CountryLife Site Investigated

Three former employees at Florida Tracks & Trails in Punta Gorda, the site of this year’s CountryLife Music festival, are considering filing a lawsuit alleging retaliation after they complained about safety violations during the fest and were fired. 

Attorney Benjamin Yormak told the local News-Press his clients raised complaints to park owner Terry Cooke and co-manager Bjorn Rosinus and were dismissed.

“It’s our position that it’s a direct retaliation for raising safety concerns,” he said, noting specific complaints including a claim that Cooke pulled a handgun on a disorderly and potentially dangerous park customer during the festival. An attorney for Cooke denied the incident, and OSHA documents obtained by the paper through an open records request noted that while Cooke did have a firearm at the time, he couldn’t “recall what, if anything, he did with the firearm.”

The OSHA investigation concluded that any hazardous conditions, if they existed at all, “have been corrected.”

“We have not determined whether the hazards, as alleged, exist at your workplace,” a May 29 letter from OSHA to Florida Tracks & Trails noted. “And we do not intend to conduct an inspection at the time.”

Meanwhile principals with Blu Entertainment, the promoter of CountryLife that allegedly stiffed vendors and is facing an investigation in Illinois by the state Attorney General’s office for another failed fest, are blaming problems with the event on Florida Tracks & Trails. Though co-manager Rosinus said in July that the park ended up coughing up $200,000 extra during the festival to cover Reba McEntire’s fee, Blu Entertainment’s Brad Maloney and Mark Rhinehart have denied that claim and blamed the fest’s failure on the park.

The promoters told the News-Press they never had a signed contract from the park, weren’t allowed to staff the festival with their own volunteers, were not allowed in the room when proceeds were being counted, and were never paid a percentage of profits they were owed from the event.

They added that they’d planned to use a ticketing system for food and drink sales, but it was never put in place and volunteers just accepted cash in buckets.

As for McEntire’s fee, the men claim they paid the remainder out of part of food and beverage sales but were also asked to write the park a $200,000 check as a security deposit in case something went wrong. They reluctantly agreed. “We had a lot of things go bad in Florida, and that carried through for us just to not be able to do the Illinois festival,” Rhinehart said. “Blu Entertainment would still be in business if it wasn’t for Florida Tracks & Trails. I believe that.”