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Flirtin’ with disaster: Upcoming Haywood rock festival sparks controversy

To be held at the Smoky Mountain Event Center in Waynesville on July 30, the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” is now sold out. But, concert-goers are now accusing the promoter of misleading advertising, with many now demanding a refund. To be held at the Smoky Mountain Event Center in Waynesville on July 30, the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” is now sold out. But, concert-goers are now accusing the promoter of misleading advertising, with many now demanding a refund.

Musicians, promoters and supposed sponsors are all upset about the marketing associated with an upcoming performance at the Smoky Mountain Event Center in Waynesville on July 30.

To clarify, classic rock act Molly Hatchet will not be playing the “Southern Rock Wood Stock.”

“Molly Hatchet will not be at the [Smoky Mountain Event Center],” said Bobby Ingram. “That event advertised is misleading in regards to Molly Hatchet. We have nothing to do with event. I own the trademark to the name ‘Molly Hatchet’ and didn’t give any consent to use the band name to any event except my own.”

With its 1980 megahit “Flirtin’ with Disaster,” Molly Hatchet is a well-known rock entity. Lead guitarist of the multi-platinum group since 1987, Ingram and his bandmates have been touring the world nonstop for decades. 

Speaking to The Smoky Mountain News over the phone last week, Ingram — in a confused and perturbed tone — seemed blindsided by the advertising for the upcoming “Southern Rock Wood Stock,” which states, “Featuring original artists and superstars for 27 years from: Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet.”

“Featuring original and founding members of the band? Well, all of our original members and founding members have passed away,” Ingram noted. “We played for this [‘Southern Rock Wood Stock’] promoter several years ago. But, that was the one and only time.”

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So, what about the part on one of the posters that advertises an appearance by Erik Lundgren “from The Johnny Van Zant Band, Van Zant & Molly Hatchet?” Lundgren — for a brief period — played lead/rhythm guitar for Molly Hatchet (1993-1994).

And to that point, the finalized lineup of who will actually be onstage at the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” in Waynesville has yet to be revealed, with only Lundgren specifically appearing in the advertising.

“[Erik Lundgren] has been a friend of mine for many years. However, he has never been a member [of Molly Hatchet]. He was only a hired sideman for the road and never was on any recordings,” Ingram said. “The wording on the poster is very ambiguous and misleading to many — I did not authorize the use of the name ‘Molly Hatchet.’”

Budweiser, which was  listed as a sponsor in some of the online marketing and posters for the event, also wants the public to know that it is in no way associated with the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” event.

“Budweiser of Asheville, Anheuser-Busch and the Budweiser brand are not and never have been associated in any way as a sponsor of this event. Any advertisement materials for the event including the Budweiser brand logo were used without permission and they represent a false statement,” said Chad Wood, sale manager for Budweiser of Asheville. 

Wood oversees a 12-county jurisdiction in Western North Carolina. An independently and locally owned family business, some of the biggest products contracted and distributed by the company are from Anheuser-Busch, including Budweiser. 

“The promoter tried to tie in some brand names and product names in order to promote this event, which is very misleading — we have nothing to do with the [Southern Rock Wood Stock],” said Wood.

To note, if any event in the 12-county jurisdiction is selling Budweiser products or is “Sponsored by Budweiser,” it would have to go through Wood and his chain of command of sales reps and distribution channels. And with that, there are also very strict North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement rules in effect about not having alcohol brand logos on the same poster as an event.

“My boss and I are the only ones that make decision regarding sponsorships,” Wood said. “And if I saw that advertisement [at first], I wouldn’t have even let that promoter through our front door.” 

The advertisement in question was an initial poster promoting the “Southern Rock Wood Stock.” Pictured on the poster is a woman wrapping herself in the Confederate flag, with “Sponsored by Budweiser” positioned next to the female. 

“Early on the morning of January 29, I received an email with the promotional poster and my blood pressure immediately began to rise,” Wood said. “We do not want to be associated with any kind of divisive symbols [as seen on the poster] and we were not contacted once by the promoter in regards to sponsorship.”

Wood soon contacted Chambers and said to immediately remove the “Sponsored by Budweiser” from all advertising and websites or legal action would be pursued. And yet, the toothpaste was already out of the tube. Yes, the Budweiser logo and “Sponsored by Budweiser” were removed by Chambers from his website, but the initial posters continue to float around social media platforms to this day. 

