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Country Crossings canceled; vendors still unpaid

Country Crossings Music Festival is dead.

The festival that debuted at the Jackson County Expo in July 2017 has been on life support since its chief executive was sent packing, contractors and vendors left unpaid, and title sponsor Bi-Mart departed.

A spokesperson for Willamette Country Music Concerts confirmed Monday the 2019 Country Crossings Music Festival had been canceled and wouldn’t return.

“We are sorry to announce that the 2019 Country Crossings Music Festival will no longer be taking place,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “This was a difficult decision, but we ultimately determined that the festival team would not be able to deliver the quality experience our Country Crossings community expects of this event in 2019.”

The festival, which drew thousands of country music fans to the Rogue Valley the past two summers, was scheduled for July 25-28 at the Expo in Central Point. Country Crossings is the second of three WCMC festivals to cancel for 2019. The Mountain Home Country Music Festival in Idaho was called off soon after this year’s August event.

Former festival president and event manager Anne Hankins left in late summer, and Bi-Mart, which had been the lead sponsor for more than a decade, pulled its support in early fall.

A spokesperson for the WCMC, now owned by global promotions firm IMG, said all tickets sold for 2019 will be refunded. However, the financial woes left in the wake of Hankins’ exit remain in play. The festival still owes the Expo, other agencies, nonprofits and vendors tens of thousands of dollars.

While previous efforts to reach Hankins were unsuccessful, Tuesday she emailed the Mail Tribune.

Hankins wrote that her team had shown itself to be proficient over the previous 11 years and that the company had paid its bills.

Without addressing the present financial issues, she wrote that she had lent WCMC $1 million for short-term funding from 2016 until just before the 2018 events.

Expo Director Helen Funk said she received word of the cancellation Monday morning and that someone representing the festival would be calling later in the day about payables.

Although the Expo reworked its mid-summer schedule to accommodate WCMC when it proposed shifting the Cape Blanco Country Music Festival inland, Country Crossings didn’t involve a major financial investment, Funk said.

“I never balanced the budget on the festival,” Funk said.

The contract was for $40,000 cash and 150 event tickets, all told worth about $70,000, she said. “This (coming) year is where we would have actually seen a profit from the event.”

The county runs on a fiscal July 1-June 30 calendar, so the 2019 Country Crossings would have fallen into the 2019-20 cycle. The 14 days are prime time for events, so the 2019 calendar likely will include an individual concert or two. Beginning in 2020, the plan is to return the county fair to its traditional third week in July slot, Funk said.

When Hankins and her team approached the county, ostensibly there was a solid track record, including big-name artists, a well-known primary sponsor — and the potential for a hefty payday for everyone involved.

The contract with Jackson County was pretty straightforward.

“The RV park and Expo don’t raise rates because of major events,” Funk said. “That’s not the way the county does it.”

The production and associated costs were on WCMC, whether it was the $70,000 portable stage or $50,000 temporary bridge across Bear Creek, connecting the Expo and temporary campground on Gebhard Road.

“They used the term ‘millions and millions’ of how much it would take to move the event,” Funk said. “But we never saw anything in writing on their end.”

The status of WCMC’s largest and oldest event, the Willamette Country Music Festival, remains undecided, an IMG spokesperson said. The event was held yearly for more than a decade outside Brownsville in rural Linn County but was forced to find a new location for 2019 when the property owner opted to put in an orchard on the land. Initially, an effort to move the festival to Marion County was rebuffed, and there was an effort to relocate to Harrisburg, but nothing has been secured.

“If I was a betting person, I would say a 2019 WCMF is unlikely,” a person with close ties to WCMC said.

As vendors from the WCMC shows began to complain about not getting paid, IMG promised to examine the records. What the firm found, however, was poor record keeping to no records at all. With a range of potential legal action in the air, there are more uncertainties than certainties. Although IMG is dealing with some of the creditors, WCMC has no apparent material assets.

Locally, private security and vendors have not been paid for their services from the 2018 festival. The Expo is still owed approximately $17,000. Jackson County, the sheriff’s office and Oregon Department of Transportation have received payment, the WCMC said.

“It’s a really tough world where you have to have contracts and agreements in place,” Funk said. “We had a tight agreement in place, but still that doesn’t mean we will get paid. A lot of folks have learned a lesson from this; it’s been trial by fire.”

Country Crossings drew more than 10,000 fans both years. While 2017 was considered a good launch, smoke and the stench of wildfires put a dent in 2018 attendance. While IMG isn’t saying whether it will resurrect the series — assuredly under a different name — Funk said other suitors are waiting in the wings.

“Quite a few groups have expressed interest in creating a festival,” she said.

Even next summer, it’s possible a big name or two will show up in Central Point.

“We have a potential hold on the property, and a bid in for a major artist for the weekend Country Crossings would have been,” she said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.





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