Mule Days president says past supporters kept event in saddle

Terrance Vestal
Managing Editor

During its Monday meeting, the Bishop City Council received an update from Mule Days Celebration President Kevin Bigham regarding how the event is shaping up as well as some of the challenges event staff and community supporters have had to overcome to be able to even hold the time-honored tradition this year.
Mule Days was postponed last year completely and while some COVID-19 public health protocols remain in place, Bigham said by adjusting some events the celebration is able to continue this year.
Unfortunately, due to continued public health protocols some of the events, including the parade, opening dinner and concert had to canceled this year.
Bigham said while “the energy is building” and “people are excited,” Mule Days organizers didn’t actually have confirmation that they could hold the event until “the midnight hour – it was beyond the midnight hour.”
“People have been wonderful,” Bigham said. “From the city council, to Health and Human Services to the fairgrounds to the volunteers. It’s been long hours.”
He said while Mule Days will occur from May 25 through Memorial Day weekend at the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds, there will be some limitations due to the ongoing COVID public health protocols.
Bigham said the lack of a parade will have a significant impact on the number of people who normally turn out for the event.
“I think the city would be surprised how many people actually come here just for the parade,” he said.
Bigham estimated that the event lost about 50 to 70 RVers due to the lack of a parade.
He said the parade was something the Mule Days staff and volunteers “couldn’t quite see managing with the health concerns and the crowds and the people on the street.”
Indoor events, such as the concert, Saturday night dance, barbecue and opening night supper, also had to be canceled, which “has had somewhat of a dampening spirit on our numbers.”
While much work already had gone into the parade this year and it was disappointing to cancel the tradition, organizers thought “it was a better idea just to let that one
Mule Days is providing refunds for those who had purchased tickets for those events, he said.

‘The single most amazing part’
Bigham, who noted that “this has got to be the single most amazing part,” said a year ago when Mule Days was canceled for the first and only time, staff had to ask customers who already paid for their RV spaces, their tickets, their meals, their concert tickets, to possibly pay that money forward and not take a refund.
“If they had taken a refund, we would have folded financially last year,” Bigham said. “Sixty-five percent of our customers decided to pay it forward and that has been tremendous – that saved us. That got us here today.”
He said others who had to cancel trips due to COVID precautions or other reasons decided to just donate their refunds to Mule Days.
“It’s important to know that we’re operating on a one-year budget,” over the last two years, Bigham said.
While the Mule Days office has been able to retain its staff, they’ve been volunteering hours, volunteers have stepped up as well as the staff at the fairgrounds.
Bigham said that while there won’t be indoor events, there will be some indoor vendors, which Mule Days staff still are working on, an indoor Cowboy Church on Sunday and there is a planned indoor auction to benefit the American Mule Museum in Bishop.
He said staff still is working on how vendors will be set up inside, which would be subject to the review of the state Fire Marshal.
“We expect a favorable response,” Bigham said.
He said ultimately the public health protocols that will be in place, including masking and social distancing, is to ensure a safe event for competitors and visitors and people here that live in town.
Bigham said masks will be distributed on site and signage regarding public health protocols are “everywhere.”
While grandstand events are the more notable, there will be live music and vendors along with clinics on the fairgrounds during the Mule Days week that visitors can check out.

Grandstand events
Bigham said with Inyo County under the current Orange Tier, capacity for the grandstand has been topped at 33%, which means there currently are no tickets available for these events.
Currently, Inyo County’s COVID numbers are trending down and it could be officially designated in the Yellow Tier, the least restrictive tier, the week of Mule Days.
Bigham said the designation would mean that grandstand seating could be increased to more than 60%, which would be a blessing and a curse.
While it would mean more spectators, “you can imagine for a volunteer organization what a monumental task that will be to go from 33% to 60% in a matter of days,” Bigham said.
“I don’t think it’s possible to fill all those seats,” Bigham said. “We’ll do our best. It’s in our best interest.”
He said at the 33% restriction, “the best we could hope for this year is to break even and pay all our bills.”