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Britt feels recession pinch

Like other performing arts venues across the nation, Jacksonville's Britt Festivals has been selling fewer tickets, and lost some members and sponsors since the recession began in 2007, the nonprofit organization's managers said Tuesday.

"I'd say the recession is on the bad end of the scale of where we thought it would be," said Mike Sturgill, Britt's director of programming, during a live question-and-answer session on the Mail Tribune's Web site, www.mailtribune.com.

Ticket sales are down 21 percent from this time last year, said Sara King Cole, Britt marketing manager. The season continues through mid-September.

"The economy is hitting us just like it's hitting our peers," Cole said.

"It's significant for us," she added.

So far this season, none of Britt's concerts have sold out, Sturgill said.

"Wilco was very close," Cole said, referring to the alternative rock band's June 30 concert.

The last Britt show to sell out was Bonnie Raitt's performance on Sept. 1, 2008, Cole said.

"We typically have a handful of shows sell out each summer," she said.

More than 75 percent of Britt customers live in Southern Oregon. Sturgill said that makes it difficult for Britt to offer last-minute discount tickets similar to Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival because locals presumably wouldn't buy tickets for full price.

Tickets this season range from as little as $5 for the Music Under A Midnight Moon family concert Aug. 15 to $89 for the James Taylor concert Sept. 18, according to the Britt Web site. Memberships range from $50 to $5,000.

Sturgill said the earnings Britt can guarantee an artist help determine who will perform.

"For 2009, we did dial back our artist fee budget, so we may have generally lost some opportunities, but I also believe the artists were willing to work with us in most cases," he said.

One example of a missed opportunity this season was singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, Sturgill said.

"He is touring, and in this instance, he only had so many dates available for the West Coast, and as we are a smaller market compared to the Bay Area, Seattle and Portland, we didn't get the date, but that's cool," Sturgill said. "We might bring Jackson Browne next year. Wilco played Bend last year, and then just played Britt this summer, so you've got to be patient."

Sometimes landing a popular performer is all about timing, he said.

"Some of the country acts will cost us like $35,000 one year, and then the next year they're getting $250,000 per night," Sturgill said. "Brad Paisley is a good example. We had him at Britt in 2004, and now he is playing much larger rooms than LMA (Lithia Motors Amphitheater in Central Point)."

For Britt's remaining concerts see the Web site at www.brittfest.org.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.