Jambands Business School:Festival Fallout 2004 – the Scene and the Behind the Scenes Scene
An interview with Bill Martin, Cowclops Productions
Well we are in the midst of yet another festival season. Things are in full swing, and are stranger than ever. Earlier this month, the Gathering of the Vibes threw down with the Vibe Tribe in upstate NY; Smilefest followed in NC in mid-July on the same weekend that Camp Creek is launching in upstate NY.
The festival season has seen a lot of shake-up since last year. The Gathering of the Vibes, though it has been operating over a decade, has seen their attendance shrink as a result of the craziness from last summer. The lineup of this year’s event was scaled back to the bands that had the festival in the heart the most, and not necessarily a whose who of national touring acts. This likely resulted in a more tight knit group of performers and attendees- but may impact the ability of the promoters to continue their dream and tradition of throwing huge events.
The landscape of the festival scene this year is stranger than ever. For the first time in who knows how long New England will not have a Berkshire Mountain Music Festival. It is not difficult to imagine why, when last year’s attendance did not reach the expected mark for such a high quality talent lineup. Gamelan Productions, the promoter of the event for years, also had a high profile shortfall in their MidAtlantic Music Experience, which in its first year had attendance that fell far short of what one would expect that they needed for a festival whose lineup included two nights of Widespread Panic. One can guess that Gamelan’s liquid assets were not likely sufficient to take a risk on a huge event again this summer. (Gamelan Productions was not consulted in the writing of this article. The spirit of this article is to take a look at the scene from a business perspective and all of the information is anecdotal and at times, hearsay.)
Other regional festivals have disappeared- including the Endless Mountain Music Festival in Pennsylvania. Last year’s event was a total success and continued their tradition of increased attendance from year to year. This year’s event was planned for July, but was derailed when the landowner fell ill. Michael Philbrick, who with his partners produced the event since it was called LiveStock, indicated that they did not feel right having the event contrary to the wishes of the landowner’s family and opted to take the year off in respect of his illness. A respectable decision that was surely very difficult for them to make.
Some regional events have continue to grow and flourish- like the Strange Creek Music Festival in Greenfield, MA. Another festival in Greenfield reported a 50% increase in attendance this year. Jeff Martel of the Greenfield Downtown Business Association reported over 4500 tickets sold, and nearly 6,000 attendees in total for the Green River Festival. The focus of that event is not strictly jam music- though they did feature Hot Tuna and Donna the Buffalo. But a diverse lineup that included the Mosquitoes from Brazil and Gillian Welch.
One of the most unusual circumstances this year occurred during the preparations for the Adirondack Music Festival- which was to be in its third year this year. I had the opportunity to speak with Bill Martin, the landowner for the event, and the promoter of this year’s Secluded Forest Festival (more on that later.)
Jambands Business School: How did you meet Jason Flynn, the original promoter of the AMF?
Bill Martin: Around 3 years ago, I ran an advertisement in the regional want ad digest offering a property I own for rent. It was a 62 acre parcel most suitable for hunting and I figured I might as well get someone to rent it and cover the property taxes. Well I got a few phone calls from the ad and one individual drove up from Connecticut in his shiny red Corvette with his girlfriend to look at the property. There was not too much to see, just a wooded lot with a trout stream and some waterfalls, yet ideal for a hunter or group of hunters. So the kid in the corvette introduced himself as Jason Flynn.
After spending a few minutes looking over the property, Jason tells me he’s really looking for a campground, not an empty piece of property. "I just happen to have one, about 7 miles from here". With that he follows me over to The Moose River Park, another property I purchased about 16 years ago. This one used to be a campground, with 175 sites and a lake full of large mouth bass, inside the Adirondack State Park. It was a wilderness campground, with tenting sites and no electricity, but a beautiful property none the less
Jambands Business School: So how did that lead to the launch of the Adirondack Music Festival?
Bill Martin: So Jason tells me, "this property is perfect, would you mind if I leased it for a year and put on a music festival in the summer?" Having been dragged to Woodstock when I was 16, I said "I’d be happy to lease it to you for the year, since I hadn’t seen any income on it in the 13 years I’d owned it at that point." So I gave him a year’s lease, and a cheap rent, $1,500 per month, for the house, the lake, the whole property. The only stipulation was that he cut me in on a small percentage of the take from the festival.
