Talk has been swirling for weeks, and now, it’s been made official: After 33 years, there will be no Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa in 2012.
The full announcement from Harmony Festival CEO Howard “Bo” Sapper is below, and it looks like the decision wasn’t made lightly. Harmony Festival organizers “spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options” to keep the festival alive, Sapper writes, but to no apparent avail. “We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large,” Sapper writes. “We share your feelings of disappointment.”
So far, this is only a postponement—the festival is not necessarily permanently cancelled. In an egalatarian move worthy of the festival’s aims, organizers have set up a website, www.harmonyfestivalonline.com, to collect ideas about the future of the festival from the fans and extended community. “We are looking ahead to the annual Harmony Festival in 2013,” it reads.
Obviously, this is sad news for many. Official announcement below.
Dear Harmony Festival Family,
On behalf of the Harmony Festival Board of Directors and management team, we sincerely thank you for your continued support and encouragement as we grew and evolved the Harmony Festival from a grassroots community event in 1978, into the nationally renown music, arts and cultural festival—that you’ve come to expect year after year.
It is with a deep sense of regret that we announce that after 33 years we will not be producing a Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, CA in June 2012. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult announcement for us to make. We appreciate your patience as we took the necessary time to prepare a thoughtful message to inform the greater Harmony community of our decision, which is now effective immediately.
You might ask why we made this decision. Please trust that we have spent many months creatively exploring dozens of promising options in the hopes that we could keep this magical event alive this year. We know this news is a great disappointment to the entire Harmony team and the community at large, and we share your feelings of disappointment. We ask that we work together to move beyond this stage, toward hope and optimism for future Harmony Festivals.
We are working on plans to reorganize the company and the possibility of creating Harmony Festivals in the future. We are counting on engaging YOUR support and participation going forward as we re-envision a sustainable future for the festival. We also ask that you assist in communicating this message within your own community, in the most positive light possible.
We welcome your comments and feedback via our new blog www.harmonyfestivalonline.com and look forward to the possibility of rekindling the Harmony Festival flame so it shines even more brightly again in the future.
Howard “Bo” Sapper, CEO Harmony Festival, Inc.
The news hit earlier today as the featured story on the front page of the Press Democrat website: “Concerts Banned at Phoenix Theater.” The reality is that there’s nothing to be alarmed about; the Phoenix is going to be up and running again next week after they provide the fire department with a light list of compliance and protocol to some very normal, regular ordinances.
Tom Gaffey, manager at the Phoenix, seemed calm when I talked to him. “I’m happy to take a weekend off, quite frankly,” he said.
What is alarming is that the initial newspaper article, which only quotes the Petaluma Fire Department’s side of the story, states that the shutdown is due to circumstances at the Smashing Pumpkins show on Wednesday, where “no one in an official capacity kept track of the number of people admitted, exits were blocked and some people entered without paying.”
That’s simply not true, says Jim Agius, who books the theater. He says that between the will-call list and the hard tickets taken at the door, the Phoenix kept a clear record of the number of people admitted to the Smashing Pumpkins show. “Their allegations in the newspaper are false,” Agius says. “There were four police officers here, they walked the building, they took pictures. They asked Tom about the capacity.”
Agius says that while the police officers were at the show, they didn’t express any concern about apparent blocked exits or other dangers. As such, he was shocked the next day to find that the show was allegedly “in flagrant disregard of the California Fire Code and laws designed to protect public safety.”
“If that was the case,” reasons Agius, while the police officers were there, “why did the show not get shut down? The whole thing doesn’t really add up to me.”
In stating that people were let in without paying (that’d be a media list, which I was on, and which hard tickets accounted for) the Fire Department implies that security was lax; in fact, there were 30 people working security that night, and I saw them with my own eyes doing their job—patting people at the entrance, searching bags, busting people who lit up.
The Fire Department also claims the police that night used a “pitch counter” to determine attendance, which sounds like a snazzy piece of crowd-estimating technology but is really just this. Sometimes staff stands at the door to a venue and uses it to count people as they come in. I didn’t see any police officer using one at the door, and I was there for several minutes, checking in as media. Neither Gaffey nor Agius saw one either.
I also walked around the entire perimeter of the floor at the show, and entered and observed the balcony. At no point did I see an overcrowded or unsafe venue. The Fire Department says there were 900 people at the show, 180 over capacity. “As the night went on, I counted up the will call and tickets,” says Gaffey. “I don’t believe we were over capacity.”
It gets fishier. The Fire Department gave Gaffey the notice at 3:30pm on Thursday—Gaffey looked it over, and saw that the Phoenix was already in compliance with most items on their list, such as having a security protocol on file with the Fire Department. Yet the department claimed they have no such thing on file. “We actually did file that,” says Gaffey. “We, as a board, filed that together. It got dropped personally off at their office.”
