The festival must go on!

- Fringe event planned for next year, despite 'suspension' by council.

- First signs of local division and dissent over plans for 2005.

- Warnings sounded against influx of 'pop' bands to replace festival events.

- EDDC say they are 'totally committed' to the festival but warn 'financial issues are at the heart of its future'

- Folk South West express concern for the festival's long term artistic integrity.

Folk lovers have pledged to keep Sidmouth International Festival alive for 2005.

Bill Lankester, president of the 'Friends of the Festival', assured the town: "whatever happens people will come next year. it would be a disaster if nothing was arranged."

He agreed with Eddie Upton, director of Folk South West, that it will take the form of a fringe festival, but says he has been inundated with calls from those organising and taking part this year indicating their determination to keep it going. As well as hearing that 350 dancers were willing to return to perform next year, Bill understands the choir festival leader Sandra Kerr is keen to carry on as well as others such as Middle Bar Singers.

"There may be 2,000 people coming next year, and we will do what we can to make their week memorable." Street collections made 2,304 this year - it will he used to further the musical or dance education of Sidmouth's younger residents. "We had a fabulous week - it was the best festival ever," said Mr Upton.

Stuart Hughes runs Caribbean Night, which follows on from the festival week. He has announced he wants a week of shows and concerts next year. He said: "There is no way Caribbean Night could take place if we had to bring in the equipment for one night." Mr Hughes has already approached East Devon District Council to book the venue and agreed it was important the festival had continuity.

Mr Hughes insists he does not want to 'hijack' anything that might happen in the future but feels interested parties in the town should 'take ownership of the event'.

He said "Looking at a way forward I understand there will be a lot of other events happening in Sidmouth. If we all pull together, I think it could be a very good festival here in Sidmouth that is locally run" Names such as Jethro Tull, The Strawbs Kieran Halpin from Ireland and Chas and Dave could appear in Sidmouth, he added.

Mr Lankester said he commended Mr Hughes for his plans, but added a note of caution. "If he wants to run concerts up there which aren't folk it will not help the festival at all. If there are any pop concerts, festival people will not come to anything like that. "We have got to work together If EDDC says Stuart can have the Arena, there could be other people trying to do something as well."

The official line from EDDC is to suspend the festival next year and "bring it back with a bang in 2006". A one-day conference in the autumn would harness support offered and there are plans to set up a voluntary trust involving interested parties to secure a "sustainable festival for the benefit of generations to come"

Councillor Andrew Moulding said after Friday's meeting: 'We are determined to ensure that the festival we put on is the kind of festival that everyone wants and not something that is a mere shadow of the extensive and eclectic festival that everyone knows and loves." He said EDDC was "totally committed" to the festival but wanted to allow time to consult with other parties over the new structure and get their support.

"Obviously the financial issues are at the heart of the festival's future, and this will form a crucial element of our discussions." Mr Upton said Folk South West covered too large a region to consider organising the festival, but said: "It is a massively important event, so we are concerned about its well-being and we are concerned about its artistic integrity in the long run. "I think the festival does have a big impact on the town and I do think that many of the traders benefit from the festival being here, but I think it has an impact on the local economy in a much bigger way. Inevitably there will be changes, but I do understand that other towns see all this activity in Sidmouth and think 'why can't we have some?'

"Well, perhaps there is the opportunity here for the visiting overseas teams to go out to towns like Exmouth, Axminster or Honiton so other towns could benefit. Speaking about the annoyance of residents over the number of street traders on the Esplanade, Mr Upton said: "Some of the trading on the Esplanade is just as upsetting to us who come to the festival as it is to local people".

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