No more KIOTAC. The Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Championships Committee has announced that there will not be a KIOTAC in July 2013. There will not be a KIOTAC again.

No matter what you feel about accordion music, that’s a loss. A big one. Perhaps KIOTAC attendees didn’t spend in the same manner as those who attend JulyFest, but they did spend. They left money in Kimberley every year. They filled hotel rooms and the campground. They bought groceries and ate at local restaurants. 

I’ve been covering KIOTAC for quite some time and I’d reached the point where I recognized a lot of faces. I’ve actually watched a few of the KIOTAC youngsters, like Michael Bridge and Alicia Baker, grow up in front of me. I’d see the same couples dancing in the Platzl; the same competitors at the arena, year after year. 

And I saw the same volunteers year after year, at the arena, night and day for the full week. KIOTAC had one of the most dedicated, hard working volunteer bases of any festival anywhere. They cooked, they served, they sold beer, ran concessions, sold tickets, helped clean up, set up and tear down the stage in the arena. They returned year after year.

And leading them all was the queen of KIOTAC, Jeany Irvin. Jeany ran KIOTAC with all the skill of a military leader. She knew every detail, handled every complaint, spent the entire week in the Civic Centre running the competition, and dressed in a dirndl to hand out the Happy Hans trophy each year. She ran her team of volunteers and obviously inspired great loyalty as so many of them served for so long. Also not to be forgotten is Bill Baerg, who began it all and paid all the deficits for the first five years while the festival was getting on its feet. Jim Sims put up the first $1,000 prize. Shirley Rossi baked countless pans of iced butter horns for 10 years and countless others contributed. Total volunteer hours over 39 years are estimated at an astounding 100,000 hours.

There had been rumours each year that perhaps the festival was dying out. Were there as many people as the year before? Were there as many RV’s in town? In the past few years, the answer sadly, has been no. There were fewer people, though attendance was still very high.

But I don’t think anyone thought it would be gone so quickly. 2013 would have been KIOTAC’s 40th anniversary. Instead it will end at 39. Increased costs, economic uncertainty, and perhaps even volunteer fatigue has led to its demise.

It is perhaps food for thought how much a successful festival means to a municipality. KIOTAC brought a lot of attention to Kimberley, and a big boost to its economy every summer. Now it’s gone and it is very unlikely that any other festival could replace it in terms of size and success.

But we do still have other events that need volunteers, the biggest of course being JulyFest. All of these festivals contribute to the local economy. All of them run on volunteers. All of them would be missed if they folded.

Just like I, and Kimberley, are going to miss KIOTAC.