UPDATED: Pirate Fest Cancelled, Grafton Blues Association Holds Family-Focused Event in its Place

Port Washington Pirate Festival is cancelled this year after issues between the event organizer and city officials could not be resolved, and Port is now working with the Grafton Blues Association for a family-friendly event to replace it.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify details about the new festival planned for June.

Port Washington Pirate Festival is cancelled this year after issues between the event organizer and city officials could not be resolved, and Port is now working with the Grafton Blues Association for a family-friendly event to replace it.

A Facebook post announcing the cancellation of the event went up shortly after noon on Tuesday, reading:

"Cancelled. Dear Friends of the Pirate Festival please make plans to invade another port June 7, 8 & 9th, 2013, you are not wanted in Port Washington. More information to follow including auctioning off Pirate Festival treasures. We are so sorry to pass along the bad news. Hopefully in the future we can find a port where we and our money are welcome. Please keep posted."

City Administrator Mark Grams said that organizer Kimberly McCulloch continually failed to meet requests from the city for certain procedures to be followed in coordinating the fest.

"There were some obligations (organizer Kimberly McCulloch) had to meet for the city to consider holding Pirate Fest this year," he said. "We just can't deal with an individual that won't meet the requirements to have a festival."

A rocky relationship from the start

Port Washington Pirate Festival hit rocky waters earlier this year as McCulloch and city officials clashed about the event's structure and reputation. The festival had outstanding bills owed to vendors, and the city was upset by the number of calls it's received from those parties hoping to be paid; many people don't understand the city isn't actually in charge of the event.

The city had also previously requested the names and contact information for others involved in the process so that they could all be on the same page; they said McCulloch did not provide this information by the date they requested.

McCulloch told Patch on Tuesday that payments are being made to vendors who still have outstanding bills, and that a lawsuit against the organization has been resolved; she also said the requests for information were unfair.

"What they were asking for was almost our 13 spices for the recipe," McCulloch told Patch on Tuesday, explaining that providing contact information for all of the vendors and entertainers and other aspects of the festival would essentially be turning over a business plan to new owners.

Ald. Douglass Biggs pointed out that the city did not take any action to cancel the fest, but rather none of the licenses need for the event were submitted for city approval. McCulloch told Patch she tried to turn in the license applications during a meeting with Grams and Mayor Tom Mlada, but that the two officials refused to take it. Mlada called this statement absolutely false.

"The first is the factual side of things — her arguing that she tried to turn in paperwork in febraury is not accurate at all," Mlada said, adding that this is a minor detail compared to inability by McCulloch to work with the city and fulfill its requests.

McCulloch told Patch on Tuesday night that she is disappointed that the she and city officials couldn't find a way to have a more positive relationship.

"Once we saw the welcome that they gave the (Grafton Blues Association) — we would have loved that," she said. "Seeing how cordially they were treated ... we were behing the 8-ball from day one."

New fest organizers make family-friendly promise

"We just want to thank you really for making us feel so welcome," Kris Raymond of the Grafton Blues Association told the council on Tuesday night. "From the very first time we contacted Charlie it was really a, 'Come on in' (attitude)."

The festival planned for June 7-8 in Port Washington will replace the organizations Lucky Street Music Festival usually hosted annually in Grafton.

"What we have envisioned for Port and the harbor is pretty big and pretty involved," Raymond said, "but I think you'll be proud of it. I know the 'blues' name scares people, but you'll be (surprised what we can do)."

The festival is described as "a two-day adventure with family activities, multi-genre music stage, roaming performers, BMX stunt performances and much, much more," according to a press release from Mayor Tom Mlada. A downtown scavenger hunt is being considered, and the event will help to highlight Port's Saturday Farmers Market.

Raymond said next year's event will be bigger than this year's, considering the short timeframe for planning.

