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Britt suffers from smoke, power outage

JACKSONVILLE — Britt Music Festival's attendance for main stage events was down this year, with a weather-related cancellation and effects from smoky skies factors in the decline.

A total of 60,876 fans attended 36 main stage events this year, compared with 63,640 for 37 events last year. Average attendance per show was 1,691 this year and 1,720 in 2016, according to information from Britt.

Britt officials are uncertain whether revenue sources will cover operations and programs this year, while last year at this time they were cautiously optimistic about finishing in the black.

“Because of the weather-related issues, I’m not prepared to say where we will end up,” said Britt President and Chief Executive Officer Donna Briggs. “Last year I was confident."

The budget for operations this year was $3.96 million. Britt maintains a rainy-day fund, but whether that will need to be tapped won’t be known until the organization's fiscal year ends in December, said Briggs.

Increases in festival memberships and donations from business partners will help offset the lower attendance revenue.

Support by Britt’s business partners was up 7 percent to $318,780, compared with $298,000 in 2016. Membership was at its highest number since 2007 with a total of 1,693. The base membership fee is $100 annually but categories range up to $10,000.

The Aug. 8 performance of Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriella was canceled after strong winds knocked out power to the Britt hill and Jacksonville. The performers were paid. Britt does not carry event cancellation insurance. About 2,000 people were moved off the hill in the dark. Britt’s maximum capacity is 2,200.

A concert by Michael Franti & Spearhead scheduled for Sept. 13 was rescheduled the afternoon of the show because of heavy smoke from wildfires, said Briggs. The event was held Sept. 20.

“It certainly created havoc for us with the Franti concert having to be called at 3 p.m. It cost us in manpower and dollars,” said Briggs. Besides refunds, communication, box-office overtime and keeping the production crew on for the Sept. 20 show added to expenses.

Twelve concerts were sellouts compared to 10 last year.

Sellouts included Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’ Band June 17, Dustin Lynch June 18, Rebelution/Nahko and Medicine for the People, Collie Buddz/Hirie June 28, The Temptations and The Four Tops July 15, The Avett Brothers July 20, Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals July 22, Huey Lewis and the News Aug. 22, Daughtry Sept. 2, Ron White Sept. 9, Goo Goo Dolls with Phillip Phillips Sept. 16, and Michael Franti & Spearhead Sept 20. Britt Orchestra's "Pops — Magic of the Movies” sold out Aug. 6.

A switch to four local vendors for onsite food appeared to generate more consumers than the single vendor used in 2016, said Briggs. Sales figures are not yet available. The vendors were Back Porch Barbecue and Grill, Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus, Peruvian Point and Fired-up Gourmet.

“It seemed to me like there were a lot more people carrying around plates of food,” said Briggs. The performance garden with sitting areas always seemed filled with people eating, she said.

Ticket sales cover 60 percent of expenses for the live performance season and 33 percent for the Britt Orchestra season. Memberships, business support and grants make up the rest of the operating budget. Grants for operations and programs totaled $158,000.

In 2015, Britt's 35 main stage concerts attracted nearly 58,000 spectators, with eight sellouts. Smoke from fires in August that year likely lowered ticket sales. Business contributions were $244,000 that year.

Attendance in recent years includes 59,000 in 2014, 61,000 in 2013 and 61,375 in 2012.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

The June 17 concert by Taj Mahal, left, and Keb' Mo' was one of 12 sellout shows at the Britt Music & Arts Festival this year. [Photo courtesy of Britt Festival]