So Jason Flynn put on what came to be known as The First Annual Adirondack Mountain Music Festival, in Lyonsdale, NY. And I have to say, I was impressed with the amount of people, the music lineup, and the way he and his girlfriend treated all the guests, band members and VIP’s. I thought they did a first class job! And they brought in around 2,000 people, not bad for a first time event!
Jambands Business School: And so the event continued?
Bill Martin: Part of Jason Flynn’s problem was he didn’t have quite enough money to do the event himself as the sole financier, so he brought in some partners- one from Connecticut and one from Colorado. And another individual from Colorado observed the event and liked what he saw.
So the next year, the guys from Colorado got together and approached me and said they wanted to rent the venue to put on the 2nd Annual Adirondack Mountain Music Festival. Jason Flynn was to be the venue operator and they would do the production. So we struck a deal and everything seemed fine. Morgan Young from Headspin Productions, who had a lot of experience working with the Telluride Jazz festival stepped up as the producer and I have to say, did a very professional job!
Jambands Business School: How did year two go?
Headspin Productions did a remarkable job! Quite professional by any standards! The problem was, up here in the Adirondacks one can never be sure what the weather will bring. And last year, it rained here for a month straight before the festival. And Headspin put together a dynamite lineup, and to cover the cost, had to sell tickets at $130 each. Not an unreasonable price for 3 days of camping with the lineup they had assembled. However, many people waited until the last minute to purchase tickets, to see if it would ever stop raining. And it continued to rain! Right up to and during the festival. So, the turnout was only around 2, 500 and they needed much more than that to cover costs. I’m sorry to say I don’t think they made any money on the event, although as I said, they did an unbelievably professional job! (Hat’s off to Morgan Young and Headspin Productions!) And they paid me, and made several improvements to my property, so I love them!
Jambands Business School: So how did AMF 3 come together if the promoters didn’t make money?
Bill Martin: Headspin and company weren’t ready to return the following year, so Jason Flynn calls me and says "Bill, I want to do a music festival!" So I’m thinking, "Why not!" He did start the event, and he did pay me the first year, and even though Headspin Productions didn’t do well, I figured he knew what he was doing and I had no reason not to trust him.
Jambands Business School: When did you first suspect that things were going awry?
Bill Martin: I started to suspect problems when I found out that Jason Flynn had stiffed the porta potty company and a number of other local vendors, and the bills came back to me! This was the first indication that the first AMF had not gone as well as we had thought it had. But I decided to persevere and we proceeded to plan AMF3.
So Jason Flynn sets up a company called Moose River Productions, Inc. and started booking bands and I had experience with programming and software development so I put together a couple programmers and wrote the software for producing e-tickets. So I set up the ticket company figuring why not earn some of the money that normally goes towards the convenience charge and why not let my guys earn some money also. My company, Moose River Promotions, Inc. sold the tickets and I wired Jason Flynn monies to pay the band deposits and advertising, etc.
But Jason never paid any of the bands, or Relix or Jambase for the advertising. He pocketed all the money, or most of it, that was supposed to be sent to the bands and the advertising companies. And he told me he had paid them and I had no reason to suspect otherwise. I also didn’t realize that he had vendors sending him money both directly to Jason Flynn at his Austin, TX address and to his Moose River Productions company, for which he set up a bank account with Bank of America. In addition, he also had Music Today selling tickets to the August event, and sending money directly to him, which he also pocketed.
Jambands Business School: What were your first indications that things were really taking a turn for the worse?
Bill Martin: On Tuesday morning, June 15th, Jason’s father called me at the Moose River Park and said "Bill, don’t tell Jason I’m calling because he might be angry, but he tells me the show might have to be cancelled". This turned on a big red light, because canceling the show was never an option! And I had spoken to Jason probably 2 or 3 times a day every day for the past several months, except he hadn’t returned any of my calls on Monday and I couldn’t get him on Tuesday, either. I assured his father that the show would go on and he could get his plane ticket and I would see him here.
Jambands Business School: I take it you never heard from Jason Flynn again?
Bill Martin: No, we have had no communication since June and he never showed up, and all the money is missing.
Jambands Business School: Is he being pursued?
