Festival gives boot to Wichita, heads to Lawrence

Lawrence has been chosen over Wichita for a western music festival that an area organizer said should attract 2,000 visitors to the city.

The Western Music Assn. has agreed to move its annual music festival and convention, slated for Nov. 18-21, to Lawrence from Wichita.

The event will include an awards ceremony for the organization's approximately 1,800 members and performances by about 150 musicians over the four-day period, said Rob Phillips, owner of the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass., who lobbied the group to move the event to Lawrence.

Performances will take place at the Eldridge Hotel and Liberty Hall, 642 Mass., Phillips said.

"It should be a real boon to the entire downtown area," he said. "I think it will really benefit the restaurants and the retail shops."

Phillips estimated 2,000 people would attend the festival. He said that was approximately how many people attended the Lawrence Cowboy Winter Gathering he and other area hotel managers sponsored last month at the Lawrence Holidome.

"This actually will be a much grander event," Phillips said.

The association's president, Victoria Ward, attended the Lawrence cowboy gathering the past two years and was impressed by its crowds, Phillips said.

Attempts to reach Ward on Thursday were unsuccessful. But she told the Wichita Eagle on Wednesday the decision to move the festival was made after last year's Wichita event drew only 250 people. At one point organizers had hoped for 10,000 people.

"I just can't in good conscience bring it back if it wasn't successful," Ward said. "From 10,000 to 250 is a big difference."

The association has committed to have the festival in Lawrence for only one year. In its 15-year existence it has been based in several cities.

Phillips said he was optimistic the organization would return to Lawrence if a strong crowd turned out for this year's event.

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