The road to Denver was paved with good intentions for Lee Greenwood and first-time promoter Frank Young September 15th, the day the singer was to perform a short set capping three days of celebration honoring military veterans and rescue workers.
By the end of the day, the concert was canceled, fans were disappointed, and conflicting accounts of exactly what happened were beginning to make the rounds in the media.
The early message: Patriotic singer Lee Greenwood stiffed veterans.
Greenwood and his camp did, in fact, cancel two hours before he was to take the stage. However, as is usually the case in 11th-hour cancellations, the story is complicated. And as is also usually the case, no one is a winner in a public relations skirmish that was still being fought in the press a week later.
Frank Young, a Vietnam War veteran and co-founder of Trinity Community Services Foundation, which sponsored Denver’s three-day Colorado State Parade of Honor, had never booked a concert before. Greenwood, an obvious crowd-pleaser of a choice to cap the festivities, agreed to play a 20- to 30-minute solo gig for $20,000 despite the promoter’s lack of experience.
Despite successfully securing a reported 238 marching units, a military-jet flyover of downtown Denver, sufficient porta-potties, permits and sponsorships to cover at least $180,000 of expenses for the event, Young ran into difficulty securing a venue and deposit for Greenwood before coming up short with the balance day of show.
Why that happened is a matter of conflicting accounts between Greenwood’s camp and Young, who could not be reached for this story.
What’s verified is this: The country singer, known for the signature anthem "God Bless the USA," was contacted by Young in May and agreed to perform a solo set, with piano or backing tracks, in a free concert to close the celebration for $20,000.
The contract, provided to Pollstar by Greenwood manager Jerry Bentley, included the usual industry requirement of a 50 percent deposit at least 30 days in advance and the balance to be paid in full by cash or cashier’s check day of show.
Documents confirm the payment of the $10,000 deposit to Greenwood’s reps at Agency for the Performing Arts; however, payment was made in two parts – one $6,000 wire transfer and another, dated two days after the agreed deadline, for $4,000. The delay was attributed to a bank error, corrected and accepted by APA.
However, agent Mark Guynn, doing diligence on behalf of responsible agent Steve Lassiter, called the Denver venues that Young said were held for the event. Guynn found that none of the venues would confirm they had been secured.
Lassiter told Pollstar that, in hindsight, it still would not have been enough to cause red flags to go up or consider pulling the plug two weeks out.
"No, because [Young] kept saying he had it together, had the city of Denver behind him and all this promotion," Lassiter said. "He was just having difficulty getting the proper venues."
And he apparently did not secure the balance of Greenwood’s guarantee by the time the singer and his crew arrived on site. According to Bentley, the accumulation of problems combined with the failure to pay the balance was the reason he gave the marching order.
"I was involved two hours before the show and told John [Greenwood’s road manager] and Lee to leave the venue. John never saw the cash but the buyer had a man with him who asked, ‘If I write a personal check to Frank the buyer, will you then take his personal check?’ I said, ‘No. I don’t take personal checks.’"
The man in question offered a payment by the local Knights of Columbus, but told the road manager that since the club’s treasurer was unavailable he would be willing to write a personal check to cover the balance.
"Let’s be clear about something: This was not a Knights of Columbus promotion, period," Bentley said. A dispute then arose about the amount of remaining balance.
"This initial meeting about the money is where the buyer kept insisting he made two, not one, $4,000 wire transfers and had paid $14,000. But I sent all the paperwork with the road manager so he’s got all the documentation to back it up.
"The bottom line: We received $10,000, we were to pick up $10,000, the buyer disputed the balance due and the road manager never saw the cash. Press reports said that they had $18,000 and only a balance of $2,000. If that were true, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. We would have been close enough to not worry about it.
"But not at 50 percent. And we are not accustomed to working for 50 percent wages," Bentley said.
Young, obviously stung by the cancellation, took to Denver’s radio airwaves to deride Greenwood’s management for a "rude, obnoxious and vulgar attitude" and for not budging on the disputed fee balance.
Greenwood told the Associated Press, "[The fans] shouldn’t be angry at me – they should be angry at the man who put on the show."
But fans usually don’t care about the he-said, she-said of a canceled event. They just want the music and invariably point fingers at the artist. Whether the final amount in dispute was $2,000 or $10,000, the final accounting won’t include the unknown public relations cost of the media circus that ensued.
Bentley told Pollstar that Greenwood and his team will discuss a possible return to Denver for a full, free concert in appreciation of his fans "once the dust has settled."