With little notice this afternoon and just two weeks before it filled downtown Mobile with a weekend of live music, BayFest organizers announced this year’s festival has been canceled, and the organization will cease to continue after a 20-year run, according to a statement.
“BayFest Board of Directors has seen a decline in support and interest and will discontinue the festival and additional events, including the BayFest 5K and Fun Run,” the statement read. “BayFest would like to thank all of our sponsors and patrons over the years that have helped in the growth to become Alabama’s largest music festival.”Lagniappe initially heard a rumor this morning that over-the-counter ticket sales had been halted at area CIrcle K outlets, and also noticed the online purchasing options had been disabled. The announcement notes all ticket sales thus far will be refunded.
In a telephone interview this afternoon, BayFest founder Bobby Bostwick said because of low ticket sales organizers didn’t feel confident the festival would have the $2 million needed to put the event on.
“Support has just waned,” he said. “Things run their courses.”
Bostwick said the decision to “pull the plug” was made this week in order to allow organizers to give refunds to ticket holders and sponsors. If they had waited until the end of the week, he said, that may not have been possible. In addition, the festival would have to pay a percentage to scheduled bands and to other contractors, like the company providing stages because of the cancellation. Bostwick said organizers had enough money right now to cover that.
BayFest Board of Directors member Michael Dewberry said ticket sales for this year’s festival were at less than half that of sales at the same time in previous years.
This year’s lineup included Shinedown, Cage the Elephant, Justin Moore, Three Days Grace, Slash, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and Chrisette Michele, among others. BayFest veterans include Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Alabama, Kid Rock, Journey, Motley Crue, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Duran Duran, Mary J. Blige, Brantley Gilbert, Toby Keith, The Roots, Foster the People, R. Kelley, Ludacris, Jane’s Addiction, Nelly, Al Green, BB King, Lady Antebellum, Alan Jackson and more.
Lagniappe is attempting to determine whether local brick-and-mortar venues may be able to salvage any of the bands scheduled to play this year.
Mobile County gave $200,000 for the upcoming event, spokeswoman Nancy Johnson said. By contract, the county will be refunded at the same percentage rate of other sponsors. The city gave BayFest $98,000 from the 2015 fiscal year budget. In an effort to curb spending on performance contracts, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration cut BayFest funding from $249,000 to $100,000 from 2014 to 2015, the city council voted to cut the funding further to $98,000 during budget negotiations last year, according to previous Lagniappe stories.
Stimpson’s 2016 proposed budget calls for another $98,000 payment. However, as for this year’s festival, Bostwick said “the city didn’t give us a dime.”
Chief of Staff Cooper called Bostwick’s statement “hogwash,” adding that in addition to the funds from the budget, the city also gives the festival “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in in-kind services to the festival.
After Bostwick spoke out, a statement from Stimpson acknowledged no responsibility.
“BayFest has been a great tradition in our city for 20 years and we are disappointed to see it go,” the statement read. “This was ultimately BayFest’s decision to cancel the event, and we appreciate that it was a difficult but necessary choice. We salute Bobby Bostwick and the BayFest team for an incredible run. Looking forward, this will create an opportunity for something new. Our downtown is seeing a resurgence and we are establishing Mobile as a destination. As one chapter closes, another one will open.”
Early calls to other organizers and city officials were not immediately returned, but Lagniappe obtained an email to councilors from Council President Gina Gregory breaking the bad news to her colleagues.
“I just received a phone call from Shana and Bobby that due to poor ticket sales and other issues, they’ve made the decision to cancel the festival this year,” she wrote. “Shana says they’re in the process of contacting the entertainers and sponsors now and will be making refunds to ticket holders.”
Elizabeth Stevens, president and CEO of the Downtown Mobile Alliance, said she expects a mixed reaction from members on news of the festival’s cancellation. Referencing a previous, now defunct, board decision to move the festival to The Grounds, Stevens said there were a faction of business owners who said “good riddance” and a faction of business owners who thought “the sky was falling.”
“There are people for whom it is a business driver and some for whom it is not a business driver,” she said, adding the impact on bars, restaurants and hotels would be greater than other downtown businesses.
This story was updated to include statements from Bobby Bostwick, Sandy Stimpson, Colby Cooper and Elizabeth Stevens.
April 1, 2015: Conflicting statements as BayFest vows to stay in LoDa
March 25, 2015: Will BayFest’s move help it or put it in the ground?
Sept. 16, 2014: BayFest awarded $98,000 in 2014-2015 budget