Out of money, the Belleayre Music Festival goes on hiatus in 2015

The Belleayre Music Festival, which has been held at Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in the Ulster County hamlet of Highmount for 23 summers, will not happen in 2015, said Mel Litoff, the festival's executive and artistic director. It will return after a one-year hiatus to celebrate its 25th season in 2016.

"We're not closing up shop. We just don’t have the funds to mount a season at the moment," Litoff said. "We just ran out. We need to go back to all our friends and if everybody gives us a little bit, we'll be fine." 

The decision not to hold a summer season was made at the last meeting of the festival's board, Litoff said. The board members examined the proceeds from the festival's Snowball fundraising event, held in January, and decided that they couldn't fund the festival's $700,000 budget this summer.

"We had a great Snowball, but we still weren’t able to get enough money in the bank," Litoff said.

Litoff said that the Belleayre Music Festival has been operating at a deficit for years, ever since the economic downturn of 2008 and the ravages of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

"The first 15 years of the festival, we were able to put a little money together each year," Litoff said. "We've used it all up."

Another factor in the decision was that the festival's contract with the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, is up for renewal this year, Litoff said.

The contract, which was originally negotiated when the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation operated the ski center, allowed the festival to use the ski mountain as a performance venue and provided in-kind services such as security and office space. The contract will hopefully be renegotiated with ORDA this year, Litoff said.  

A new structure to house the festival may be built at Belleayre, Litoff said. The structure would house ski center facilities in the winter and would become an amphitheater in the summer that could seat 1,250 people, double the number that can fit into the festival's current summer quarters.

Plans for that structure have been written into Belleayre Mountain Ski Center's unit management plan, which has yet to be finalized, Litoff said. 

During its year off, the Belleayre Music Festival's board will refill its war chest and reimagine the festival, which has traditionally featured an eclectic mix of summer shows that include an annual opera, big-name country music, blues, jazz and Broadway stars and non-musical acts like comedians (Colin Quinn came last year). 

A "vision committee" led by Rosina Montana is soliciting ideas for rebooting the festival, Litoff said. Send suggestions for the future of the festival to PO Box 198 in Highmount, NY. 

"If there are some people out there who really say this is a shame and 'We’d like to get involved,' we’d like them to make themselves known to us," Litoff said. "We're looking for new energy and ideas, and people. The board is open and inviting people of enthusiasm and interest and money, of course, to join in in this reimagining."