By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — When the music stopped at LaconiaFest, the city was out some $100,000 in expenses for safety and emergency services, contractors and suppliers found themselves with unpaid bills and employees recouped a fraction of their wages only after taking charge of the event and staging the last two concerts themselves.
The financial troubles that beset LaconiaFest, a series of concerts stretching over all nine days of the rally, began before the first guitar was strummed. When the promoters applied to the city's Special Event Review Committee in May, they projected attendance of 10,000 to 15,000 on the first Saturday, 30,000 on Sunday, 8,000 to 10,000 on Monday and Tuesday, 30,000 on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10,000 to 15,000 on the last Saturday and 2,000 to 5,000 on Sunday. These numbers dated from April, when the expectation was that they'd book more performers of the caliber and appeal of Steven Tyler, Bret Michaels and Ted Nugent, who ultimately headlined the festival.
Like all events that are held and for all vendors that operate during Motorcycle Week, LaconiaFest was a private undertaking that required a permit from the city for public safety, trash disposal and other concerns. There were 35 conditions attached, among them a requirement to put $309,830 in escrow for safety and emergency services by May 2. Almost at once, the organizers of the festival questioned the amount, explaining that they failed to book the performers they expected and advance ticket sales were falling short of projections. City Manager Scott Myers said he indicated his willingness adjust the escrow amount based on "attendance estimates for the first two days" and informed Mike Trainor, managing partner of LaconiaFest, that $90,000 must be deposited by June 1, less than 10 days before the rally began.
June 1 passed without a payment. A week later Myers halved the request for $90,000 on the understanding that it would be applied to the first weekend of the rally and thereafter he would meet regularly with the organizers to determine the amount required to defray the cost of safety and emergency services on a day-to-day basis in light of tickets purchased in advance and estimates of tickets sold at the gate. Myers said at this point he began dealing with Tyler Glover, who balked at the request for $45,000, but wrote a check for $35,000.
On June 8, Myers sent Glover and Trainor an e-mail explaining that while tickets sales were shy of their projections, "you are still anticipating a large walk-up crowd" and stressed that "we need to staff to this anticipated number." At the same time, he assured the organizers that "City staff will do our best to cut some of the paid details so that the number of Police/Fire working the event matches the actual crowd size. " He told the organizers that "it is imperative" that they provide the city with information about both advance ticket sales as well as sales at the gate to make projections.
Neither Glover nor Trainor ever replied to this e-mail. Nor did LaconiaFest ever make a second payment for safety and emergency services. Myers said yesterday that when he spoke with Glover on Tuesday, June 14, the fourth day of the rally, to inform him that a second payment of $40,000 was due, Glover told him "you're gouging me."
Myers said he realized LaconiaFest was suffering from lack of cash flow and decided that the performance of Steve Tyler on Wednesday, the first of the three major shows, represented an opportunity to strengthen the financial condition of the festival. He said he expected to meet with Glover the next day, "but never heard from him again."
Instead, on Thursday, employees who had not been paid arrived to find no sign of either Glover or cash. One employee, who declined to be named and like others was short unpaid wages , said that with Michaels scheduled to perform that evening "we weren't sure what to do." He said that they met with Michaels, who "was like these people don't get paid if we don't go on." He said that Michaels rallied the other bands, managed the sound and lighting and "the show was just over the top." Every dime was accounted for and shared among the employees, he said.
David Williamson, one of the employees who assumed control of the festival, created a GoFundMe page, soliciting $5,000 in donations toward the forgone wages of the employees. As of Monday night, only $305 had been raised.
Izzy Brake Of Creative Impact, who described himself as one of the six who planned and organized LaconiaFest, agreed that employees took it upon themselves to salvage what they could of the festival in hopes of recovering some of what they were owed. With the proceeds from the performances of Michaels on Thursday and Ted Nugent on Friday, he said that "we were able to pay 40 or 50 employees about a quarter of what they were owed," he said.
Meanwhile, another employee who asked not to be identified, said Glover had contacted the person who kept the books for the last two concerts. "He now has those records," he said. "He has said he will make everyone whole," he continued. "It sounds as if he's going to step up and own it."
Myers also stepped up. He said that he while he had the authority to cancel LaconiaFest when the organizers failed to fulfill their obligations, "I was torn." He said he calculated that the intangible costs to the image and reputation of the city of scuttling the event would far outweigh the financial risks of allowing it to proceed. Once the festival was underway, he said, the impact on those holding tickets and planning to attend would be significant and and there was a chance it could recover with the appearances of Tyler, Michaels and Nugent. "It was brutal. It was my call. The blame is on me."
An effort to help the unpaid workers of LaconiaFest was created at https://www.gofundme.com/2a84pg4
Comments on the LaconiaFest Facebook page were generally upset at the turn of events.