Wayne Andrews, who was in Little Rock three weeks ago touting Helena-West Helena’s Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival as its director and pushing its fund-raising efforts, has left the festival two weeks before it begins.
Andrews, who was in his fourth year leading the festival, turned in his resignation two weeks ago to the 12-person Sonny Boy Blues Society board, which operates the festival.
“I had worked this year for the board to secure new partners and new relationships with them. Our visions of the future of the festival were different and because of that I decided to walk away,” Andrews said Monday.
As far as leaving so close to the 21st annual festival, scheduled Oct. 5-7, Andrews said, “I felt and the board felt the festival was set for this year, the funds had been raised, volunteers were in place and everything was set as far as keeping the festival going this year.”
As far as its future, Andrews had expressed uncertainty in an interview for the Sept. 14 Arkansas Times cover story (his photograph was on the cover), mainly concerning the festival being able to meet its $250,000 annual budget. No admission is charged, making the Blues and Heritage Festival one of the only free festivals of its size in the country. An estimated 100,000 people attend annually.
Rayne Gordon, the president of the Sonny Boy Blues Society, said the search for a new executive director would begin after this year’s festival.
“[Andrews] and I talked and we agreed that he would resign,” Gordon said. “He wanted to turn in his resignation because he couldn’t get things to go his way and the board wanted things the board’s way. We decided it wasn’t working out and we accepted his resignation.” Neither side would talk specifically about the areas of disagreement.
Gordon said Andrews’ resignation won’t affect this year’s plans. “He asked us to close up so final things for him and we’ll do that, but it won’t have any effect on this year.”
Rosie Swan will serve as festival director. Billy Ray is handling public relations.
“Nothing has changed except you have to talk to a different person that’s running the festival. That’s the only hitch in the giddy-up,” Gordon said.
Andrews operated out of Memphis, visiting Helena three days a week. He has other clients in event marketing and promotion in the Memphis area, including the upcoming Bebopalooza rockabilly event. He started the first Mother’s Best festival in Helena in August, which honored historic blues musicians and their original instruments. Part of his blues festival job included grant writing, and he had obtained funding this year from such sources as the Grammy Awards, ASCAP and the Harry Chapin Foundation.
A large chunk of the financial support comes from Isle of Capri, a casino in Lula, Miss., across the river from Helena-West Helena. In his Little Rock visit three weeks ago, Andrews announced a new contribution from Isle of Capri, a $20,000 matching business grant, which encouraged other regional businesses to donate up to $20,000 for the festival.
Andrews, who has been in the concert marketing business for nearly 20 years, also had arranged a deal with bandVillage.com, an Internet musicians marketing tool that would sell CDs of artists at the festival online and on site.
Main Street Helena operated the festival until four years ago, after two consecutive festivals lost a Memphis promoter more than $350,000 combined. The Sonny Boy Blues Society took over, and Andrews replaced executive director Liz Harriman, who left three months before the 2003 festival. In three years under Andrews, the festival had a net loss of $3,000, mainly due to a $20,000 loss incurred during three days of rain in 2004. The 2003 and 2005 festivals made money.