As for Pirate Fest, McCulloch said she would like to move forward with the festival, whether it be in Port or elsewhere: she had previously been contacted by cities such as Manitowoc, Door County communities, Green Bay and St. Louis to hold the festival there, she said.

She also said they had hoped to set a Guinness Book of World Records record at this year's festival: having the most amount of costumed pirates in one area on a motorcycle — 30,000 people, she said. That record may still be attempted in August during the planned Harley festival.

Will you attend the new Festival in June, or do you want Pirate Fest back?

Tell us in the comments.

Dave April 10, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Pirate Fest or Homeless Fest as my young son called it was great.Made me love my life even more. Also I like the boobs
Pirated Pirate April 10, 2013 at 05:33 PM
I agree. And still no word if vendors will be refunded for having paid their booth fees.
Grafton Blues April 10, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Ali..this event IS FREE. Blues fest in Grafton is not Although we do give thousands of tickets away each year locally so its free if you want it to be
Grafton Blues April 10, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Pirated pirate please contact us if you have paid and not getting answers.
Millhouse April 10, 2013 at 06:51 PM
I woe th' Grafton Blues festival be willin' to gift complete control 'o 'tis event to Ports city leaders or they gunna learn sooner or later ye don't bargain wit' Port's dictators in command.
Greg April 10, 2013 at 08:42 PM
From the updated story above, "explaining that providing contact information for all of the vendors and entertainers and other aspects of the festival would essentially be turning over a business plan to new owners." Isn't the business plan at the crux of the problems?
Didactic Futurist April 10, 2013 at 08:52 PM
Ali, you're getting ahead of yourself. It is not greedy to charge admission (read "take donations") for a festival - it is business. Everything at a festival costs money: tents, toilets, stages, sound equipment, electricity, dumpsters, security, administration, entertainers and musicians, printing, advertising. Pirate Fest was free because it was privately funded; and that ended up with bounced checks, didn't it? And how could you possibly know that Summerfest will have "better bands?" In addition to the fact that the lineups aren't announced isn't "better" a VERY relative term? Don't be a hater - give this new outfit a chance so you can make an informed opinion.
Didactic Futurist April 10, 2013 at 08:58 PM
And that wasn't what was asked for. It was a list and contact information for everyone on the "committee" that runs the event. Why would someone not turn that over, do you suppose?
Ali Miller April 10, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Didactic, None of the festivals that I have been through in the past were free and they had tents, toilets, stages, sound equipment, electricity, dumpsters, security, administration, entertainers and musicians, printing, advertising. And I've already seen the lineup at Summerfest for this summer. I will give them a chance,but will not be attending. Il wait for the opinion of others to see how the turn out is for this year and based on their views.
Ali Miller April 10, 2013 at 10:55 PM
That's all of the festivals not none...my typo error
Persephone April 11, 2013 at 01:01 AM
I will not attend a blues fest, I have canceled my 4 day reservation for the expensive room at the Holiday Inn. Kim is totally to blame, she has always found something one way or another to ruin things for people during the fest and failed to be a fest director. She may not want to believe it but I have seen her do it, and so have plenty of others.
KimCreations April 11, 2013 at 02:56 AM
I wish you would all read more carefully, as I have, and understand that this replacement festival is NOT a "Blues Fest". It is a general festival with music as well as other events all intended to be fun for the whole family. I think it is a great idea to try to come up with something to fill in the big gap that that weekend would be otherwise. Think of all the local businesses that have come to rely on the influx of people to the town at that time. Yes, I am sincerely disappointed to not have a pirate themed event; I did enjoy that thoroughly. I also think it's an unfortunate year for this to happen; with Kenny Chesney's new song "Pirate Flag" out, it seems that pirate themed anything is all the rage. I also think it would have benefited whomever decided to create an event to replace Pirate Fest's time-frame to have figured out a way to incorporate the pirate theme, even partially, to make use of the entertainers and vendors who have already been planning on attending the event. Despite that, I give Grafton Blues credit for stepping in and trying to pull something together on such short notice. I was signed up as a art/craft vendor for Pirate Fest, and had already paid. In addition to hoping I can get my money back, I would be interested in vending at this new event if an arts/crafts area is part of the plans.