Bill Martin: There are a variety of police agencies pursuing the case.
Jambands Business School: So it’s go time, and you have a festival with no promoter, bands pulling out, and no money. What did you do?
Bill Martin: I did feel sick for a couple of days, wondering how I was going to pull off this music festival. I knew this, 650 people had bought tickets in advance and 650 people were expecting a party. I also knew that if I didn’t give them a party, 650 people would be looking to me for a refund, because I set up the ticketing company.
Some of the bands hung in thru thick and thin, but most, having not received a penny in deposit money, cancelled. I spoke with Keith Secola, a band leader and Native American from Arizona, and he gave me the name and phone number of a contact of his outside of Buffalo, NY. His contact, Dave, and his girlfriend Girly, were invaluable in helping me schedule the bands and make phone calls, etc.
A gentleman by the name of Clay supplied a stage and we picked it out of a farmer’s corn field on Thursday night, the evening before the festival was to go on. Another couple from Virginia, Mark and Doria, and their 2 sons were also instrumental in making the Adirondack Music Festival a success. They both have a lot of experience working for and helping at other festivals. So they came up and also helped make that show the success that it was, which was pretty amazing considering that several websites said the festival was cancelled.
Jambands Business School: So you put on your Superman suit, weathered all of the difficulties, and threw the event anyway? How did it turn out?
Bill Martin: You know, we still had 1,000 people show up, and everyone who came said they had a great time, and everyone who was here said they’d definitely come to another show at the Moose River Park again in the future. It was a great crowd, a great time, and we ended up with 21 dynamite bands
Jambands Business School: So now you have the bug, what is in store for the property?
Bill Martin: Jason and I had begun planning an event for later in the summer called the Secluded Forest Festival, and we had booked a whole slew of national acts including String Cheese Incident and others. But the problems with the AMF were incorporated into the problems with Secluded Forest, and once AMF was done, I realized that I could probably revive the Secluded Forest Festival as well.
Jambands Business School: So with the positive vibes that were displayed by those who attended AMF3 carrying over, you hope to do a little bit better with more than a few days to plan for Secluded Forest Festival.
Bill Martin: We contacted a few agents, and put together a great event, and have an excellent lineup and all of the necessary facilities in place. Now that I have the experiences that I have for the last three years, I am more capable of pulling off Secluded Forest Festival.
The festival take place August 20 – 22 at the Moose River Campground in Lyonsdale NY. The new lineup includes: Max Creek, the Bomb Squad, Donna the Buffalo, Deep Fried (with Matt Abts, Brian Stoltz, and Johnny Neel and others), the Zen Tricksters, Manifest NextoMe, Guy Malone, UMelt (formerly A440), Cold Duck Complex, Tar Beach, Inner Visions, the Blue Method, Shakedown Street, Tony Vacca, Electric Mayhem, 35th Parallel, Moonboot Lover, NBFB, and more to be announced soon. The festival will also feature a Disco and DJ tent.
More information is available at www.forestfest.net
Early bird tickets are only $55 and will be available at the official website. This is a camping event and there are limited sites available on the property and is included in the ticket price. Early bird tickets are available only until July 25. Advance tickets will then be available at $65 for the weekend, and weekend passes will be available at the gate for $79. Single day passes will also be sold for each date but will not include camping.
Jambands Business School: So you are hoping that the folks who had a good time at AMF3, and with dealing honestly in your business dealings now, that the tough times from earlier this year will become a thing of the past.
Bill Martin: People have been very understanding and generous. My hope is that through a faithful effort on our part to do all that we can to provide a good environment, and what people know about the property itself, that we are going to return to the good vibes and honest reputation that we had enjoyed in the past. The only thing that we can do is to persevere, give people what they want and what they pay for, and to weed out the bad apples. People who would like to get involved should contact us through the website, The more helpful folks involved- whether as customers or volunteers or service providers, the better the whole scene is going to be. All we can do is move forward.
I would like to thank Bill Martin for his time, and the others who contributed to this article. The best thing that we can all do for the scene is to go out and support Live Music. Those who have read this far certainly are already on that plan. I am currently packing up my wife and kids and getting ready to go to Camp Creek. We hope to see you all out on the festival and club scene this summer, and See you at Secluded Forest Festival.