April 19, 2018
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.08 inches of rain makes $30,000 difference for folk festival

By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A year after turning a modest profit, the American Folk Festival found itself back in the red this year, but largely due to a one-two punch from Tropical Storm Irene.

In a way, the rain was both too much and not enough for the fortunes of the folk festival, which ended up losing $71,220.

“Yes, that’s actually true,” said Heather McCarthy, the festival’s executive director. “It was enough for us to cancel the third day of the festival, but not enough for us to be able to collect on our insurance policy.”

For the second straight year, the festival took out an insurance policy for weather-related cancellation costs. The $3,467 policy from Commerce and Industry Insurance Co. would have paid the festival organizers $27,000 if rainfall on Sunday, Aug. 28, had amounted to a total of 0.75 inches or more. Unfortunately for the organizers, the official amount measured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was 0.67 inches.

So, eight-hundredths of an inch cost the festival almost $30,000.

“That was a big hit, obviously,” said McCarthy. “I really do think we could have at least broken even or turned a profit if we hadn’t lost our third day, but that is not going to impact our ability to fulfill that commitment.”

The commitment is the annual $29,999.31 payment festival organizers make to the city of Bangor by Nov. 1 each year as part of a 10-year plan to pay back the $299,000 Bangor paid to help support the festival in its early years.

“If that experience [rain cancellation and no insurance payout] had happened five years ago, it probably would have had a much more significant impact on us. It might have even ended the festival,” said John Rohman, chairman of both the festival and WBRC Architects-Engineers.

But there’s no end in sight, according to Rohman.

“Sure, we need to put our heads together to reduce the deficit from this year, but we’ve weathered some pretty significant rains before and the reality is we’re in strong financial shape,” Rohman said.

The festival has operated in the black for three of its 10 years. The best year was 2005, when organizers came out $84,300 ahead.

Even with the shortfall caused by the rain, there was good news to be gleaned this year, according to both Rohman and McCarthy.

“This year’s Bucket Brigade total was $116,774, which is our second-best year ever after last year [$170,673],” McCarthy said, referring to donations collected from festival goers by volunteers during the event. “And this year was our best Friday ever and second-best Saturday ever.”

All told, the 2011 festival has generated $850,410 to date while expenses totaled $921,630. The fundraising goal for this year was $934,200.

The breakdown for income is as follows: $116,774 from the Bucket Brigade; $63,500 from public entities (Brewer, Quebec City and the University of Maine System); $62,000 in grant or foundation money; $383,000 from corporate sponsorships, cash and services; $98,400 in individual donations; and $126,736 in beer tent sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and vendor leasing fees.

Quebec City donated money in support of Canadian acts.

Last year, the festival generated $1,005,496 to offset $991,199 in expenses.

The festival’s budget didn’t fluctuate much in the first eight years, but last year organizers and officials made an effort to streamline things and cut expenses.

“We reduced the scope of the site by a reduction in the number of stages and performers, and that helped shrink our budget somewhat,” said Rohman. “We’re still looking at ways to cut costs, be more efficient, and generate revenue. One thing we want to consider is taking our experience of putting on the festival and possibly put on other revenue-generating events.”

That idea came from an impromptu two-hour concert at Husson University’s Gracie Theater on Monday, Aug. 29, featuring two bands stranded in Bangor for two extra days after the tropical storm canceled their plane flights. The event attracted a full house of 500 people and raised another $4,200 in donations.

McCarthy points out that the festival also generates benefits that can’t be monetarily quantified.

“You can’t measure reputation or exposure,” McCarthy said. “Bangor is developing a huge reputation on the national music scene through this event.”

As for detractors who call the festival a money-losing venture that has become too expensive, both Rohman and McCarthy vehemently disagree.

“Everybody’s going to have their own opinion of this festival and its place in the community,” McCarthy said. “Our leadership is very realistic and forward-thinking. They don’t assume contributions will come in if they haven’t been pledged and they are actively involved in all avenues of fundraising.”

“Due to the financial success we had last year, we now have a credit card and line of credit, which we secured for the first time this year,” she added.

Rohman said the festival has gained prominence and has given Bangor more visibility and recognition nationally.

“This year, I thought the lineup was probably the best lineup of acts we’ve ever had, even when it was the National Folk Festival,” he said. “And the folks who come to this one and then go to all the other venues really talk us up when they get back, and we get a lot of people calling us, wanting to be part of our festival.”

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