Greg April 11, 2013 at 03:56 AM
All? I was able to work it out on my own.
Peter R April 11, 2013 at 06:18 AM
Kim Creations, contact the Grafton blues Association about vending please.
Patricia Layton April 11, 2013 at 09:49 AM
Jen, read the full article, Hon. This IS the blues festival from Grafton. It will be here when we should have had Pirate's Fest and it also states FAMILY FRIENDLY. :)
Patricia Layton April 11, 2013 at 10:02 AM
I've lived in Port for 10 years and only two of the Pirate's Fests are even memorable....and only one remembered by my 13-year old. I remember my first Pirate's Fest..it was fascinating because I had not been in a city with festivals. We went to the breakfast with the Pirates (way fun) The other I remember, had some of the actual pirates from the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean. My impression of the rest? A place to watch people run around DRINKING, an expensive shopping mall and a food court. How many years can you see the same pirates in the same garb run around and the same food and same shops in the vending areas and find it fantastic stuff? Last year, I told myself I was done with Port's Pirate Drunk Fest and Rob you blind shopping area. What I would ADORE seeing would be things for our YOUNG teens to do. Kraken was cool, but for a 13 year old? So then what? Look at some pirates, go eat and try to get a souvenir on a 10 a week allowance? I like the idea of the scavenger hunt, maybe an "oddly run" (backwards, sidewards, crawling, ball on spoon) race set up by ages with prizes from local shops (a free soda or ice cream), Fish Days puts an A&C and car show up top which promotes Possibility Playground..seeing some draw like that would be lovely. I am very excited. Let's see what you can do!
Patricia Layton April 11, 2013 at 10:30 AM
Agreed. Same impression, however Pirate's Fest was an "all day" drunk fest
Sam Vedder April 12, 2013 at 04:51 PM
What an incredibly ignorant and uninformed comment to make Millhouse. What's the matter with you? Explain how the city did NOT try to work things out with Kim. Did you read the articles? They gave her every opportunity to respond to their requests, make payments to vendors and submit a plan. What did the city do that was even remotely dictatorial? The city does NOT run festivals, they approve the use of city property for the festivals based on what they festival offers. Kim dropped the ball time and time again and was given more than a reasonable opportunity to make things right. She only made things worse. The city was getting a bad reputation due to Kim's irresponsibility. What would you have had the city do?
Didactic Futurist April 12, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Dude, "there aint no such thing as a free lunch." Those festivals had a year or more to raise corporate sponsorships, sell vendor space and get grants to run the event. The Grafton Blues people have less than two months to get this thing running. You're not speaking from an informed perspective, I suspect. And for the lineup comparison, once again simple logic dictates that you can't compare the Summerfest lineup to the Grafton Blues lineup because it hasn't been posted. You're comparing something to an unknown - it makes no sense.
Shadow DarkFyre April 12, 2013 at 06:44 PM
Well then... if those "in charge" donnae' wish to find a way to continue the pirate themed tradition: as pirates is a part of the tradition of this town(Pirates Hollow, Port Washington Pirates), then maybe the people themselves who attend should. My wife and I were talking about an idea towards that end. Something along the lines of starting from scratch and working our way from there. Because obviously, heads have become too inflated between the city and the lady herself. If the city wants a new festival in, let them. Pirates is part of this town's tradition and has been a great family event for all. In some way or another, we who love it and this town should see it continued. New festival or no. Stay tuned... The torches are burning and the fuses are lit...
Anne Bonney April 15, 2013 at 01:31 PM
