King Biscuit Name Dispute
The King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Ark., has officially changed its moniker to Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival after negotiations failed with a company who owns the trademark to the King Biscuit name.
The Sonny Boy Blues Society (SBBS), a nonprofit organization that produces the annual three-day fest, was forced to change the name after it refused to pay New York-based
“We made a lot of offers to try and work out a deal,” SBBS Executive Director Wayne Andrews told Pollstar. “In my mind, it just got to the point where they were asking for an exorbitant amount of cash upfront.”
The free October 6-8 event, which is expecting approximately 100,000 visitors from all over the world, has an entertainment budget of $108,000, according to Andrews. He said the festival simply couldn’t afford the price tag.
“I could understand them asking for money if I was walking away with lots of money as a promoter, but the festival has gone bankrupt three times,” he explained. “It’s not like it’s a moneymaker.”
The festival has functioned under the King Biscuit name for 19 years. KBEG has owned the trademark since 1973 and has always allowed the fest to use the moniker, company president Kevin Cain said. A few years ago, however, Cain informed SBBS that the fest would have to sign a licensing agreement and pay a fee in the future.
“They said that was fine and agreeable, so we continued to let them use it as an accommodation,” Cain told Pollstar. “This year, we said now it’s time to sign a licensing fee [agreement] and they didn’t want to do it.”
Cain explained that the company is planning to launch a series of restaurants called King Biscuit Café, where live music will be featured. The decision to charge the blues festival for permission to use the name stemmed from concern that it could cause “consumer confusion.”
“We’ve put millions of dollars into developing the trademark and they’ve been using it for free,” he said. “I have board members and shareholders to answer to. They’re like, ‘Why are we doing this? Why are we giving them a free ride?'”
Hugh Southard, a North Carolina-based agent who books acts at the festival, suspects KBEG is planning to use the well-known moniker to promote its own blues festival in the future.
“There’s no logical explanation for them to do it unless they have somewhere in their minds that they’re going to take what [King Biscuit Blues Festival] built down there and exploit it for their own use,” Southard told Pollstar. “If they wanted to work with the festival and not hurt it, they could work it out.”
Cain didn’t deny that the company has considered hosting a concert series and/or festival, and said while there’s no immediate plan to do so, it’s certainly possible.
“It’s our name and we do have the rights to create whatever we want with it,” Cain said.
Meanwhile, Andrews said the cost of having to alter the name 60 days before the event could potentially set the festival back almost $50,000. In light of the name change, KBEG has asked the fest to take down its Web site, change print ads, and immediately stop selling merch.
Andrews responded, “It’s not my highest priority; I’ve got a festival to put on.”
Information about the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival can be found at its original Web site, kingbiscuitfest.org.
— Mitchell Peters