The Jasper City Council is considering a proposal to change the contract for the talent buyer for the Foothill Festival to a 12-month, $15,000 agreement, as COVID-19 rescheduling has caused more work beyond the normal nine-month contract.
Revenue Compliance Officer Brent McCarver, an organizer for the festival, noted the council at its Feb. 12 work session that the Foothills Festival had been postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19. "It is the first time since 2017 we've had a one-year break," he said.
McCarver noted St. Paul and the Broken Bones will remain the Saturday night headliner after renegotiations. The Steel Woods are still the Friday night headliner, and Aubrie Sellers will be the opening act.
"We will lose the Red Clay Strays out of a scheduling conflict, and we will lose Samantha Fish," he said. "So we are still working on filling out the bill. But our two headliners are in place."
Normally in January officials decide if they will move ahead with the festival, he said. At that time, talent buyer Baker's contract with the city is renewed. That hasn't been done, and the festival has been rescheduled for Sept. 10-11 of this year. McCarver asked to be on the agenda to renew the contract.
He noted Baker works now for the Public Defender's Office, where all the attorneys and staff of which have either gotten COVID-19 or are quarantining. As a result, Baker was not at the meeting. McCarver said he was not taking a position on Baker's request.
McCarver said his contract usually runs from February to October, and does not work for three months. However, the rescheduling effort has involved Baker, who has been renegotiating with agents to re-book the acts in September.
Moreover, he noted contracts have involved new, detailed legal language about how acts would be paid if performances were cancelled by either side due to COVID-19, complicating matters and requiring intensive phone calling by Baker in January to hold on to artists.
"One of the things he requested was that there be either some additional money paid for 2020 or we look at what we could do," he said.
McCarver said officials discussed an idea he agreed to an alternative. Instead of asking for additional pay for 2020, he is requesting a pay upgrade from $10,000 to $15,000 for 2021, under a 12-month contract in case something like the COVID-19 rescheduling happens again.
He noted that prior to his hiring by the city, when he was on the Jasper Main Street Board, at one time Jasper Main Street talked about talking over Foothills Festival.
"When we talked to Red Mountain out of Birmingham, which is a member of Live Nation - what they do is what Zach does - we were looking at a $20,000 to a $25,000 contact to put on Foothills, where again we're paying Zach $10,000," McCarver said. "He's requesting $15,000." The 12-month contract would be renewable each January for that same length of time.
He did note the local aspect of Baker's work.
"It's Zach. It's a Jasper guy. He loves Foothills. (City Councilwoman Jennifer Williams Smith) knows he has been involved since the very beginning and it's like his baby," he said.
He also noted the city has a strong connection to Baker's talent network - one he said would be hard to reproduce.
Councilman Gary Cowen told McCarver the proposed contract sounded like a good deal, and McCarver agreed from a revenue standpoint.
"Again, to get the caliber of network that Zach has - one of the things he brings to the table a lot of people don't is that he came from playing in bands in that industry. Not only does he known the management and the agents, he knows the actual guitar player for such-and-such, or the piano player for such-and-such," McCarver said. "Sometimes when we hit a road block with management, he goes around and contacts the drummer. That was one of the things that happened to us on Blues Traveler. We actually talked with one of the band members and then negotiated that."
McCarver said he could have Baker submit a contract to be looked at. City Clerk Kathy Chambless said the contract might not get on the following Tuesday's council meeting but it might for the next one. The matter did not come up on Tuesday.
Cowen said he feels the talent at the festival has improved and more sponsors have been obtained. McCarver, who is entering into his fourth festival, said Baker once successfully lobbied for more talent funding for better artists. Currently the crowd numbers about 13,000 to 15,000 people for the main headliners on Friday and Saturday nights, he said. He said local estimates show 25,000 to 27,000 people showing up for the 2019 festival.
Partnership revenue has gone from $53,000 to $84,000 at the last festival.
"There is more partner private money to put on Foothills than the city is contributing each year," he said. "I think that is, one, due to the leadership of the city and people being really interested in downtown Jasper. But, two, I think it is because they do understand the quality of entertainment."
"Investors," who contribute $10,000 or above, met with officials during the middle of the pandemic and were on board to continue. (The Daily Mountain Eagle is an Investor sponsor.)
"They told us to go get the right acts and we'll do what we can," he said, noting that during 2020 the city was set to have more than $85,000 in support from private industry.
When the festival was started again in 2013 under hasty conditions, Baker was involved, officials said. "He was free and then he was $5,000, I think," McCarver said to the council. "I think you bumped him once from $5,000 to $10,000. He would have been under $10,000 for - two years?"