Updated Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. — Music fans, vendors and service providers startled by the cancellation of this weekend’s LouFest in Forest Park are shifting from disappointment to worry as they try to figure out how to recoup the cost of tickets, fees and other expenses.
Festival organizers early Wednesday called off the ninth annual event, three days before it was set to begin. Last year the two-day festival was at full capacity, drawing 32,000 fans each day.
The cancellation was a blow to Brianna Sutton, a senior at MacMurry College in Jacksonville, Illinois, who paid $85 a piece for two tickets. She’d planned to drive two hours with her dad to LouFest.
“The main reason I was going to go was to see Robert Plant specifically,” Sutton said. “My dad and I have been Led Zeppelin super fans and I’ve accepted that they’re most likely not going to have a reunions so we were hoping to see him.”
‘Yeah, this is dead’
Organizers cited “financial hurdles” and a rainy forecast as reasons for the event's cancellation. The announcement came in a letter posted on the LouFest website attributed to Mike Van Hee, managing partner at Listen Live Entertainment, the festival’s producer.
The cancellation came days after the departure of major vendors, among them Logic Systems, the company hired to produce lighting and concert sound for four festival stages.
One week before the scheduled start of LouFest, St. Louis Public Radio reported that contractors booked to provide essential services were backing out.
St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jeremy Goodwin joins host Don Marsh to discuss the details behind the music festival's cancellation.
“We’re not doing it,” Logic Systems owner Chip Self said last week. “[Listen Live] failed to fulfill their contract with us.”
Listen Live Entertainment has not responded to multiple requests for comment. The festival’s official account tweeted on Friday that things were “100% good to go.”
But the loss of key vendors put the festival on shaky ground, Self said.
“When you do this for a living, at that point it’s so obvious that it’s not even a conversation. We’re all totally interconnected,” he said of the various vendors hired to work the festival. “It’s a puzzle. If there’s any one piece missing, it’s incomplete and it doesn’t work.”
The tone of LouFest organizers changed early Wednesday with the announcement scrapping the entire festival and blaming money problems and the weather, with forecasts calling for rain throughout the weekend.
Festival organizers admitted in the cancellation announcement that “there has been wide speculation around our event.” That is a reference to weeks of chatter from St. Louis music fans identifying a growing list of red flags: Stage schedules weren’t released until Saturday; tickets and wristbands didn’t come in the mail; one headlining act was never announced.
In the letter, Van Hee wrote that money was behind much of the trouble. He blamed “unfortunately timed media coverage” for exacerbating the financial strain from sponsor losses, contract issues and debt from previous events.
The weekend weather forecast is also to blame. “The fickle St. Louis weather has made us extremely nervous,” Van Hee wrote, adding that rain could hamper walkup attendance and damage the park.
“We feel it would be irresponsible to continue to invest in an event that might not be able to realize its exceptional potential,” the letter said.
Ticket refunds begin today
Ticketing company Front Gate Tickets will handle refunds for Listen Live Entertainment so the company can “work to repay our debts,” according to Van Hee’s letter.
The letter said that Listen Live Entertainment does not have sufficient funds to issue refunds, but Van Hee promised the Austin, Texas-based Front Gate Tickets (owned by Live Nation and Ticketmaster), “will be stepping up to refund all fans in full while we work to repay our debts.”
Officials from Ticketmaster released a statement on Front Gate Tickets’ website that said if ticket holders purchased directly from Front Gate, their refunds would be processed Wednesday. The statement also advised ticket purchasers to, “allow 7-10 days for the refund to reflect on your credit card statement or PayPal account.”
It’s unclear how this affects people who did not purchase their tickets directly from LouFest.
A lost investment
The cancellation came at a bad time for food vendors. Steve Ewing, the owner of Steve’s Hot Dogs, said his restaurant now has a surplus of prepared food.
“It ran pretty smoothly all the years that we’ve done it,” Ewing said.
Ewing said Steve’s Hot Dogs paid Loufest a $3,000 registration fee. He said he hasn’t heard from festival organizers if that money will be refunded.
“I really would like to get that back,” Ewing said. “Right now, I imagine they could go into bankruptcy and we could never see it.”
Ewing said his business spent about $1,500 in food specifically prepared for LouFest. He said Steve’s Hot Dogs will instead have a deal this weekend on several menu items for those who bring in their LouFest work credentials or ticket stubs.
Schlafly Beer, one of eight local breweries that planned to be in the festival's beer garden, hired artists to design commemorative cans for sale at the festival, said Lo Dugan, Schlafly's marketing events manager.
“That was a project that we internally worked on for a lot of time leading up," Dugan said. "We put a lot of investment in that and it’s sad that we won’t be able to share that with attendees this weekend but we are offering attendees of LouFest to come into one of our brew pubs this weekend and still get their hands on one of those cans if they show us their wristband or their ticket.”
Charles Brown, owner of Regency Enterprises Services, said he’s had the contract for trash removal at every
LouFest since the first one in 2010, but on Tuesday he was still waiting to receive a deposit for this year’s job before committing to it. Brown said his company has a $20,000 annual contract with Listen Live. He said Listen Live paid him for the 2017 festival “about a month ago.”
“What’s been happening the last two or three years is the final invoice [payment] hasn’t been coming for a long time,” Brown said. “In fact it hasn’t come until the month before or sometimes the week before the next event. So it’s [being paid] about a year out.”
‘Saddened by the impact’
LouFest was due to feature a Jazz & Heritage Stage for the first time this year, with 10 local artists, many of whom are artists-in-residence at Kranzberg Arts Foundation and perform regularly at the Dark Room, the Grand Center jazz club operated by the foundation.
"As a sponsor for the 2018 festival we’re very disappointed that festival organizers cannot deliver on their commitment to producing this year’s LouFest, Chris Hansen, Kranzberg’s executive director, said in a statement Wednesday.
“We are most saddened by the impact this will have on our local musicians, small businesses, and fans that have invested their time, money and heart into being a part of the event. St. Louis deserves better than this.”
Among the local musicians who will denied a spot on a bigger stage this weekend is Mo Egeston.
He plays at the Dark Room late night on Saturdays and was looking forward to playing LouFest. He had just wrapped up a band rehearsal early Wednesday morning when he saw Listen Live had just tweeted about the festival’s cancellation.
“Definitely disappointing," Egeston said. "Something that we were working towards and looking forward to and a stage and size of an event that we hadn’t done before. So, can’t really replace that.”
Kranzberg is hosting a free concert at The Grandel and The Dark Room on Sunday featuring 16 acts, including Egeston other local artists who would have played LouFest.
Overnight, music fans criticized festival organizers for the last-minute cancellation.
Stunned. Shocked. Angry. I’ve got family flying in from out of town for #LouFest. Here’s a message from me to the organizers: don’t blame the weather, media coverage, or artists for this cancellation when it comes down to your years of mismanagement. This is so sad for St. Louis. https://t.co/u99544MtKz
— Maxamillion Foizey (@MaxOnMovies) September 5, 2018
Not to be dramatic but I literally look forward to @loufest every year cause I go for my bday and it is WAY too close to the actual music festival to cancel it I’m so sad
— Claire (@_idontclaire) September 5, 2018
#Loufest being canceled on short notice with claims of insufficient funds for refunds may be more bizarre than people lighting their shoes on fire today.
— Sarah Crowe (@TheSarahCrowe) September 5, 2018
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Reporters Abigail Censky and Melody Walker contributed to this story.