“The internet is forever and, sadly, the posters and advertisements are going to be online forever,” Wood said. “And I’m still fielding all of these phone calls from people asking about our involvement with this event. In all the years that I’ve been involved in the beverage industry and in sponsorship, this is the first time I can recall something like this ever happening.”

Adding insult to injury, the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” is now sold out. Though specific numbers weren’t available on ticket sales, the promoter of the event told the Smoky Mountain Event Center (formerly the Haywood County Fairgrounds) that he would be selling some 2,000 tickets (plus RV and primitive camping spots). 

And although the poster itself states tickets are $35 per person, the website link to purchase said tickets says $45 per person for general admission. 

Just hearing those numbers irks Ingram, seeing as Molly Hatchet itself will be hitting the stage at The Grey Eagle in Asheville on April 10. With a capacity of 550, The Grey Eagle still has plenty of tickets available to the gig, with less than 100 tickets for the event already purchased. 

“This is my livelihood. I have an obligation to all of the Molly Hatchet fans and to our entire organization to keep the band rolling year after year,” Ingram said. “Molly Hatchet has been on the road for 43 years. I’ve been in the band 35. We haven’t stopped touring for a single day. This use of our name is affecting existing contracts for shows in these markets we have already booked to play — it’s causing confusion in the marketplace.”

That confusion was also felt by Jeff Whitworth, owner of Worthwhile Sounds, a well-respected regional promotional company who books musical acts of all sizes for The Grey Eagle, amongst several other venues and festivals around Western North Carolina.

“I actually stumbled onto the Facebook advertising post for [the ‘Southern Rock Wood Stock’],” Whitworth said. “The wording is misleading where, with an initial glance, it seemed like Molly Hatchet would be there. So, I sent the ad to the band’s manager to make sure we didn’t have any conflicts with The Grey Eagle show.” 

As a longtime music industry veteran, Whitworth immediately knew the advertising appeared misleading. But, that doesn’t mean consumers can see or tell the difference in what’s being presented on a poster and what will — in reality — be presented onstage. 

“I realize the actual band isn’t playing that event, but it still doesn’t help our show and efforts to sell tickets,” Whitworth said. “The whole thing is confusing — it’s all predicated on confusion.”

In terms of other copyright issues that may arise, “Southern Rock Wood Stock” could also conjure an immediate association with the iconic 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair. 

In 2015, the popular “Hillbilly Woodstock” gathering in Maggie Valley was sent a cease and desist letter from New York City law firm Kenyon & Kenyon, who were the trademark attorneys for Woodstock Ventures. The festival has since been renamed “Hillbilly Jam,” with a handful of well-attended events held throughout the year at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds and Valley Tavern.

Besides the Asheville live music market, the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” meanders up and down the East Coast each summer with a series of gatherings, and has for 27 years, according to its website. 

Other locations for the 2022 series include Woodstock, Virginia, Philipsburg, Pennsylvania and Cecil County, Maryland. As of press time, the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” stated tickets were “selling fast” and “50% sold out” for the other three events.

Aside from the confusion as to the bands listed on the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” poster, there’s the issue of the Kid Rock tribute act, Rebel Soul, also on the advertising. Although the lead singer of Rebel Soul appears on the poster, the likeness is strikingly similar to Kid Rock himself. 

The Kid Rock confusion is something once again emphasized by the wording and font color changes, even though at the very bottom of the poster — in very tiny font — it states, “Rebel Soul is a tribute to Kid Rock. The owners of the names: Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special, Blackfoot, Molly Hatchet and Kid Rock are not associated with this show.”

“Unfortunately, there’s always been a place for this [kind of trickery] in the music industry,” Whitworth said. “I mean, look at all of the tribute bands out there that are riding on the coattails of the actual bands. My biggest beef with that specific promotion — as someone like myself who has been making concert posters for years — is that you can tell what they were trying to do.”

So, just who is behind the “Southern Rock Wood Stock?” The name is Clark Chambers, a musician in his own right, who has been putting on the events for the better part of the last three decades, with all proceeds going to the Homeless Warriors Charity, Inc., with both companies based in Maryland. Chambers is also the front man of the Southern Mules, another band listed in the event advertising. 

