Monroe council ponders music fest

MONROE — After losing $36,000 in public money last year, organizers of the MusicFest at Lake Tye Park should know soon whether they’ll be funded for another show.

Last week, they detailed lessons learned for the Monroe City Council. On Tuesday, another round of talks is expected.

The council is considering spending $65,000 to fund another September festival. City staff expects to compile information and return to the council for further direction.

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the company that operates the Evergreen Speedway, High Road Promotions, helped market last year’s festival.

Chamber Director Annique Bennett and Doug Hobbs, of High Road Promotions, submitted letters to the council, recounting their experiences working on the MusicFest. Both said they had raised concerns early in last year’s planning process.

“We were glad to be part of it but the experience was frustrating and ultimately predictable,” Bennett wrote. “There was very little flexibility (of) vision — regardless of concerns shared. While we applaud the interest of cultural pursuits in Monroe, watching another MusicFest play without proper planning isn’t something we support.”

Bennett urged the city to require a formal business plan before funding another festival.

The council last year authorized $40,000 for the first-time event. Organizer Keith Brock, a guitarist who splits his time between Los Angeles and Monroe, directed the city to spend nearly $50,000. The event brought in just under $14,000 in ticket sales and sponsorships.

The city decided Brock’s proposal was so unique it awarded the 2013 production contract to him exclusively. City officials acknowledge they didn’t vet Brock’s background before entrusting him with public money.

Monroe Parks and Recreation Director Mike Farrell told the council last week he now understands that city policy would require seeking requests for proposals from others who may be interested in the 2014 festival contract.

The band Brock created to headline the 2013 festival earned $9,000. He encouraged the city to spend nearly $20,000 on sound and lighting.

Brock last week told the council he could guarantee that lighting costs would be reduced by $6,000 in 2014. He also said he could further reduce spending by paying closer attention to other costs. For example, he said, booking airline tickets in advance could save money.

Brock blamed poor numbers in 2013 on a lack of marketing. He expected vendors — the people who contracted to sell food and drink — to pass out flyers ahead of the event.

The 2013 budget included money for a website but little for paid advertising.

The event sold 467 concert tickets. Organizers had hoped to attract 2,000 to 5,000 people. Up to 700 were at the concert, including those who entered free, according to city estimates.

Brock on Friday told The Herald he is planning to pledge $20,000 to fund a 2014 festival if the city will match the money. He wants control of marketing and securing vendors this time.

“My hope is the city has a chance to make back the losses from last year,” he said.

The chamber’s Bennett told the council she believed the city would have to invest $100,000 to successfully execute Brock’s vision in 2014. The 2013 show, she said, lacked advance planning and a marketing budget.

“If the same last minute planning and vision are to be followed again in 2014, the city can expect to learn the lessons of 2013 all over again,” she wrote.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com.

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