BANGOR, Maine — Bangor officials wished KahBang music festival organizers well a day after the group announced it was moving the event to Portland, but some leaders argued the sudden change of venue violated the terms of a contract with the city.
“We certainly wish the organizers well with their new direction and location,” Tracy Willette, director of parks and recreation, said in a written statement Friday afternoon. Other city leaders echoed his sentiment.
That doesn’t mean the shift wasn’t a disappointment to officials who put many hours into ensuring the festival could have a place in Bangor, according to the head of Bangor’s City Council.
“The City Council and city staff members who have worked with KahBang for six years found out about the move to Portland by reading about it in a [Bangor Daily News] article. There was no advance warning and no way for us to react,” Council Chairman Ben Sprague said Friday.
News broke Thursday of KahBang’s plans to relocate this year’s festival from the Bangor Waterfront to Portland, just three weeks before it was set to start. KahBang announced the change officially in a statement released on Friday.
In the news release, KahBang marketing director Derek Bowen says a “series of logistical issues” prompted the move after attempts to resolve those problems while keeping the event in Bangor failed.
“The organizers felt it was important to give the festival a chance to sustain itself and continue with its mission of bringing emerging music, art and film to the state of Maine,” Bowen said.
Organizers have cited several reasons for the move, including sluggish ticket sales and difficulty finding campground space in the area. They have said they hope to return the festival to Bangor next year.
KahBang approached the city recently to ask permission to allow people to camp on the waterfront after deciding the past campground venue wouldn’t work because it was too wet. The city denied that request, in large part because of the damage a weekend of camping could do to the grounds, a lack of appropriate restroom facilities, and the fact that allowing one group to camp there would mean other groups could request to do so as well, according to City Manager Cathy Conlow. The city’s policy consistently has been to not allow camping along the waterfront.
“They expressed that camping was a major concern for them, but we never knew it was a deal breaker,” Sprague said.
Multiple officials from the city manager’s office, economic development, council and parks and recreation said Thursday and Friday that no one from KahBang approached them after the camping request denial to seek an alternative or to notify them that they might have to relocate the festival. All said they were taken by surprise when they read Thursday that the festival would be uprooting.
In August 2012, KahBang signed a contract with the city that is effective through Aug. 31, 2016. It stipulates that the city and Waterfront Concerts will set aside the waterfront one weekend each August so KahBang could host its event without interference by Waterfront Concerts, the American Folk Festival or any other event.
The contract also states that KahBang should pay $7,000 to the city before July 1 each year to be held in escrow to cover costs of any “losses” incurred by the city as result of the event, according to Conlow. Any money not used to cover losses gets returned.
As of Friday, KahBang had not paid the city that money.
KahBang also agreed to pay the city $1.25 from each ticket sold, which worked out to less than $1,500 last year. By comparison, even small Waterfront Concerts events bring the city at least $7,000 per show. The Dave Matthews Band performance resulted in a nearly $28,000 check to the city, according to Sprague.
The contract lays out default and termination policies that largely focus on what happens if the festival goes into bankruptcy. The contract states that the agreement can be terminated if “KahBang fails to comply with the notice provision” or to “observe any of the other covenant, terms or conditions” within the agreement.
“They did break their contract and now we have a weekend on our waterfront in prime summer concert season with nothing going on,” Sprague said. “This is why we have contracts, so that we can plan out our summer season.”
Bangor city councilors will sit down with City Solicitor Norm Heitmann on Monday evening for a meeting to discuss the KahBang contract, an agreement that may have been breached by the sudden relocation. That meeting will be held in executive session, so it’s unclear what, if any, findings will be revealed.
Heitmann said on Friday he would be reviewing the contract and presenting it to councilors on Monday. He said he would have no comment until then.
Even if the city does believe that KahBang breached its agreement, it’s unlikely the city would pursue any legal action.
“If legal options were available to us, I am not sure we would use them,” Sprague said Friday. “We just want to move past this and focus on trying to fill our Waterfront season with something new. Our legal department has more pressing concerns.”
Reiterating that the decision to relocate was a difficult one for the Bangor-based organizers to make, KahBang wanted to “assure festivalgoers that the event will maintain the same fun, creative and eclectic atmosphere as past years and hope that the change of location does not deter anyone from experiencing it,” according to its statement on Friday.
“We are sad to see them go, it’s true,” Sprague said, “but mostly because it reinforces this false narrative that you have to go to Portland to be successful. I think KahBang helped grow something wonderful in Bangor and I’m disappointed they are not staying.”
In response to an upset Bangor resident who gave a $500 donation to the festival a few weeks ago, Joshua Gass, the festival’s director, apologized for the sudden change. That donor provided her email and Gass’ response to the Bangor Daily News on condition her name not be published.
“Our organizational mission is not to serve Bangor, but to discover, develop and support artists all over the region and all our events serve that mission, including events we do elsewhere,” Gass wrote in response. “If you feel you were [misled] by our mission, then I am so sorry and you truly have my most sincerest apology.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.