In St. Louis, there's a pleasant tagline for a local furniture store that ends with "because you like nice things." But being the generally insecure, self-doubting place that it is, St. Louis and its denizens often find themselves tweaking that slogan whenever there's a sting from bad news, and asking "we really can't have nice things, can we?"
It's another one of those days in Mound City, and this time it didn't involve another NFL team leaving or the topping of an embarrassing national ranking (STD rates, murders, you name it). On this occasion, it's the cancelation of the locally produced and beloved music festival LouFest, following a spate of negative attention over the holiday weekend regarding unpaid bills, fed-up contractors and unbuilt stages. The event was scheduled to kick off Saturday, Sept. 8 and continue Sunday, Sept. 9.
Festival organizer Listen Live Entertainment released a statement early Wednesday announcing the decision, citing "several financial hurdles" exacerbated by the loss of two top sponsors and lingering debt from previous events. The local, independent producer also said it faced scheduling and contract issues with major artists on the bill, but did not elaborate. This year's festival, held in the city's stately Forest Park, was to feature a solid mix of rock legends (Robert Plant, Michael McDonald), country music (Kacey Musgraves, Brothers Osborne) and indie rock (Modest Mouse, Moon Taxi). And T-Pain.
There was also going to be a dedicated jazz stage, loads of food and craft beer (that still needs to be eaten/drunk) and, as is custom, a large selection of local bands. (Full disclosure: the author is in one such combo, Grace Basement, which was slated to perform in one of those pre-noon time slots before anyone shows up.)
A delayed lineup announcement and a lack of other organizational benchmarks already gave this year's festival an air of vulnerability, but it wasn't until late last week that it became clear the kinds of "hurdles" it was facing. On Friday night, St. Louis Public Radio reported that several vendors contracted to do crucial work at the event had dropped out, citing "persistently delayed payment" from the promoter. Contractors included those for sound, stage lighting and trash removal.
"They failed to fulfill their contract with us," said a vendor in one of several damning quotes from the article. "We've stepped back from the project. We believe other vendors have stepped back from the project."
LouFest responded to the report by insisting they were "100% good to go" and that "everything is going as planned." By Tuesday, security barricades may have been up but the four planned stages were not, with stagehands sent home early.
In this morning's cancelation announcement, Listen Live said it would have been "on target" to overcome setbacks regarding lost sponsors and contractors, as well as debt-driven financial difficulties, if it hadn't been for a "bit of unfortunately timed media coverage." The company said the negative headlines "caused many of our vendors and artists to demand up-front payment just days before gates were set to open. LouFest simply couldn’t make that happen."
The company also pointed to a lousy weather forecast as another factor for cancelling and said the Ticketmaster-owned Front Gate Tickets would be providing refunds while it pays off debts. "We feel it would be irresponsible to continue to invest in an event that might not be able to realize its exceptional potential," they said.
Listen Live Entertainment has not said what the future holds for the festival, which launched in 2010. Managing partner Mike Van Hee did not respond to requests for comment.
Read the full statement:
Dear St. Louis,
We are sad to announce that LouFest 2018 has been cancelled. We know this is a great disappointment to many and that there has been wide speculation around our event. We want to share what’s been going on directly with you.
First, and as is usually the case when things like this happen, LouFest had several financial hurdles. The loss of two of the event's top sponsors, scheduling and contract issues with major artists, and existing debt from previous events have all put immense pressure on the balance sheet.
Overcoming those setbacks while trying to grow the Fest has been a challenge, one that LouFest was on target to meet until a bit of unfortunately timed media coverage caused many of our vendors and artists to demand up-front payment just days before gates were set to open. LouFest simply couldn’t make that happen.
Second, the fickle St. Louis weather has made us extremely nervous. 2018 pre-sale ticket volume has been fantastic but the festival does rely on walkups to be financially successful. We know first-hand that a rain-soaked weekend like our event experienced in 2016 would both kill that traffic and do physical harm to Forest Park. We feel it would be irresponsible to continue to invest in an event that might not be able to realize its exceptional potential.
Although we don’t currently have the funds to issue refunds, the exceptional festival ticketing company we selected, Front Gate Tickets, owned by Live Nation and Ticketmaster, will be stepping up to refund all fans in full while we work to repay our debts.
We want to recognize the sponsors, vendors, partners, and fantastic team members who have been working around the clock in support of LouFest 2018. Producing this event has been a labor of love for our family and the staff – we see it as our gift to our music-loving city.
It has been thrilling to bring so much joy to fans, recognition to St. Louis, a spotlight to its artists, and an estimated $8 million in revenue to the region each year. For that, we will always be proud.
Mike Van Hee – Managing Partner Listen Live Entertainment