Empowering Spirits Foundation moved the LGBT-friendly Free To Be event from San Diego to the downtown L.A. Historic State Park – more than 100 miles away – and from its original July date to Sept. 3. It was again moved, to Sept. 4, in order to piggyback with the larger, Goldenvoice-produced FYF Festival the same weekend.
Free To Be organizers hoped to attract at least 7,200 and as many as 20,000 fans for a lineup that was originally to include Sophie B. Hawkins, Vanessa Carlton, Semi Precious Weapons, several DJs and other artists.
Goldenvoice wanted the park site Sept. 3 for its FYF Festival, which had been staged in front of L.A.’s City Hall in previous years. ESF agreed to move Free To Be back one day to accommodate FYF and made an agreement with Goldenvoice that allowed it to use staging from the previous day, and save on its own production costs.
But the good intentions apparently backfired, and Free To Be found itself competing with a Labor Day weekend in Los Angeles – and Angelenos deciding to be elsewhere.
“The biggest problem for me was that they kept coming to the table and telling us they were going to have between 7,000 and 12,000 at the event for sure, and were hoping to get it closer to 20,000,” Goldenvoice production manager Kevan Wilkins told Pollstar. “I went [to the festival site] at 5 p.m. when they decided to call it quits. Literally, I brought a team of stagehands in and started dismantling it. They basically closed the park down by 6 p.m. There was nobody there.”
Meanwhile, in San Diego, bickering rages on about what was expected and who was to pay for the production.
Empowering Spirits Foundation CEO Latham Staples told SDGLN he believed Goldenvoice was to pick up the tab.
“The whole premise behind [the arrangement] was that we could utilize their production,” Staples told the paper.
“They’d set up the staging, lighting, toilets, fencing, security [and] all that type of stuff, and then as their event came to a close, we could piggyback off of their stuff. They would get the tax write-off because they would assist a nonprofit and we wouldn’t have to pay for the costs of the production,” he said.
But Kent Black, an independent production manager who operates Paso Productions, told a different story.
“I told [Staples] up front,” Black told SDGLN, “after we negotiated the stage setup with AEG [and Goldenvoice] that he was still looking at $100,000 to $125,000 in production costs.”
Black worked with Wilkins to iron out the agreement and Wilkins agrees that ESF was still expected to pick up the tab for on-the-ground costs for its own festival.
“I wrote a complete breakdown of all the costs that were attached,” Wilkins said. “There was a lot of infrastructure that could be left in place from our show the day before, but we were really adamant that they still had to pay for their part of their show – sound, lighting, security and so on.”
ESF reportedly wrote checks to cover those costs as well as artist guarantees, but stopped payment on 21 of them, SDGLN reports, including to Hawkins who reportedly has filed a claim for payment.
“They bounced a check for $15,000 to us for stagehands,” Wilkins said. “I mean, they just wrote checks and bounced them. And they don’t admit to writing the checks. … It’s really sad from my perspective because there were a lot of my colleagues who received a check but didn’t get paid, because they bounced.”
Among other problems was a Free To Be website developer that allegedly went bankrupt in the runup to the show. The festival website still shows the incorrect Sept. 3 date for the event. And organizers continued to hold out hope for a big crowd despite all evidence – particularly a near-total lack of advance ticket sales – to the contrary.
“I met [Staples] on our show date [the day prior to Free To Be] and I was really shocked because anybody with less than 100 in sales would have canceled the show and none of this would have happened,” Wilkins said.