Detroit Fest Considers Date Change

Producers of the Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival are contemplating bumping the three-day event up a month, from Labor Day weekend to August 5-7.

The Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, which produces the event, thinks the Jazz Fest would benefit from less competition. Labor Day weekend is the time frame for the Chrysler Arts, Beats & Eats – a huge street fair in Pontiac that began in 1998. It outdraws the jazz fest by a 2-to-1 margin.

“There is a strong business case for not being in competition with Arts, Beats & Eats,” Music Hall president Sandy Duncan told the Detroit Free Press.

The jazz fest lost money in four consecutive events, from 2000 to 2003, but broke even last Labor Day weekend. That show included Aretha Franklin and Lou Rawls, and had a reported three-day attendance of 600,000.

This year, the event expects to expand its musical format to include Motown, blues, R&B, gospel and funk. The expansion is expected to push the festival’s budget from $1 million to $1.2 million.

“The landscape is changing here in Detroit,” event organizer Frank Malfitano told Pollstar. “We certainly don’t want to forego 25 years of continuity on Labor Day weekend but the competition in the marketplace has gotten really, really stiff.”

He said he wasn’t crazy about the idea of a date change, but understood why it is a consideration.

“We’ve been offered some new opportunities regarding television broadcasts and new sources of revenue that we have to take a look at. A lot of things are up in the air, a lot of things are swirling around. We’re getting a late start and, obviously, I wish we were a lot further along at this point.”

Malfitano said he has a shortened schedule to book entertainment, but he’s used to that pressure.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. It’s not my first rodeo,” he said, adding that a final decision on the festival date will be made within a month.

“It’s time to paint or get off the ladder.”

The red ink has caused Music Hall’s other programming to slow dramatically, and the board has mortgaged the theatre to finance the festival’s debt, Duncan told the Free Press.

In the meantime, Ford has yet to commit to sponsoring the 2005 festival since a $250,000-a-year deal expired after the last event.