What started out as a Canada 150 celebration for the City of Timmins, ON has turned into a ground-breaking success for a small northern town with an economy hewed from lumber and natural resources, and made famous by a young resident who changed her name to Shania Twain.
Earlier this year (June 24 through July 1) the city teamed up with western- event promoter Ron Sakamoto and gambled on a super-sized spectacle dubbed Stars & Thunder Festival, budgeted in the region of $4-million, to put on eight-day events calendar the likes of which no northern town had ever seen before.
The headliners included Keith Urban, Johnny Reid, Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Hedley–plus a series of Olympics-worthy firework displays. The events attracted over 100,000 people to a city half the size, pumped millions into the local economy and almost came in on budget.
It also put Timmins on the map, figuratively speaking.
City council has backed a 2018 edition of Stars & Thunder Festival, and within 48 hours of the announcement this week, the social media shares were through the roof in the tens of thousands.
Ron Sakamoto’s Gold & Gold Productions is back as the music producer of the 2018 events; and he is mighty proud of what has been accomplished in bringing the best of the best to a city that by car is hours north of Algonquin Park, more than 200 miles north of Sudbury, 400 miles from Toronto and Ottawa, and 848 miles from Montreal.
In a phone interview, Sakamoto shares that last year’s events attracted audiences from 10 provinces, five states and four countries.
He candidly admits that the star-studded line-up was a big draw, but the Olympic-sized firework displays were also a complementary draw and spectacular events by themselves.
But, he acknowledges, the logistics in organizing and staging an eight-day festival with top-draw headliners is no small feat given the distances performers are required to travel. There's also the fact that the lack of local infrastructure needed to power, rig, stage, house and feed the crews, acts, security and attendant other services necessary to run an eight-day festival so far from a major urban centre requires careful planning.
But that’s Sakamoto for you. He's an organizer and loves a challenge.
With over 60 years experience in booking, producing and touring acts in Canada, he’s also been a ground-breaking impresario who persuaded Alan Jackson, Elton John and others to play in small Canadian markets. In effect, opening up new circuits for headliners, and bringing attractions to map markers where, before, fans in small cities faced long drives and overnight accommodations.
With the backing of Timmins’ Mayor Black, Sakamoto is combining his pride of homeland with a canny sense for turning a dollar.
The 2018 edition has a platinum-plus line-up of headliners, all but one of whom is homegrown.
For him, this is a proud moment; but he’s also nobody’s fool when it comes to budgeting for success.
With the Canadian dollar below par with the US dollar, he sees every reason to book Canadian.
“Look at it this way; I’m not 30-percent down before I open the doors because of the exchange rate.” Rhetorically speaking, he adds, “Who in their right mind opens a business up and is down 30-percent before they open the doors!”
Continuing, he enthuses: “It’s only its second year for Stars & Thunder, but it was such a great success last year–and it’s a privilege to be involved in something of this stature. I mean, an eight-day festival in Timmins—with world-class firework displays and all these headlining stars!”
And what a line-up he has pulled together, almost all of whom have never played this far north, let alone in Timmins.
Among them are Bryan Adams, Burton Cummings & band, Blue Rodeo, Gord Bamford, Paul Brandt, Our Lady Peace, Arkells, Marianas Trench, Roch Voisine, 54.40, and Alan Doyle. The one non-Canadian act named so far is the summer crowd-pleasing Beach Boys featuring Mike Love and Bruce Johnson.
Sakamoto tells that the line-up of 27 acts confirmed "isn’t the final list" and that there are a few more additions TBA. “We are getting more artists, but we wanted to get it on sale for the Christmas buyers.”
As for the event passes, he rightly describes the “prices are so low it’s ridiculous.”
Getting the acts this time round to play Timmins was a breeze, and where getting sponsors year-one was challenging to say the least, "for 2018 we are getting tons, like (presenting sponsor) Goldcorp Porcupine Gold Mines. All of a sudden, we’re getting called. I’m hoping to get a million-dollars-plus (this time) because of 2017's success." To emphasize the point, he notes that 2018 has 26 sponsors signed for the Timmins International Fireworks Competition "and others are coming in.”
Advance ticket prices are $275 for an eight-day general admission, $450 for the VIP package, and individual passes for six of the eight days set at $80.