Power outage could cost Britt six figures

    JACKSONVILLE — A power pole twisted by strong winds could mean a six-figure loss to Britt Music & Arts Festival.

    A Tuesday night power outage that left most of Jacksonville in the dark for several hours forced the festival's first on-hill cancellation in 55 years, said Britt President and CEO Donna Briggs.

    “We’ve never canceled a show when we had patrons on the hill,” Briggs said. “This is the first time we had to call a show.”

    The outage affected 2,144 homes in Jacksonville from 9:44 to 11:43 p.m. Tuesday, Pacific Power spokesman Tom Gauntt said. Strong winds caused a power pole's cross arm to twist, severing multiple wires.

    "It spun around like a top," Gauntt said, adding that technicians had to replace the cross arm and restring wire.

    Briggs, who was on the Britt hill managing the event, said she recalled the outage beginning about 9 p.m., just as Mexican classical guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriella was about to go on.

    "They never made it to the stage," Briggs said.

    The nonprofit organization is on the hook for "100 percent" of Rodrigo y Gabriella's performance costs as outlined in the artists' performance contract.

    "The artist gets paid regardless of Mother Nature — that's in the contract," Briggs said.

    Briggs wouldn't say how much the contract will pay the performers, but said the losses go beyond paying musicians.

    "It will definitely hurt our bottom line," Briggs said. "It isn't just the artist fees."

    Separate from performance costs, Briggs said it costs Britt $24,000 per show to staff an event and pay contracted lighting and sound professionals.

    "It could result in a six-figure loss," Briggs said.

    None of those event costs are insured because of the prohibitive costs involved in covering more than 40 performances a year.

    "Event insurance is extraordinarily expensive, and if you think about it, this has never happened," Briggs said.

    Commenters on Facebook asked why they don't have backup generators. Briggs said that's "just not feasible" based on lighting needs alone.

    "You couldn't bring enough generators to put on a Britt show," Briggs said. "The amount of Pacific Power usage is quite significant."

    The outage was just one of "multiple challenges" the roughly 30 staff members and 90 volunteers faced because of storm conditions.

    Earlier in the evening, Britt organizers advised concertgoers to take cover based on lighting concerns following a severe thunderstorm warning issued by the National Weather Service.

    With all of Jacksonville "pitch black," Briggs said getting 2,000 people off the hill safely was a logistical challenge. 

    No injuries were reported, which Briggs attributed to the efforts of volunteers, such as those who parked their cars strategically to light up exits.

    "It took everything we had," Briggs said.

    Britt will honor refund requests for Tuesday's performance, though organizers say it could take a week to process. They encourage patrons to consider turning their ticket into a tax-deductible donation. For either option, ticket holders should contact the box office at boxoffice@brittfest.org.

    — Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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