To Port Washington City officials - we just want to make sure that you know we have no interest in another generic festival and will not attend such. We came to Port Washington specifically because it hosted a Pirate festival - and we brought our money which was spent in the town (at minimum for food and drinks). We have no interest in whatever politics are occurring. We simply would like to see a continuation of a themed Pirate event whoever is hosting it.
Shadow DarkFyre April 15, 2013 at 06:03 PM
What would we have the city do? Simple. Find someone else to do the event or something similar. Do the festival themselves. Ask people in the community if there is anyone willing to pull off a similar event. We all know that the Portico can't get its act together, after all the help it's been given to keep going: from the dock area, to Grand Avenue, to Franklin. You cannot say you didnae' see this coming. We ALL saw this coming. The event, however, could have been put forward without her if the city was willing enough to carry the tradition on. The city may not be, but you can bet the city is.
Pirated Pirate April 17, 2013 at 01:43 AM
"City Administrator Mark Grams said that organizer Kimberly McCulloch continually failed to meet requests from the city for certain procedures to be followed in coordinating the fest." And she continually fails to respond to vendor requests for refunds. Last year, there were 34 vendors. I'm not sure how many vendors have signed up for this year's fest. Rest assured, I will be contacting the out of state vendors to let them know that their single booth fee of $375 is in jeopardy because of this incompetent and highly disorganized/greedy individual.
KimCreations April 17, 2013 at 04:30 AM
Kimberly, how about presenting some explanation to the vendors who had already paid you for their booths for 2013? It was really unprofessional to post the cancellation on facebook without contacting the vendors first. And now you are not replying to any of our attempts to contact you.
KimCreations April 17, 2013 at 04:32 AM
I'm one of the vendors who had already paid. I am furious at how this has been handled. I wonder if there is anything we could accomplish better if we work as a group?
Laura Lopez April 29, 2013 at 05:21 PM
So looking forward to go with my whole family to this music festival (blue's or whatever else sounds so much better than same pirate "drunk" fest) !! Can't wait!!
Mark Cribb May 04, 2013 at 02:45 PM
A music festival on the shores of Lake Michigan in SE Wisconsin... where have I heard of this before? I'm not even remotely interested in a "General" themed music festival. Pirates? Yeah you got me and my family. If the organizers of the original event are flaky, then the City ought to be able to create their own event with the theme. You can't copyright the mythology of Pirates, nor can you obfuscate vendor relationships. I'm certain that if the City wants to have a Pirate themed festival, enough vendors will make themselves available to make it successful.
Didactic Futurist May 07, 2013 at 06:23 PM
Mark, there is no way that anything can happen this year, that's just a sad fact. I hope that the feedback has been loud enough, long enough so that the city will sanction another entity to create a new pirate festival run by responsible and intelligent people that start planning, well, NOW. Unfortunately the bad press that the original organizer has generated has reflected poorly on Port Washington and the very idea of a pirate-themed festival. According to this article http://www.deancalin.com/pdf/BizTimes20090521.pdf the festival raises about $4.5 million in revenue to the local community; I don't know how the city can brush that aside.
Didactic Futurist May 29, 2013 at 06:41 PM
On the Port Washington Pirate Festival Facebook page you state in a post promoting Pirate Palooza, a Washington County event, that "This event is not affiliated/endorsed/sponsored with PWPF. It is just listed for Pirates looking to have fun with other Pirate souls." Yet right on the home page for that event: In-Kind Donors Lori's Costume Shop - West Bend Portico Gift Shop - Port Washington Milwaukee Public Museum So it seems that you wish to give the appearance that you're a munificent benefactor of the "pirate community," while, in fact, you're clearly offering information that does not appear to be true. Should you, perhaps, concern yourself with paying vendors that you still owe money to from 2012 than sponsoring other events?
Mary Boyle August 22, 2013 at 04:34 PM
I am working on reinstating the Pirate Festival under new management in 2014. If you're interested in helping out, contact Mary Boyle at sevenhillscreations@gmail.com


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