Britt reports good season

With a jump in attendance, membership revenues and concession sales and eight sold-out shows, Britt Festivals has cut its annual operating deficit by half this year, officials say.

Sell-out shows starred Willie Nelson, Alisson Krauss, Ray LaMontagne, Sara Bareilles, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs, the B-52s, Michael Franti and Slightly Stoopid.

Per-show attendance averaged 1,550, a jump of 12 percent over last season, said Executive Director Jim Fredericks. Total attendance for the 40 concerts was more than 62,000, up 15 percent from last year.

"We had some of the great voices and most recognized voices of our time," he said, ticking off k.d. lang, Smokey Robinson, McDonald and Scaggs. Many acts, such as The Decemberists, Bareilles and the John Butler Trio, brought in a younger crowd while still appealing to a core demographic that favors bands such as The Eagles and America, he said.

Britt also offers acts that appeal to a passionate but small following, such as Irish band Kila and eTown, knowing they will not pack the house, he says.

The festival has lost about $1 million since 2007, including $200,000 last season, and has relied on reserves to keep from accruing debt. Doubling basic membership from $50 to $100 resulted in a 14 percent increase in revenue from memberships and helped keep this season's loss to about $100,000, Fredericks said.

An increase in concession sales of 150 percent, new members and outreach programs also helped improve the festival's financial picture, he said. Britt is considering prohibiting off-site alcoholic beverages (see correction, below) to help further bolster concession sales, but not for the 2012 season.

New programs this year included Rock Camp for local teens and the Table Rock City concerts, a series of pre-concert performances that showcased local musicians and created a new space to experience music on the Britt grounds.

Britt is planning special acts and programs for its 50th anniversary season next year but is still in its early stages, he said.

"We knew we needed to change some things to build a better future for Britt ... and we're very grateful for the way the public responded to these changes," Fredericks said in a news release.

"We are now on the right path. Even with this progress, however, it's important for people to realize we have a way to go on that path to regain our financial footing as an organization."

Britt runs an education program through the Britt Institute, hosting summer camps, workshops, elementary school activities, lectures and "meet the artist" opportunities.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Correction: A previous version erroneously included off-site food.

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