Shakedown Promoter Speaks

Hal Abramson, promoter of this summer’s Shakedown Festival in Oregon, has resurfaced and given Pollstar his side of the story. The jam band event was canceled just hours before gates were to open, leaving a lot of fans and concert insiders scratching their heads.

Lowell MacGregor, owner of festival site Columbia Meadows near the city of Saint Helens, has been fielding calls all summer, giving his side of the story. Abramson, on the other hand, left the area soon after the would-be August 26-28 concert collapsed and could not be reached. His side of things showed up online at the Shakedown’s Web site.

Abramson says he’s quit the music biz and is living at his mother’s house. The experience left him destitute and he’s now under the care of a psychiatric clinic. He recently fired off a screed to the Columbia County board of commissioners, detailing MacGregor’s alleged mishandling of the festival.

Shakedown was a lifelong dream, Abramson told Pollstar, and he avoided entertaining the idea of marriage until he could have his festival. MacGregor was a jam festival neophyte who could not write a contract and did not hold up his end of the bargain, the promoter claims. Problems included an extensive list of contract rewrites and addendums, an obsessive need for money up front and a lack of securing vendors.

Communication between the two men eventually went through lawyers. In the end, MacGregor destroyed everything, the promoter claims. And as a final coup d’etat, MacGregor posted the promoter’s cell phone number on the marquee so that ticked off fans would call him rather than the ticketing companies.

“I was signing contracts under duress,” Abramson said, because the last contract was just days before gates opened. He said he wound up being asked to sign over all of the ticket money to MacGregor day of show. Abramson said that’s when he put his foot down and the gates never opened.

“No other venue would require 100 percent of the money in advance and I still went for it, like an idiot,” he said. “So I was on my way to getting the son of a bitch $110,000, which is what he needed for that stupid, broken down, big huge field he’s got.”

Is a lawsuit on the way? According to Abramson, the answer is a big, fat yes.

MacGregor tells a different tale, be it consistent with the one he told Pollstar the day the festival got canceled.

As it turns out, the venue owner is no neophyte, but has been in the business for 20 years and has attended the Concert Industry Consortium. His company, the Lowell MacGregor Group, has worked with the Warped Tour, and MacGregor was negotiating the Shakedown with Abramson while he was on the road promoting Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huckjam tour.

“I know: The whole world’s out to get him and I was trying to screw him from the beginning,” MacGregor joked. “It’s not the reality. I’m in business to try and do business. I would have been happy to have his show there. I moved hell and highwater to get his show there when it was canceled from another location. I don’t have anything against Hal Abramson; I couldn’t care less about Hal Abramson.”

He added Abramson was “under duress” since the beginning, believing everyone was out to get him. “I told him, ‘Hal, nobody’s out to get you. You just got to do this thing right.'”

According to the venue owner, the two sides were planning on putting out a mutual statement and keeping their grievances private – that is, until Abramson posted a vitriolic attack on MacGregor online. Then, the gloves came off and MacGregor’s company posted all the final agreements online in .pdf format, he said. Shakedown’s Web site supplies a draft version.

If Abramson does file a complaint, MacGregor said he will counter with the signed assignment for ticket revenues, the lease agreement Abramson signed agreeing to hold in prudent reserve sufficient funds for anticipated expenses and e-mails from Abramson’s lawyer stating the promoter did not have the funds.

As for Abramson’s claim that MacGregor unduly wanted the ticket money assigned to him up front, the venue owner countered that TicketsWest told Abramson he would not be allowed to receive any of the ticket monies until two days after the shows.

“He didn’t even have access to the money he was assigning to us. It was just a shell game of trying to hide and maneuver.”

The promoter also claims MacGregor took six-and-a-half weeks to sign the initial emergency contract rather than the normal turnaround time of a day or two.

“That’s absolute horse manure. The contract was negotiated and sent to him in a timely fashion,” MacGregor said. “We got him the paperwork to support what he wanted as quickly as possible. The problem was Baseline Ticketing was threatening to pull the plug on him if he didn’t have an agreement in place and I e-mailed Baseline that we did.

“The contract was faxed back and forth for a couple of days. And if it did take six weeks, what difference would it make? It didn’t but I don’t even understand why that would enter into the equation.”

At least one of the bands scheduled to play, Galactic, was in flight when the festival got shuttered. Shakedown was to feature DJ Logic, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Keller Williams, STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9), The Big Wu, and Medeski Martin & Wood along with approximately 30 other acts. Some played that weekend at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom / Lola’s in a hastily put-together makeup show.

Joe Reinartz