Saying that the old model of rolling out the barrel and boozing up the crowd to fund summer festivals is over, Stillwater city leaders backed a proposal to start charging a cover fee for headline concerts at Lumberjack Days.

The City Council voted 3-2 Monday night to enter into a five-year contract with the Lumberjack Days Festival Association Inc.

The four-day festival, Stillwater's signature community event, dates back to 1934 and draws people from all over the metro area. It has always been a free event with big-name musical acts, but in recent years the city and organizers have struggled to strike the right balance between putting on a good show without overwhelming residents with massive crowds.

The cover charge would apply only to Friday and Saturday night concerts in an attempt to make up for dwindling beer sales.

Organizer Dave Eckberg has said such a cover charge would be no more than $5 or $10.

"People are not consuming alcohol like they used to," he said, "and that's a good thing. Lower alcohol consumption equals easier-to-handle crowds."

The debate among City Council members Monday night was over how much of the proceeds the city should get. Council Member Wally Milbrandt was adamant that the city should accept no less than 50 percent of the profit, arguing that the if the city is embarking on a new business model then it should enter into this agreement as an equal partner.

He and Adam Nyberg voted against the contract, which called for a 65-35 split, with the city collecting 35 percent of the proceeds. An earlier version of the contract, presented to city leaders last month, called for an 80-20 split.

As part of the new contract, the city will be able to review that portion after the first year and make changes if necessary.

Another part of the contract states that Lumberjack Days Festival Association will now pay $20,000 for police and fire and the city will contribute $40,000 for fireworks.

Lumberjack Days features one of the largest fireworks shows synchronized to music in the country.

"We're just trying something different to see what happens," said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki.

In 2005, the City Council approved guidelines aimed at making Lumberjack Days a tamer and smaller event.

In 2004, Lynyrd Skynyrd performed at the festival on a picture-perfect summer night and an estimated 55,000 people showed up. The large crowds overwhelmed the city of 17,000 and many residents complained about the size and unruly behavior of the crowd.

Lumberjack Days is scheduled to take place July 24-28 next year in downtown Stillwater.

Allie Shah • 651-298-1550