Numerous attempts were made by The Smoky Mountain News to contact Chambers. Phone calls and email correspondences were not returned. There were also attempts made to contact other bands and musicians listed on the posters, none of which were returned.

Since questions about the concerts arose in public forums online and in social media comment sections last week, concert-goers who have purchased tickets for the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” have contacted The Smoky Mountain News, complaining about the advertising and asking who to turn to for a refund. The event website, however, states there are no refunds allowed. 

The event posters also mention that “all proceeds go to Homeless Warriors Charity.” According to the State of Maryland’s charity database, Homeless Warriors Charity Inc. is run by Richard Chambers of Rising Sun, Maryland. The phone number listed for the charity matches the phone number that Clark Chambers provided by the Smoky Mountain Events Center. The Smoky Mountain News was unable to find documentation indicating that Richard Chambers and Clark Chambers are actually the same person. 

Further information from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service confirms that the charity’s paperwork is in order and that it is indeed a valid tax exempt organization. In 2020, the last year for which financial data were available, Homeless Warriors Charity Inc. raised $43,562 and directed $26,014 towards program costs associated with the charity’s stated purpose of helping homeless veterans. 

Charity rating agencies like Guidestar, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch assess charity efficiency through rating systems. The rating systems use, among other things, the percentage of every dollar donated that actually goes towards toward program costs, as opposed to overhead like salaries.

The most efficient charities, like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Animal Welfare Institute, dedicate upwards of 90% of donations towards program cost and earn an “A+” rating. 

In the category of veteran and military charities, the Fisher House Foundation and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund also have an “A+” rating, with many others, like the Gary Sinise Foundation, earning an “A.” 

By comparison, the innocently named Purple Heart Foundation earned an “F” because only seven cents of every dollar donated to the organization actually went towards program costs.

In spending 59.7% of its donations on program costs, Homeless Warriors Charity Inc. would earn a solid “C” rating from Charity Watch. 

The venue where “Southern Rock Wood Stock” is to be held, the Smoky Mountain Event Center in Waynesville, doesn’t conduct much oversight of the tenants that end up renting the space, but research by The Smoky Mountain News suggests a lack of transparency in how the 27-acre taxpayer-owned facility is run. 

Currently, it’s run by Gene Blankenship. Blankenship became interim manager last fall after previous work with Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove and Ringling Brothers. 

Blankenship serves as the manager of a 501(c)3 nonprofit that’s governed by a board. Because the board is a private nonprofit and not a public body, it’s not subject to public records laws despite managing a multimillion-dollar taxpayer asset. 

Renting the facility is easy; prospective tenants fill out a form online, and choose one or more of seven different venues located on the premises that contain around 100,000 square feet of indoor space and almost five acres of outdoor space. 

In addition to payment for the space, tenants must provide four separate documents to Blankenship in order to get the event on the schedule — the rental application, proof of liability insurance, an acknowledgement of the facility’s rules and regulation, and a permit from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage commission when alcohol is to be served. 

Given the controversy surrounding the concert, The Smoky Mountain News asked Blankenship for the documents on Feb. 24 in order to determine who was behind the event and to contact them. 

Blankenship correctly stated that he had no obligation to provide them, however he did release contact information for event promoter Clark Chambers and said that Chambers had provided all necessary documents to rent the facility. 

All questions about the event, Blankenship said, should be directed to Chambers.

However, Blankenship did say that the event had sold out — at least 2,000 tickets and all eight RV hookups — and that Chambers had rented the entire facility. 

During an in-person interview with Blankenship on Feb. 25, he said he’d since contacted Chambers, advising Chambers that “the newspaper is asking for the records.”

That message from Blankenship to Chambers resulted in letters being sent to both to the Smoky Mountain Event Center board and to The Smoky Mountain News from a Maryland attorney, Justin B. Hill, who said he represents Homeless Warriors Charity, Inc.

The letter to the Smoky Mountain Event Center board requests that the documents not be released. 

The letter to The Smoky Mountain News references “concern about social media posts made by Smoky Mountain News,” although no social media posts about the event have appeared anywhere on social media sites managed by The Smoky Mountain News. 

