This was originally posted July 8, 2010. I would have wrote a new post about the 2011 Harrisburg Jazz And Multi-Cultural Fest, but it would have been redundant. It seems the only thing that changed from last year to this year is there were fewer attendees.
It’s easy to be a “Monday Morning Quarterback” after watching any event fail. But being someone who makes his living booking, promoting and presenting nationally touring bands nearly two hundred nights per year, I feel that my opinion on the abysmal failure of the “Harrisburg Jazz and Multi-Cultural Festival” and how it could have been better is clearly both valid and warranted.
Yesterday, I had lunch with an unnamed source who was close to the inner-workings of this years festival and, combined with the information I was given from my source and the knowledge of the industry I hold, the following are my assertions on how the festival failed and how to ensure that never, ever, EVER happens again.
First and foremost-
1. Changing of The Name
Harrisburg’s American Music Fest – despite it’s lackluster calendar- was an annual event that hundreds of thousands of people from the region attended. What’s in a name? Well, simply put, the American Music Fest was called the American Music Fest because it was a pretty good choice of a pretty broad representation of music. No one can argue that the lineup for the previous years American Music Festivals weren’t varied. World, Blues, Gospel, Rock, Country, Bluegrass, Singer/Songwriters were all represented. And if that isn’t “multi-cultural” in itself, then I don’t know what is.
Additionally, I heard from several vendors, attendees and even performers that “Jazz and Multi Cultural Festival” …how do I say this…sounds pretty, um…urban? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when factoring in the demographics of the greater 200,000 people living in a 30 mile radius, I’d want a festival to have a welcoming name. And really, what was wrong with “American Music Festival”?
What it boils down to – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
2. Mayor Thompson either fired or lost her top fundraisers for Parks and Rec
Gloria Giambalvo and Tina King were a dynamic duo of fundraising awesomeness for the many programs held throughout the year in the city. I don’t have the exact figures, but Gloria and Tina certainly raised considerable amounts of dough for festivals like Kipona and the American Music Fest. And without them on her payroll, who was going to raise the money? Festivals like this are great exposure for corporate contributors and, while there were the usual, low-hanging-fruit like Comcast and Blue Cross, the festival lacked the long-tail funding that it has had in years past.
So, in a nutshell, you get what you pay for. $160,000 isn’t nearly enough to stage a three day, outdoor, riverfront festival designed to bring in a couple hundred thousand attendees.
3. Chuck Schulz- acting director of Parks and Rec- resigned two weeks before the festival.
Word on the street is that the Parks and Rec department whittled down from five or six people in the office to only one – Chuck – and one man simply cannot keep all the plates necessary spinning.
4. There weren’t any local bands on the bill
If you book twenty local acts on a festival like this, they’ll create buzz strong enough to garner the attention of the community. That’s how the Stage on Herr stage at Artsfest succeeded. Regardless of budget or how much (or how little) the acts were getting paid, having a couple dozen local acts playing throughout the weekend equals a couple dozen acts (of four or five people each) telling their entire mailing lists, Facebook friends, Twitter followers and word-of-mouth benefactors where they are going to be.
5. Save the preachers for the churches
I got a text message from a friend at 3:40PM on Saturday the 3rd which said “Main stage had some guy talking about God and the savior. No band. Just prerecorded backing country music. He was inviting members of the 20 people there on stage to share their love of Jesus”.
Nobody wants to see that at a city-sponsored event. Period.
6. There’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat. In fact, it’s more respectable.
My sources tell me that Linda was urged on multiple occasions to just cancel the event. Save the money and the embarrassment and simply call it off. That would have been the prudent thing to do. But based on the recent departure of the final of her top-level cabinet staff, all signs point to “Linda don’t listen to nobody but Linda…and God” and that’s no way to run a city.
None of these six points contained anything other than realistic, honest-to-goodness analysis. Sure, it’s her first term in office and she’s going to make a few mistakes…but this is getting out of control. It’s time to batten down the hatches and start to admit that she has faults…or the same body who elected her will remove her from office sooner than she can yell “Praise Jesus!”