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 attended 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 ZooJam concert will not cost the zoo any money, because the zoo never contracted to put in any money. Altrui said that ZooJam promoters Rodger Reeder and Eyren Mills, who produced last year's Boo at the Zoo event, formed their own LLC for the concert. The only connection to the zoo was that Mills and Reeder had promised it 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. (A stipulation of receiving a "picnic permit" for outdoor beer sales from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is to give a quarter of gross alcohol sales to a non-profit organization.)
"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 Tolefree, but a call to him went unreturned.
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 ZooJam concert — including the Razorback game in Dallas and 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. ... As of right now, we're talking about thousands of dollars out of our own pocket just to get out of here."