Jan. 22, 2003 – Government officials are scrambling to come up with the $25,000 that was appropriated by the Legislature last year to fund a blues festival on St. Croix.
But amid recently publicized uncertainty about the government's financial state, whether the show — scheduled for Feb. 11 in Frederiksted — will go on is up in the air.
"They're trying their best," Sen. Emmett Hansen II said of administration officials Wednesday night, shortly after leaving a meeting with Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills. "They're trying to find an account to take the money out of."
Hansen said he hopes the funding source will be identified and ready to move out of the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing Tuesday on St. Thomas.
The appropriation was part of a "Christmas tree" bill put together in the Senate last summer. The plans call for the festival to coincide with the arrival of the "Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise" aboard the cruise ship Melody. The ship will visit Frederiksted on Feb. 11, and festival promoters say the on-shore events could provide the town a much-needed economic infusion.
A provision of the Senate bill which the governor line-item vetoed was that the money for the blues fest be paid within three weeks of the bill's passage. Our Town Frederiksted is in charge of organizing the festival, which is estimated to cost $35,000, according to St. Croix resident Charlie Campbell, who has organized previous cruise ship-connected blues festivals on the island and was hired by Our Town Frederiksted to put together the musical talent for this one.
Campbell has been adamant that he will not sign any acts until the funding comes through.
The seven-day cruise, out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which will feature some 40 on-board performances, has just three ports of call scheduled — at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic on Feb. 9, at St. Croix "with added attractions" on Feb. 11 and at Tortola on Feb. 12. Headliners include Taj Mahal, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tyrone Davis and Saffire — Those Uppity Blueswomen, Otis Clay and Shemekia Copeland.
Plans call for three acts touring with the ship to give performances in Frederiksted that would be free to the Melody's approximately 1,500 passengers and crew as part of their blues cruise.
In a release distributed Wednesday, Sen. Ronald Russell said the "imminent cancellation" of the blues festival would be a "travesty to the people of St. Croix."
He said the influx of passengers and crew from the Melody will bring much-needed relief to vendors and business people. But without a festival, "there will be no entertainment in place for them or our local people to enjoy." He added: "There is no question that St. Croix needs the positive exposure" that the event is intended to bring.
Hansen said he is hopeful the festival will still happen. "It's not that they don't want it to happen," he said of the budget officials. "We'll try and move the money as early as next Tuesday and get it to a vote."
According to Hansen, the Legislature in 2000 appropriated some $650,000 to revive the twice-held St. Croix Jazz and Caribbean Music and Art Festival and rename it the St. Croix Music Festival. But Hansen, who sponsored the legislation, said none of that money was ever allotted.
The 24th Legislature in its final session on Dec. 23, passed another Christmas-tree bill that included an amendment calling for Feb. 11, 2003, to be observed as "Legendary Rhythm and Blues Fest Day" and stating that the governor "may grant administrative leave to non-essential government employees to participate in the festival activities."
The same bill also appropriated $300,000 to "Virgin Islands Music Festival LLC" for an event scheduled for next July 11-13 on St. Thomas. The governor approved this appropriation; he vetoed "a portion" of the rhythm and blues fest measure but did not outline what, specifically, in information released to the public.

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