Saturday, April 20, 2024

Worst Music Festival in Texas History

The World United Music Fest held, kinda, in Nov. 2008, was a little shy of its goal of 100,000 fans during the three days. Yeah, just 99,800 short. WUMF could’ve been sponsored by Sharpie because, with high ticket prices and a local-heavy lineup, it had disaster written all over it. On the bright side – cleanest portable toilets ever! Rock star parking for all!

SAN MARCOS – Salim Daou usually sets up shop at festivals on the East Coast, but he traveled with his staff here from Richmond, Va., over the weekend, lured by the promise of 150 bands playing for 100,000 hungry people at the World United Music Festival .

On Monday , Daou waited with a handful of other vendors outside the festival’s San Marcos office, wanting his $1,500 booth fee returned. Daou said he spent $6,000 in travel and food costs. He made only $300 in sales.

“There were no people,” he said. “Friday, we thought, ‘OK, people are at work.’ Friday evening, it was windy. We thought, ‘It’s OK.’ On Saturday, we were wondering what’s going on.”

The festival, which was to run Friday through Sunday, ended a day early, and bands and vendors blamed that on low attendance and financial mismanagement. Organizers blamed the weather and a misunderstanding between contractors.

Jerry Payne with guitar

The festival, held on 500 acres east of the outlet malls, was billed as an inaugural fundraiser for United States Entertainment Force, a California-based group that provides support to soldiers and their families, according to its Web site. The site does not mention music festival experience. Some of the proceeds from the $35-a-day tickets were to go to the charity.

Jerry Payne , founder of the group and the festival, said he canceled it in part because of winds that caused part of the stage to fall on six people Friday evening, injuring a volunteer who was taken to the hospital. Payne said a problem between the production company and a local subcontractor, neither of whom he would name, also contributed.

However, Robert Chapman , who owns a Dallas company that provided the staging, lighting and audio for the festival, said he pulled out Saturday after it became unclear whether he would be paid the $60,000 he said is owed him.

“It’s a real mess,” Chapman said. “I’ve never been involved with a festival that failed this bad.”

Chapman said a check for $10,000 he was to receive before the festival bounced. When he asked to be paid $60,000 on Saturday as agreed, he said organizers couldn’t come up with the money.

Payne denied that a check bounced and said people’s safety was his No. 1 concern.

Food vendors Monday said they also were out money.

Joe Flanagan , who owns the San Marcos bar Nephew’s, said he had a deal to sell beer at the festival. He said organizers owe him $3,000. On Saturday, Flanagan said he was told to contact a San Marcos attorney who would make sure that he got paid. Flanagan said the attorney told him he had no idea what Flanagan was talking about.

When Payne used the words “an act of God” during Saturday’s cancellation announcement, Flanagan said, it set off alarms for ticket holders and vendors that they weren’t going to be reimbursed for their losses.

Ray McEachern , whose company leased out 200 portable toilets, said he has “no doubt in my mind” that he won’t get the $13,000 he said is owed him.

“We were supposed to be paid cash up front” on Tuesday, he said. By Friday, he said, he was worried.

City of San Marcos spokeswoman Melissa Millecam said the city had little involvement with the festival. Officials could not be reached Monday afternoon to say whether any criminal complaints had been filed.

Payne said Monday that everyone would be paid, but he did not say when.

A search of public records confirmed that Payne’s group has federal tax-exempt status. It also showed that Payne had several tax liens from 1987 to 1998 and a bankruptcy filing in 1993.

A message on his group’s Web site stated that the show was canceled because a storm and freeze Friday caused structural damage. The National Weather Service said the low temperature Friday night and Saturday morning in San Marcos was 48 degrees. The strongest wind recorded was gusts of 48 miles per hour. There was no rain.

The lack of visitors, not the weather, doomed the festival, vendors and musicians said. The festival did little print advertising, though it had at least one ad on KGSR. Payne said he does not know how many tickets were sold.

Headliners such as Asleep at the Wheel and Roger Creager were to be paid a fee, but most acts played for free.

Central Texas music industry professionals reached Monday said they hadn’t heard of Payne or his company before. San Marcos-based music publicist Vickie Lucero said that once she saw the lineup, she “knew it wouldn’t fly.”

There was no act large enough to be considered a “marquee draw,” Lucero said. Also, the $35-a-day ticket price was “absolutely too high.” She said organizers “should’ve scaled it back to maybe two stages and 50 bands and made it a free event. That way they could’ve made their money from the vendors.”

The Austin City Limits Music Festival in its first year, 2002, charged $25 for one-day tickets and had as headliners the Arc Angels reunion, String Cheese Incident, Pat Green, Wilco and Emmylou Harris. This year, one-day tickets sold for $80.

In San Marcos, Mike Morgan’s band, Flounders Without Eyes, played at 6 p.m. Friday to a crowd of exactly zero.

“It was not only the worst festival we ever played, but it was the worst one I’ve ever gone to,” Morgan said. “There was some sincerity there, but it seemed like someone who knew absolutely nothing about the concert business referenced ACL Fest and thought all there was to it was getting a whole bunch of bands to play eight stages, and you’ll make a fortune.”

Wimberley-based Roots Music Association organized a conference at the event for musicians and people in the radio industry to network, an event that went on without a hitch at the San Marcos Conference Center, said Shane Bartosh , one of the association’s directors.

As expected, about 50 people showed up, Bartosh said. As for the festival, Bartosh said, he still hasn’t figured out what happened. “We were listening to music in the field when (Payne) got on stage and made the announcement,” Bartosh said. “We had nothing to do with production.”

by Andrea Lorenz and Michael Corcoran, AAS

Here’s an advance story with the lineup

A Vietnam veteran with a background in the USO and other morale-boosting ventures, novice promoter Payne might have had his heart in the right place (“He gets you on board with his cause,” said fest creative director Chase Sprague) but he was way out of his league putting on a large-scale music festival.

Which is something the vendors and the musicians should’ve known as well. Do your research, especially if the organizer has a name like United States Entertainment Force.

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