“Comments such as these can result in damages and cause greater conflict than need be,” Hill wrote. “We hope that this letter will suffice before any further conflict can arise.” 

Blankenship was again asked for the documents, and again refused to provide them. When the second request was made for the documents, Blankenship said he wouldn’t release them because of the letter from Hill. Initially, Blankenship told The Smoky Mountain News via email that the reason he wouldn’t release the documents is because he didn’t have to release them. 

When asked about the confusing marketing on the event’s posters, Blankenship said that he doesn’t review an event’s marketing for content prior to accepting rental applications or posting the materials on the event center’s website. 

“We just take the poster, like anyone else that comes here, they give us a poster that is for their event and we put that up on our front page,” Blankenship said.

However, as of press time on Tuesday, March 1, the poster had been removed from the Smoky Mountain Event Center website.

Likewise, Blankenship said he’s not regularly called before the Haywood County Board of Commissioners to give updates on the state of the county’s asset, and that he doesn’t always bring specific events to the attention of the Smoky Mountain Event Center board because most are fairly routine and non-controversial

Blankenship said he mentioned the “Southern Rock Wood Stock” event to the Smoky Mountain Event Center board in the context of a routine “manager’s report” that details the last 30 days of activity at the facility, as well as the upcoming 30 days. 

The report typically includes details about events that have recently taken place, events that will take place and new rental applications.

The Smoky Mountain Event Center board holds monthly meetings, but does not publish minutes from those meetings. The minutes are not public record.

When asked for the minutes of the meeting where he supposedly presented the event to the board, Blankenship said he didn’t have them because they’re prepared by the board’s secretary. 

During the normal course of any board’s operation, minutes from the previous meeting are presented for approval; in accepting the previous meeting minutes by board vote, the board affirms that the minutes are a true and accurate depiction of what happened in the previous meeting.

When The Smoky Mountain News inspected meeting minutes obtained from another source, no mention of “Southern Rock Wood Stock” could be found.

Leave a comment

8 comments

  • The posters also say 7 bands. I know you can pay upwards of 10 dollars to see one band at any local bar for a cover charge. So if you do the math it's not a bad deal. Also, if they been doing shows for 27 years with people who have played with the groups listed they must play pretty good music to keep people coming all these years. Common sense.

    posted by Sonny Van Zant

    Monday, 05/16/2022

  • Know him Clark personally. Nothing but a big bullshitter. His 12 year old son's site says that he 'toured with the legends of southern rock'. Yeah, LOL... Check this video out at the 45 second mark where the stage banner says "sponsored by Budweiser".

    https://www.facebook.com/kidsrebelsoul/videos/803013140156520

    I wish someone would lock his ass up and throw away the fucking key.

    posted by Eric M.

    Wednesday, 05/11/2022

  • To follow up on my earlier comment about the county's ownership of the Smoky Mountain Events Center.

    Can the SMEC Executive Director use the 501(c)(3) non-profit status as a shield against public records laws, given that the County owns the SMEC and the SMEC Board is appointed by the County Commissioners?

    posted by Kevin Brock

    Friday, 03/04/2022

  • To follow up on my earlier comment about the county's ownership of the Smoky Mountain Events Center.

    Can the SMEC Executive Director use the 501(c)(3) non-profit status as a shield against public records laws, given that the County owns the SMEC and the SMEC Board is appointed by the County Commissioners?

    posted by Kevin Brock

    Friday, 03/04/2022

  • It perhaps should have been made crystal clear in this article that the Smoky Mountain Event Center is owned by Haywood County. County Commissioner Tommy Long represents the County Commissioners on the SMEC board, and is that board's current chair. This is county property, and we the citizens of the county should demand more oversight in the operation of this county property.

    posted by Kevin Brock

    Friday, 03/04/2022

  • Is there some kind of local news award we can give the team at SMN? This piece was watching a human soul leave its body in both slomo and realtime.

    posted by JB

    Friday, 03/04/2022

  • But seriously, there's not really a Kid Rock tribute band, right?

    posted by Brad R

    Thursday, 03/03/2022

  • Sh*tshow!!

    posted by Danya Vanhook

    Wednesday, 03/02/2022

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