Jazzfest producer wins encore

Jef Jaisun jef@jaisunphoto.com
Fri Sep 10 12:51:32 EDT 2004

Changes a-comin', they say. I hope they get rid of that Blues Tent and put
the stage back on the infield.


Jazzfest producer wins encore

Board votes to give new contract to group that founded event

Friday, September 10, 2004
By Rebecca Mowbray and Keith Spera

After flirting with hiring a new company to produce the New Orleans Jazz
and Heritage Festival, the board of the foundation that owns the annual
springtime event voted Thursday night to negotiate a new contract with
Festival Productions Inc., the company that has produced the festival since
its inception 35 years ago.

The decision marks the end of a period in which relations between the New
Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and Festival Productions were strained
to new extremes after this year's rain-soaked event lost money for the
first time since the early 1970s and the foundation found itself in
financial straits.

"It is the decision of the board to enter into a rapid negotiation with
Festival Productions," said David Oestreicher, first vice president of the
foundation, after a meeting lasting nearly three hours at the group's 1205
N. Rampart St. offices. He declined to say what the vote was.

The other contenders were a partnership of AEG Live, the country's No. 2
concert promoter, and Rehage Entertainment Inc., the company that puts on
the Voodoo Music Experience each October at City Park; and Florida concert
promoter Worldwide Entertainment Inc., which is known for producing stops
on concert tours and radio station-sponsored concerts.

Festival Productions Inc. said it was relieved to be selected to continue
guiding the growth of the festival it founded in 1970.

"We're delighted to have received this vote of confidence from the Board,"
said Quint Davis, president of Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans and
producer/director of Jazzfest, in a prepared statement. "They conducted a
comprehensive national search and concluded that Festival Productions is
the best company for the job. We look forward to establishing an even more
productive relationship with the Board, one that allows both the Foundation
and the Festival to flourish for a long time to come."

Oestreicher said he hoped to have a contract within five days. He declined
to say how long the terms of the proposed contract were for.

A last-minute lawsuit filed Thursday in Civil District Court by the
foundation against former Festival Productions employee Karlton Kirksey for
allegedly misappropriating funds from the sale of nighttime Jazzfest
concert tickets apparently did not turn the full board against Festival

That not all board members agreed with the decision to negotiate with
Festival Productions became clear as they filed out of Thursday's meeting.
When asked whether she was satisfied with the decision, one board member
said, "I'm not."

Negotiating a new contract will be complex because any new deal will
increase the requirements asked of the producer.

Each of the three finalists agreed to put up the $2 million necessary to
start next year's festival, and the new contract likely will provide for
profit-sharing between the foundation and the producer, elements that could
challenge the board's nonprofit status if not handled carefully.

And whether Festival Productions and the foundation can repair their
working relationship after such bruising negotiations remains to be seen.

Oestreicher waved off those concerns. "I'm very optimistic," he said.

The winner in the deal is clearly the Jazz and Heritage Foundation. By
entering into competitive negotiations with a variety of producers, the
foundation shifted the costs of fronting the event to prospective partners
and extracted guarantees to insulate itself from loss.

Even though Festival Productions will continue producing the event, next
year's festival is likely to look and feel a bit different than in the
past. More corporate sponsorship is likely, perhaps even a choosing a title
sponsor that would add the term "presented by" after the Jazz and Heritage
Festival name. Don Marshall, the new executive director of the foundation,
would like to see changes in the layout of the festival, better facilities
and a broader definition of Southern roots bands represented at the
seven-day event. The nighttime concerts, a source of losses this year that
weren't affected by rain, also likely will be rethought next year.
Widespread marketing of the festival is likely for the first time to turn
around three years of attendance declines.

Rival producers said they were disappointed by the outcome.

The partnership between AEG Live and Rehage Entertainment was reportedly
the preferred choice of the board committee leading the search.

"The board said it had issues it couldn't resolve with FPI. We waited until
they made that clear before we entered into conversations with the board,"
Stephen Rehage said. "We put together $60 million in production money and a
$5 million guarantee (for the foundation) over five years, along with some
of the most talented festival producers in the country and a lot of energy.
We would take on 100 percent of the risk and completely fund the festival
for five years. I don't know what happened tonight."

Rehage, a self-described "Jazzfest groupie" who has attended the event
since he was a student at Bonnabel High School, said he was disappointed by
the board's decision but hoped for the best for the festival.

"I still think that Jazzfest is the greatest music festival in the world,"
Rehage said. "I'm glad that there is some resolution for its future."

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