By Raiza Giorgi

The Solvang City Council hired the San Francisco based event management firm IDK Events to lead the Julefest celebration this year, on the condition they work with Daniel Lahr as a consultant to ensure the local Danish traditions are being done properly. 

“I have every faith that Daniel could do this event himself, however with such a short window of time having the resources to pull from IDK would be a great way to make the event pop even more,” said Councilwoman Karen Waite. 

The council received three bids from IDK, Lahr and Pink Cadillac Entertainment and had to make a decision quickly as the month long Julefest starts in late November and runs through the New Year. IDK produces street fairs and festivals such as the Union Street Fair and the annual San Francisco Pride Parade.; Lahr, a Santa Ynez Valley native and Special Programs Manager for the Solvang Conference and Visitor’s Bureau, has organized the Julefest event for the past two years and was the creator for several of the new events including the Nisse Adventure, Glogg Contest and VIP tours and Pink Cadillac has produced events in Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and ran the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the Culver City Centennial Ceremonies.

The council heard presentations from each of the bidders as they gave their background in event planning, examples of other large scale and/or Christmas themed events they’ve organized and ideas to make Julefest stand out even more. 

The presenters were then asked questions from the council on how they track their audience and event goers, marketing and advertising strategies and how they envision Julefest becoming self sustaining. 

“We want this event to be self-sustaining as we are looking at budgetary issues,” said Mayor Ryan Toussaint. 

All of the presenters said the key to self sustainability was having ticketed events during the week and the weekends to draw in crowds for not just the major sub-events such as the Julefest Parade or tree lighting ceremonies. 

Pink Cadillac included in their bid a carnival with rides, and an ice-rink. IDK suggested hosting more smaller events throughout and encouraging more sponsorships. Lahr suggested more ticketed events and family friendly evening events to encourage overnight stays and local participation. Lahr also suggested an interactive app people could download to do scavenger hunts and partner with local businesses. 

“I am a native to the Santa Ynez Valley, and I remember what it was like to experience the transformation of the beautiful city during the Christmas season. Also, after producing two highly successful years, I’ve come to know, on a first-hand account, the visitor responses, local business needs and the economic impact of Julefest to not just Solvang, but the entire Santa Ynez Valley community,” Lahr said.  

Lahr continued he was honored Solvang was named “The Best Christmas Town in California” by the New York Post, and one of “The Best Christmas Towns in America” by Readers Digest and being previewed this year in O! Magazine (Oprah’s magazine). He has also been working with a film production company to do a Hallmark Channel movie to film during Julefest this year. 

Both Pink Cadillac and Lahr suggested an early New Years Eve celebration at 3 p.m. for the time Denmark will be at midnight. Pink Cadillac added in a day-time firework show for that time, which is less costly than night time. Councilman Chris Djernaes liked that suggestion and asked if IDK was able to do the same, to which they responded yes. 

Djernaes also brought up hosting a light show like the Cambria Christmas Market, and all presenters said that would be a great addition, however with time/budget constraints on a smaller scale it could possibly work and perhaps adding more in the coming years. 

There was one speaker during public comment from Shelby Sim, the President/CEO of Visit the Santa Ynez Valley. He spoke in favor of hiring Lahr as he is local and has already produced the event and enhanced it for the past two years. 

“I believe the bigger companies could do a great job, but Daniel is the local guy that knows everything to get the job done. He has been handcuffed in the past and has incredible talents and ideas if you give him a chance,” Sim said. 

When brought back to the council for discussion Councilman Robert Clarke said it was obvious that Lahr has to be involved, which was echoed by Waite and Councilman Daniel Johnson. 

“I like Daniel because he has the history and institutional knowledge to make sure the traditions stay alive. We are a council that doesn’t always go by the book so why not have Daniel hired as the consultant and hire two,” Clarke suggested. 

Waite said that would have to be approved by Lahr and the other presenters to which IDK said he had already been calling Lahr like a debt collector to hire him, and he offered a job to Lahr immediately. 

“I don’t typically hire people without first talking to them to see if they want the job, but Daniel is great,” said Scott Shuemake, IDK founder. 

The council then voted to hire IDK with Lahr as a consultant and the terms of the contracts such as costs and additional events are to be negotiated. The vote was 3 – 1 – 1 with Djernaes abstaining as he couldn’t make a decision, and Johnson voting no because Djernaes wanted more time. Check back for updates to this story.