Maggie bites off more than it can chew in Stillwell concert
Maggie Valley residents and leaders are questioning how and why town taxpayers ended up footing the bill for a Country music concert at the festival grounds last month — and whether the town will end up holding the bag for some $7,000 after the concert finished in the red.
The concert by Matt Stillwell, a local country singer whose star is rising in Nashville, was initially contacted by Maggie bar and restaurant owner Charlie Meadows. But at the last minute, the town fronted the costs of the festival — including more than $1,000 in alcohol to be resold to the crowds and Stillwell’s $3,500 booking fee.
Ticket sales fell far short of covering the costs, and although Meadows has pledged to pay the town back, controversy has erupted over why the town ever agreed to the deal in the first place.
Stillwell needed a venue to put for a showcase performance for managers of country star Toby Keith to decide whether to sign him on Keith’s label. Meadows found himself working as a liaison to bring the Stillwell showcase concert to the Maggie Festival Grounds, which he thought would be a tourist boon for the town during an otherwise slow weekend.
Meadows soon found himself in the role of event promoter and organizer. He booked Stillwell to play and applied to use the Maggie Festival Grounds, but beyond that, he needed help since he had never put on concert before. So he asked Audrey Hagar, the town’s festival director, for help.
“Charlie wanted to keep it in Maggie,” Hagar said.
Everything was shaping up until a little more than two weeks before the event when the alcohol permit was denied for the event.
Hagar said she had applied for a special one-time permit for alcohol sales at the event like she always had for every other event held at the town’s festival grounds.
The application stated the permit was in fact being applied for on behalf of Meadows. The profits from alcohol sales would be split 70-30, with a third of the proceeds going to the town to offset maintenance cost of the festival grounds and the rest to Meadows as a private event organizer.
However, the North Carolina ABC Commission said the festival grounds could not ask for the permit on behalf of a for-profit organizer.
“They are saying it is circumventing the system,” Hagar said.
At that point, the only way to get a permit on short notice was for the town to apply for it in its own name and assume the official title of “event promoter” of the concert, she said.
Hagar said she was surprised by the alcohol permit being denied since she had filled out the application as she always had for the last three years.
Apparently, though, the town never should have been granted alcohol sale permits on behalf on a third-party in the past.
“That is something we probably did in error,” said Agnes Stevens, a spokeswoman for the ABC commission.
However, the state commission is cracking down on its permitting process after a homicide at Stratusphere Entertainment Complex in Jacksonville, N.C. — a place that similar to the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds received special event alcohol permits.
“The process and what is allowed hasn’t changed,” Stevens said. “The degree of scrutiny has changed.”
In theory, the Stillwell concert could have gone on without alcohol. However, Hagar said the event had been getting advertised, including the availability of alcohol, for a couple of weeks already. Plus, one of the sponsors was Ole Smoky Moonshine. Without alcohol sales, it would be hard to recoup the costs of putting on the concert.
“We could, but it drastically restricts the promoter’s revenue stream,” Hagar said. And “It is just kind of an expectation.”
In fact, the town paid $1,241 for alcohol and made more than three times that from sales, according to unaudited numbers from the event.
The town also spent $8,000 on advertising with Clear Channel radio in Asheville as well as The Smoky Mountain News, The Asheville Citizen-Times and The Mountaineer. Critics of the issue have said that $8,000 seems excessive for advertising.
“It’s really pretty normal for a concert,” Hagar countered, especially since Stillwell isn’t a headliner yet.
When they ran into the snag with the ABC permit, Hagar and Meadows discussed the option of the town assuming the role as the official event organizer. She then asked for permission from Town Manager Tim Barth, who did not want a cancellation to reflect badly on the town.
“We certainly didn’t want to have a black eye for cancelling an event or part of an event,” Barth said.
Plus, Meadows signed an agreement a day before the concert agreeing to reimburse the town for any losses, he said.
“The town does not lose out on any money because he said he would pay it back,” Barth said.
In the end, the expenses ran up to nearly $17,000, while revenues only amounted to about $9,200. Given those numbers, Meadows will have to pay the town about $7,500, much more than he had anticipated.
Meadows had hoped he could at least break even on the event. But when attendance fell short of expectations, Meadows knew he would be in the red. He initially heard he owed $3,000, then later heard $5,000. Now, that has gone up even more.
“I don’t know how the costs keep growing. That’s what I don’t understand,” Meadows said.
No matter what though, Meadows vowed to cover it.
“Whatever the invoices come back I am going to pay it,” he said.
Another point of contention is how many people actually attended. Meadows estimated 800 but said he didn’t know the exact number of ticket sales. Hager said ticket sales were more like 600, although didn’t know the exact number. Not all those who bought tickets showed up either because of rains that plagued the day.
The bank of Maggie?
Prior to the Matt Stillwell concert, Hagar and Barth were the only town officials who knew about the arrangement with Meadows, which puzzled elected town leaders.
“It seems to me like that is something we would vote on before we go on the hook for somebody else’s festival,” said Alderman Mike Matthews.
Fellow Aldermen Phillip Wight was also perturbed the whole town board wasn’t asked.
“I don’t know exactly what happened and how,” Wight said. “We are finding things out after the fact.”
Meadows is running for a seat on the board of aldermen. He is in the same political camp as both Wight and Matthews, who voiced their frustrations toward the town OK’ing the deal rather than at Meadows personally.
“It has nothing to do with Charlie. I told him the other day, ‘You went to the town and asked for it, but that doesn’t mean they should have given it to you,’” Matthews said.
Residents also began to question the decision-making of town officials and how the agreement came about.
“Who gave anybody permission to use the town as a bank?” said Maggie Valley resident Sonja Michaels. “The town winds up paying all the bills. That’s very questionable.”
During a meeting last week, Maggie hotel owner Beth Reece mockingly ask the town board for $25,000 to cover the cost of new washers and dryers she is placing in her business. If they fronted money to one business owner, why not her, she said.
A few also wondered why the town is fronting money to promoters for advertising festivals. Meadows was not the only one who benefited from that. Because the town already has ad accounts in the area, it can receive advertising for cheaper rates, Hagar said. Then, promoters reimburse the festival grounds.
Mayor Ron DeSimone said the town needs to review its practices. The festival grounds should not be paying for anything especially since it offers the venue for free.
“I am not happy with it. Obviously, it brings to question a lot of things we need to look into,” said DeSimone, who said he did not know about the arrangement with Meadows.
Some repercussion could be in store for Hagar and Barth for making the decision without board approval, DeSimone said.
“There needs to be some accountability for that. There needs to obviously be some action taken,” he said.
The Stillwell concert has been the talk of the town since mid-August but not for positive reasons, and the board has formally discussed concerns about the town loaning a business owner money. All the gossip going around Maggie has Meadows regretting his decision to take a stab organizing at a concert.
“If I knew it was going to cause any kind of ruckus I would not have done it all,” Meadows said.