by Max Brantley
The Zoo Jam Sunday at War Memorial Golf Course, with headliner Toby Keith, to raise money (tickets were priced $50 to $85) for the Little Rock Zoo was an apparent flop. Attendance was only 2,000 to 3,000, with many more anticipated.
Fox 16 reports that a couple of vendors that helped put on the event say they have not been paid because of a shortfall in ticket sales and the Little Rock Zoo said yesterday that it also had not been paid.
The problems may run deeper than unpaid bills to a couple of vendors. I got a note last night from someone familiar with the event. He said off-duty cops weren't paid in cash as contracted. He also said the vendor that set up the stage could not remove the stage from the No. 12 fairway until the company was paid because he needs several thousand dollars worth of labor to take it down. Its presence will interfere with ongoing golf course revenue. The course was rented for the event only through Monday. The event promoters owe the city $10,000.
UPDATE: David Koon has more details on the jump. And, yes, the golf course is still blocked.
Golf Course Blues
While the talent lineup for last Sunday's ZooJam concert at War Memorial Golf Course was a who's who of country music stars — including headliner Toby Keith, plus Sara Evans, up-and-comer Eric Church and seasoned combo Diamond Rio — ticket sales were an unmitigated bust, with sources saying only around 2,000-3,000 fans in attendance instead of the 20,000 planned. That shortfall has left many vendors in the lurch, a stage from the show marooned on a fairway until funds are secured to take it down, and the zoo spokesperson scratching her head over what happened.
Little Rock Zoo spokesperson Susan Altrui said the Zoo Jam concert will not cost the Zoo any money, because the zoo never contracted to put in any money. Altrui said that promoters Rodger Reeder and Eyren Mills, who produced last year's Boo at the Zoo event, formed their own LLC around the concert. (Another contractor won the bid to produce the event this Halloween.)They promised the Zoo 25 percent of the profits from ticket sales, and had designated the Zoo as the recipient of 25 percent of gross alcohol purchases at the concert, as required for granting of a state "picnic permit" for outdoor beer sales.
"We did not put any money in, and we didn't do anything for it," Altrui said. "They did all the contracting, they were the ones who got the talent, they did the production, they did everything. The only thing that we were participatory in was that we were supposed to get the money." Attempts to reach Mills and Reeder were unsuccessful. Calls to the War Memorial Golf Course were referred to Little Rock Parks and Recreation director Truman Tollfree, but a call to him went unreturned. A telephone messsage said, however, that the golf course was closed Tuesday. It had been rented only through Monday. It wasn't known if the city got its rent or what will be done about further disruptions.
Altrui said that the outdoor concert was great, with high production values and a fine lineup. Too, she said, promoters had made advertising buys all over town, and had partnered with country station KSSN 96 to hype the concert. While the ticket prices were steep — ranging from $50 for students to $85 for the "pit" area in front of the stage — Altrui said that they were no higher than most people would pay to see A-list country talent at a venue like Verizon Arena. She added that a number of other events happening around the time of the Zoo Jam concert — including the Razorback game in Dallas, the Taylor Swift concert on Oct. 4 — may have helped depress ticket sales.
"The only thing that I can chalk it up to," Altrui said, "is that this is an economy of uncertainty, and things that seem to be sure bets are turning out not to be."
One person who knows at lot about uncertainty at this writing is Jeremy Josephson with Rock City Staging, the company that owns the stage for the event. When we spoke to him Tuesday morning, Rock City's giant stage was still sitting on a fairway at War Memorial Golf Course. Josephson said the company hadn't been paid for the stage rental, and he didn't know when he would be able to move it. He denied that leaving it there was an attempt to pressure promoters to pay up for the stage rental and construction. He said the funds just aren't there to even begin a teardown.
"First you've got to find a labor company that's still willing to work to tear it out," Josephson said. "You've got to find a heavy equipment company that's still willing to leave the equipment out here that still hasn't been paid, and you've got to find a power company that's willing to supply power so that we can tear this thing down. That's going to be hard to come by at this point. It's not just as simple as me saying, I'm not going to take it out of here until I get paid, it's everybody involved that's required to get that done, but who is unwilling to do that until we figure out how that's going to be compensated. As of right now, we're talking about thousands of dollars out of our own pocket just to get out of here."
City officials were meeting on the problem Monday afternoon amid reports that the city might provide money to privately contracted police officers, though City Manager Bruce Moore said he hadn't heard that. Restoring the golf course to playable condition and expected city payments also were likely subjects of discussion. He would only say at the end of the day that the city was "working through" problems, but said the city had made no commitments on providing money.