peeking out over the horizon, look out for months of ill-informed, crotchety bitching from Democrat-Gazette columnist Linda Caillouet leading up to the festival. It's apparently a pet project
of the writer, who pens the "Paper Trails" column three times a week on the front page of the Arkansas section, where she covers a lot of the same sort of topics we do on this blog, but with more focus on local Ellen DeGeneres look-alikes and the Duggars.
Today, she revives an especially ridiculous Riverfest gripe
(subscription required) that she harped on about last year: The rising cost of Riverfest amidst the "continuing economic crisis."
Her column follows a news report in the daily last week that came on the heels of my post about Riverfest effectively abandoning North Little Rock
as a primary staging area for entertainment. That Dem-Gaz news story buried the lede in favor of the price increase angle. But the implications of the price increase weren't fully sussed for Paper Trails! (And she doesn't mention the NLR move at all).
Today, she writes:
...each year for the last six years, the price for either the advance or at-the-gate tickets increased, but 2009 marked the first time, at least since 2005, that both prices increased simultaneously...
In the early 1990s, attendees paid a mere $1. For the 14 years before then, the event was free.
And in the personal opinion of this columnist, who moved to Little Rock in 1991 and has regularly attended Riverfest ever since, the quality of musical acts steadily improved during the mid to late-1990s but has since been on a downward slide with less up-and-coming or crowd-drawing, red-hot-right now musical acts.
So first, to be clear what we're talking about, this year, tickets to the three-day festival, which usually features at least a dozen name headliners, cost $15 in advance
or $30 at the gate.
That's a $2.50 increase in advance tickets and a $5 increase for those at the gate. For a three-day festival. Bloodsuckers!
For everything else, I asked Riverfest director DeAnna Korte for a response. Here's what she said in email:
This isn't the early '90s. What did gas, milk and bread cost in the early '90s? Riverfest's expenses rise along with everything else. If the quality has gone down since then, why does attendance increase each year? If Linda was a "reporter," she would do her research on the value of our event compared to others in the region and across the country. Compare our pricing to one day at the zoo or a two hour movie. Riverfest is basically $5 a day in advance and only $10 a day at the gate. She also needs to check out the pricing of the "new" acts out there. I would be happy to tell her - tried for Kings of Leon but at $350,000 for an isolated date - imagine what our ticket prices would be. That's over half of my entire budget.
She also added that Riverfest has allotted 70,000 advance tickets, which go on-sale in April throughout Central Arkansas. That's 10,000 more than last year. So if you want an advance ticket and don't wait to long, you're pretty much assured of getting one.
I'd also add that anyone who thinks that Riverfest should be getting Memphis in May-type acts doesn't grasp the disparity in budget. It's easy to poke fun at all the nostalgia acts the festival brings in (and I always do), but record attendance numbers in recent years — around 250,000 in 2008 and 2009 — tell the real story: Names like Willie Nelson and Bobby Brown and The B-52s pack in the crowds. Too, in recent years, the festival's done well with rising country talent (Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert) and big modern rock acts (Hinder, Flyleaf).
UPDATE: Arkansas Business' Sam Eifling has a piece today
about Riverfest and Memphis and May.
Headliners devour most of the $600,000 to $650,000 music budget, out of the nonprofit festival's $3 million total budget. Not only does the festival have to lure acts to Arkansas on that budget, it also competes with the richer Memphis in May, which protects its higher ticket prices ($60 and up for a three-day pass) by forbidding big acts from also playing the cheaper Riverfest ($25 to $30 for a three-day pass).
"People ask, ' Why don't you bring in Dave Matthews?'" said DeAnna Korte, Riverfest's executive director. Her reply: "Because Dave Matthews is half a million dollars."