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Biker festival moves to Merritt

Ray Sasseville believes Merritt is the ideal spot for the resurrection of Sturgis Canada.

The rock 'n' roll motorcycle festival is coming to the interior city August 21 to 24 on the site of the old Merritt Mountain Music Festival.

This is the same festival, under the banner Sturgis North, that was held in Salmon Arm in 2011 and at the Motoplex Speedway outside Vernon in 2012.

"Merritt has got the best property for what I want," said Sasseville of the move.

"The first two years, financially on the executive producing side it went well. But when it comes to what you have to pay - the infrastructure was just killing me."

Sasseville said he had to pay for everything related to infrastructure from electrical to diesel to run it, fencing and so on.

"Merritt, I pay one fee and I get everything included. I have all the water I want, all the electricity I want and it doesn't need to be fenced.

There's a 15,000 seat beer garden, 3,000 VIP seats, four stages, 29 buildings and we have 10,000 camping spots that are also available to us."

Despite financial problems in which he still has outstanding debts from Salmon Arm and Vernon, Sasseville said the support from Merritt has been phenomenal.

"We're not used to that."

As for those financial problems Sasseville said people shouldn't believe everything they have read about what happened in either city.

"In Salmon Arm the bottom line is we hired somebody and they did hundreds of thousands of dollars in invoices that we didn't know about and weren't authorized," said Sasseville.

"When the whole thing was over it left us in a pretty precarious position."

As for Vernon, he said things were going smoothly at the Motoplex site until the landlord cancelled the lease on their camping spot three weeks before the event.

"I had to move it a kilometre and a half away therefore I didn't have the people to fill the beer garden and the vendor spots.

"That's why this (Merritt) is perfect for us. Camping is on site, everything is on site. You don't have to leave if you don't want to. It's completely self contained."

The musical line-up has already been confirmed with Canadian icon Burton Cummings scheduled to headline Saturday night.

Other headliners include Alias (Thursday), Katey Sagal and the Forest Rangers (Friday) and The Stampeders (Sunday).

Other acts confirmed include Nick Gilder, Jerry Doucette, Molly Hatchet, Canned Heat, Teenage Head and more.

"It's probably one of the best line-ups if you want real rock 'n' roll to come around in a long time," stated Sasseville.

"This is getting into the more hard core music and it's mainly Canadian rock 'n' roll."

Tickets are available through the event website.

As for concerns the community will be overrun by bikers over the four days of the festival Sasseville doesn't believe people should be worried.

From past experience he said there have been no arrests to do with that element.

"I don't believe it's a concern and if it did become a concern, I'd address it.

The people that come to these festivals are guys that work hard, can afford bikes, bring their wives or girlfriends. A lot of them are business owners, managers and entrepreneurs."

Sasseville says they have been working with the RCMP and other agencies to ensure security and safety protocols are met.

RCMP in Merritt say they are happy with the progress being made to date.

Cst. Tracey Dunsmore says RCMP have been working with Sasseville, the city and regional district to make sure things fall into place.

"There are a lot of guidelines that have to be approved by the fire department, police and the regional district. They are working on that," said Dunsmore.

"Everything seems to be running smoothly right now. But, we don't have any numbers yet. That will determine a lot from a policing end."

She added everyone will be happy if things run as smoothly as the former Merritt Mountain Music Festival.

As for concerns about the type of people who may attend, Dunsmore said police have no more concerns in that regard than they did with the country festival.

"I guess the numbers everybody uses is 1 per cent of bikers are outlaw motorcycle gangs. We've always had them attending the music fest and the Great Canadian Bike Rally so we expect them to attend," said Dunsmore.

We are working withe the event planning staff to deal with that. A majority of the bikers that do attend are good, law abiding guys that just want to come out and have a good time."

Meantime, if all goes well, Sasseville hopes to turn Merritt into the music festival capital of Canada.

His long range plan is to purchase the festival grounds and hold numerous summer festivals.

"On the Sunday night we're having our country and western night and should everything go well then we're going to announce bringing back the country festival the following year (2015)."

"My goal is to put on, by 2016, four festivals."

He hopes to add a heavy metal festival and a Labour Day blues and jazz festival.

Repeated calls to the City of Merritt for this story went unreturned.

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