Funhouse Fest's return was a bigger, better affair

The second installment of Funhouse Fest was bigger than last year’s in every way, from the addition of a second stage to a more diverse lineup including hitmakers such as Sheryl Crow and Rhiannon Giddens.

The larger scale also translated to bigger crowds and increased revenue, according to a report by Virginia Arts Festival manager Scott Jackson.

“Obviously, we’re very excited about the healthy increase in attendance,” VAF director Rob Cross said. “We felt that it was a really great second year.”

Attendance rose more than 11 percent, attracting nearly 8,100 people during the course of the festival, which ran June 23-25. The percentage of festival goers from out of town also increased more than 20 percent, comprising more than half of the overall crowd. Virginians traveled from cities such as Richmond, Alexandria, Lexington, Virginia Beach and others.

Out-of-state attendees hailed mainly from North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania, with some from as far as California and a few from foreign countries including Australia. The economic impact from those out-of-towners is estimated at more than $578,000, including almost 1,900 rooms booked through area hotels.

Cross said the growth made sense, considering last year’s festival was the first.

“It was a brand new event. Nobody knew what to expect,” he said. “The success we had in our first year really laid the ground for year two.”

For year two, the number of food vendors increased from three to eight, including offerings from Two Drummers Offbeat Eats, Foodatude and Colonial Williamsburg. Beer and wine sales increased nearly 40 percent year-over-year; products from Alewerks, the Williamsburg Winery and others generated more than $61,000.

Partnerships and possibilities

The VAF also partnered with organizations including the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance and Colonial Williamsburg to help support and promote the event.

“Working with the Virginia Arts Festival, it’s a wonderful partnership,” said Bill Schermerhorn, creative director for Colonial Williamsburg events. “The whole weekend was a well-executed, wonderful experience. We certainly loved seeing the growth that the festival had.”

He said the weekend wasn’t really about Colonial Williamsburg, but he’s confident the attention generated will encourage people to return and explore more of what the historic area offers.

“Hopefully some of that appeal rubs off,” he said.

Schermerhorn credited the “outstanding lineup of talent” for the breadth of the festival’s appeal.

“It’s the music,” he said. “We’re not an overly large festival. There’s a little more personal connection between the performers and the audience.”

Overall revenue topped $686,000, up from last year’s $501,000. A VAF survey found that 98.6 percent of respondents said they would return for a follow-up and recommend the festival to friends.

A third Funhouse Fest has not yet been announced. Cross said he plans to discuss future possibilities with the city, the chamber and Colonial Williamsburg sometime after Labor Day. Schermerhorn expressed similar interest in moving forward next year.

“I think everybody wants to do it again,” Cross said.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette