Appointed two years ago as board president of the Sertoma Youth Ranch, Mitch Lind knew some drastic changes were needed at the annual bluegrass festivals held at the ranch. Attendance was lagging, and the events were not earning much revenue for the nonprofit facility. Lind thought he knew why.
"I think people who had been going there for so long just got tired of hearing the same stuff over and over again," he said. "It wasn't that the music was bad. I just think the people who were buying tickets were looking for something different, something a little fresher."
Lind, who also promotes two of his own music festivals at Sertoma each year — Riverhawk and String Break — decided it was time to up the ante.
He hired top-notch entertainment, including well-known bluegrass acts such as Claire Lynch, the Lonesome River Band and Alicia Nugent. In addition, he helped make the festivals more interactive and fan friendly by staging instrument workshops, after-hours band jams and organized activities for kids.
Lind admits that the changes brought him some flak. Old-timers, many of whom had attended the annual bluegrass events for decades, griped about not seeing their favorite performers. And upping the quality of the entertainment also meant higher ticket prices.
But Lind defended the move, saying that not reaching out to attract a broader fan base wasn't good for the storied venue.
"It's economics, pure and simple," Lind said. "We needed to boost our audience so that we could raise money for improvements to the park. That's why we promote the festivals."
In operation since 1974, the youth ranch is offered free of charge to Central Florida youth groups for camp-ins, retreats and nature getaways. But according to Lind, many of the facility's structures are in need of repair or replacement.
The bluegrass festivals, which are run by Sertoma volunteers, have traditionally paid for those improvements, as well as assisting people with hearing health issues.
Lind said he hopes that this weekend's festival, which includes the award-winning group the Gibson Brothers, plus the Roys, David Peterson and 1946, Town Mountain and others, will bring in enough revenue to allow the Sertomans to build a new community pavilion that can be used both for music and other activities.
"The great thing about the youth ranch is that it really belongs to everyone," Lind said. "A lot of people are counting on us to make sure it's always here for the community."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or at [email protected]