As for the rest of the list? Simple things to deal with, said Gaffey. “I said, ‘Great, I’ll have this to you tomorrow,’” he says. Only one problem: the Fire Department informed him that all city offices were closed on Friday, and that he would have to cancel any scheduled shows over the weekend.
Here’s where the pieces fall together. The Police Department in the past has been vocal about their opposition to rap shows, and particularly about Andre Nickatina. Coincidentally, the Phoenix had Andre Nickatina booked for tonight, raising some eyebrows about the timing of the Police Department’s data-collection and the Fire Department’s subsequent notice. The Nickatina show has been postponed.
(The last time the Phoenix was forced to put a hiatus on hip-hop shows in 2008—similarly causing the Press Democrat to use the linkbaiting but incorrect headline of “Phoenix Theater Bans Rap Concerts”—what was the first show to be rescheduled? Andre Nickatina.)
“Our hands are tied, no matter what happened,” says Jim Agius. “All we can do is comply with their list.” Both Gaffey and Agius said they were confident the theater would be open again as normal next week.
[UPDATE: The Press Democrat talked to the Phoenix and updated their story.]
In a shocking, upsetting announcement, the Board of Directors for the Healdsburg Jazz Festival announced today that there will be no Healdsburg Jazz Festival in 2011.
What’s more, festival founder and Artistic Director Jessica Felix has been voted out by the Board, and will no longer be a part of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival she started 12 years ago.
Citing the poor economy, the Board says they’ll focus instead on their music education program which for 10 years has brought jazz to area schools. “There also seems to be a more limited audience for pure jazz in the community as evidenced by lower ticket sales,” Board president Pat Templin says. “There may be an opportunity to broaden the offering in the future. We need to find a winning model that will interest more people and businesses in the community to get involved, provide financial support and to attend a revised music festival.”
A “revised music festival.” A “limited audience for pure jazz.” An “opportunity to broaden the offering.” These are not good harbingers of things to come.
I called Felix to find out what happened. She said she couldn’t comment until she spoke with a lawyer, a bad sign. “I was totally surprised,” she said.
Reached by phone, Board president Pat Templin told me that there are “no plans” to reinstate Jessica Felix in 2012, adding that it was decision not made lightly, and one borne of finances instead of artistic vision (the festival, she stresses, will not move in a smooth jazz direction).
“She’s an amazing person, she’s done an amazing thing, and we’re trying to build on her legacy,” Templin says. “We’re committed to jazz, and to maintaining that reputation. And we’re also interested in some of what the community has told us, that there might be other genres that support the kind of jazz we do.” What other genres might those be? “One is blues,” Templin says.
If Felix can’t comment, then I will: The Healdsburg Jazz Festival as we know it is committing artistic suicide.
As a journalist, I’ve butted heads with Felix a couple times, but one thing I’ve never, ever questioned is her top-quality booking for the festival. I assume this so-called “limited audience for pure jazz” wasn’t part of the sold-out crowd this year for Ravi Coltrane and Charlie Haden, the sold-out crowd for Esperanza Spalding, or the full crowd for Jason Moran and Bill Frisell.
And that’s just in the last year alone. Previous festivals have hosted, to great acclaim, Joshua Redman, Billy Higgins, Andrew Hill, Bobby Hutcherson, Jim Hall, Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Jackie McLean, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett, Frank Morgan and Dave Brubeck. Look at those names—and then find me another jazz festival booker in a town with a population of only 10,000 who can attract such stature.
The community needs the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, but in particular it needs the festival as booked by someone well-connected, passionate and knowledgeable about jazz. That someone is and always has been Jessica Felix. She’s taken creative risks that have paid off—such as two sold-out shows with the decidedly avant-garde Trio 3 last year—and that’s because over the last 12 years she’s cultivated an audience for jazz in Sonoma County. She’s even saved the festival money by putting up musicians in her home, and finding other local hospitable jazz fans to do the same.
As for ticket sales? The slump isn’t just in Healdsburg—concert ticket sales have been down significantly nationwide; Templin admits she’s aware of this too. So sure, a scaling back on the festival makes sense. A focus on music education is good for attracting new sponsors. A one-year hiatus in 2011, painful as it may be, may be necessary.
But in reorganizing, there’s one thing the Board shouldn’t overlook, and that’s the respect Felix has earned from the artists and fans in the jazz world. Every musician playing the Healdsburg Jazz Festival who I’ve interviewed for the Bohemian in the last six years has praised Felix’s devotion, without my asking. The national reputation of the festival speaks to her great work.
If she wants to continue booking the festival she founded—and it seems like she does—I can’t think of any reason to stop her from doing so.
[UPDATE: The Board of Directors have removed all public comments from their website. I've reposted them here.]
[UPDATE: It worked! Jessica's back and so is the festival. Read here.]