RENEE ORDWAY

Sudden move to Portland shows KahBang’s biggest problem is bad management

Posted July 18, 2014, at 2:38 p.m.

Poll Question

Well, KAHBANG!

Or shall we now call it KAHPORT?

Yes, it’s true. The organizers of Bangor’s KahBang music festival are taking their show on the road — Interstate 95 to be exact — and heading south to Portland, and oh, what a buzz they’ve created.

Why the sudden venue change just three weeks before the festival was scheduled to be held along the Bangor Waterfront?

I asked Joshua Gass, executive director of the festival, that question on Friday morning.

He already had told other media that it was because the festival lost use of the Hermon field where festival-goers previously pitched tents during the three-day affair.

That’s part of it, he said.

“What’s the rest of it?” I asked.

“I have some hesitancy to go into the complete and total truth. You’ll have to give me reasons to tell the complete and total truth, because honestly I already have so many people [angry],” he replied.

Hmmmm.

“OK, your donors and fans may like to know the truth,” I said.

It took awhile, but the “complete and total truth” seems to be that KahBang organizers and Waterfront Concerts never have played well together.

The construction of the big stage along the waterfront, which KahBang is not allowed to use, is a big issue. KahBang also is not allowed to use the rest of the Waterfront Concerts area, such as where the seats are located.

“The waterfront is carved out in a very different way then when we started and it’s been difficult for us,” Gass said.

That is most certainly true and perhaps understandably concerning, but it’s not a brand-new problem.

Then there is the relationship between KahBang and the city of Bangor. The festival asked before for camping sites along the waterfront and the city rightfully has denied that request.

It’s been a complicated relationship, apparently, and Gass vaguely suggested that organizers do not feel the city listens or responds to their needs.

City Council Chairman Ben Sprague feels differently, noting the amount of time that city departments, including legal, marketing and public works, put into helping the festival.

While Gass repeatedly insisted he wasn’t pointing fingers at the city and wanted to foster a good relationship, he and the rest of the staff chose not to notify city officials of their decision to pull the festival out of Bangor, even though they have a five-year contract with the city. City officials heard about it through the media like many of the rest of us.

There also is the issue of demographics and geography.

“This isn’t a Bangor festival, it is a regional festival and we draw a great number of people from southern Maine and New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We built this festival that way so that we would receive that audience,” Gass said.

Apparently feedback from that audience suggested Portland would be a more convenient location.

Again, however, I’m doubtful any of this is new information for organizers.

The soggy, makeshift campsite in Hermon never worked terribly well and organizers have known since at least last year that they needed another option. Gass says they have looked but have not been able to find a solution.

About 500 festival-goers bunk in that field, he said, which is a fairly small portion of the 7,000 to 10,000 attendees the event drew in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

A problem, yes, but unsolvable in a year’s time?

I doubt it.

Worth throwing in the towel three weeks before the festival?

I doubt that, too.

I asked Gass about ticket sales and he indicated that had something to do with the decision but said he could not tell me how ticket sales this year compared with sales at this same time last year or the year before that.

It may seem I’m giving Gass a bad rap. It should be noted that he’s a young guy who I have no doubt is committed to the festival and has worked hard for it. While he has the fancy title of executive director, Gass said he has never been paid for his work.

The festival is a nonprofit entity. KahBang organizers can move it anywhere they want.

The people who have a legitimate right to be angry are the local folks who donated to support this unique musical event in Bangor.

Those who already purchased tickets can have their money refunded. Those who donated should be given the same consideration.

Keeping a two- or three-day festival viable from year to year is a daunting task. If organizers feel the local area is not supportive of KahBang and feel it would do better in Portland, then by all means, go forth and prosper.

But I believe for all its difficulties, KahBang’s biggest problem is bad management.

Only bad management can be blamed for this last-minute, desperate situation the festival finds itself in, and no one likes to donate money to a badly managed nonprofit.

The only way KahBang will survive anywhere is to take care of that issue first. That may mean hiring a paid staff person to take care of the details that seem to be sinking the ship.

Without that change, KahBang will be “KahPut.”

Renee Ordway can be reached at reneeordway@gmail.com.

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