For 30 years, downtown Dunedin merchants have put on a hugely popular event called Dunedin Wines the Blues. It has brought some renowned blues artists such as Selwyn Birchwood and typically featured a range of wines to try. All of it was held along Main Street in Pioneer Park with free admission.
But the last few years it has struggled under its own weight for organizers. Fans were stunned by an announcement last week that the event was going to be canceled this year while organizers worked to regroup.
Thanks to a passionate band of fans and a local Facebook page, that decision was reversed within a few days. The blues music will be playing and wine will be flowing on Nov. 11 in Pioneer Park.
The first Dunedin Wines the Blues took place in November 1992 with the idea of promoting the downtown area and its merchants. The all-volunteer effort drew thousands and grew from one stage to four. The pandemic caused the event to be canceled in 2020, and organizers struggled the past two years.
But it was still a big surprise last week when the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association announced it “did not feel it could put on an event fitting the name of Dunedin Wines the Blues that we have all grown to love and expect.”
Longtime fans were shocked that they didn’t see this coming, said Alan Veach, a fan of the event who created a Facebook page in February called Eye on Dunedin that’s his way of promoting his town. He doesn’t monetize it, he just likes to spread the word about his quirky home and promote local businesses.
News of the cancellation created an uproar, Veach said, with his followers peppering the city and the merchants association with pleas to save it. A hastily called meeting on Wednesday brought out city officials and a crowd that promised to support the event and organizers. So four days after announcing the cancellation, the merchants association reversed themselves.
“It really was touching to see this outpouring of support,” Veach said. He also thought it was smart of them to go back to hiring AMG Group Music Events to run the event, as it had done for almost 15 years before the pandemic.
The merchants association announced the change on its Facebook page, saying “the event has been saved.”
“This year’s event will take us back to our grassroots, a community-driven effort that reminisces the early days,” the association posted.
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Details are still being hammered out, but organizers said they are leaning toward just one stage instead of four to keep it manageable. And the wine experience will be upped to three different wine tastings starting at $35.
Admission to the event itself is free, with a lineup of blues musicians, a variety of food vendors and arts and crafts booths.
AMG has set up a website and said they will continue to add information and sell tickets at dunedinwinestheblues.com. A new addition to the site is a button for a Dunedin Wines and Blues Friend, where a $20 donation will help offset the cost of the event that the merchants have been bearing.
Isaac Wasilefsky, president of the merchants association and owner of Chelsea’s Cashew Creamery, a plant-based frozen dessert store in downtown Dunedin, said the news was a reminder of why events like this got started in the first place.
“Sometimes things just go on because of tradition and you lose sight of why these events were put on,” he said. “This was about merchants coming together to get people to come visit our city and it brought people together, and that’s why it was successful.”