Wade on Birmingham

BREAKING: City Stages festival ends its run in debt


Last weekend’s disappointing ticket sales leave event $1 million plus in red

City Stages logo 2009The Birmingham News reported via e-mail and Twitter that “Music festival organizers say City Stages will not return.”

And according to the News’ site:

The Birmingham Cultural and Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind City Stages, is “irretrievably insolvent,” and intends to go out of business, according to a statement released today by festival organizers.

City Stages can’t pay its expenses from this year’s festival, because revenue was “drastically below expected levels,” the statement says. Organizers pointed to the economic crunch, hot weather and low attendance, among other factors.

The downtown summer music festival, started in 1989, featured a wide variety of musical acts and quickly became Alabama’s largest music event. In recent years, the festival has been plagued by recurring debt, asking for and receiving $250,000 last week from the City of Birmingham. Last weekend marked an all-time low in day passes sold in the festival’s 21-year history.

Updated June 26: The final debt tally? More than $1 million, leaving vendors high and dry.


Could the festival have been saved?
What are your favorite City Stages memories?
Should festival president George McMillan have stepped aside sooner?
How will this impact Birmingham culturally and financially?
Sound off in the comments.

• • •

City Stages officials released this statement [original PDF]:

City Stages Statement of Intent to Go Out of Business

For 21 years, the Birmingham Cultural and Heritage Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization, has been producing the annual City Stages Music Festival, which has consistently drawn hundreds of thousands of attendees from all backgrounds and cultures to downtown Birmingham to enjoy three days of live entertainment from national and local artists, a children’s festival, arts and crafts, and a festive atmosphere, all in a family friendly event

The Foundation has given back to the City of Birmingham and the state with an economic impact in the tens of millions of dollars and has provided scholarships, music camps, and other valuable benefits to the City and the region. Most of all, City Stages changed the landscape of downtown Birmingham’s Linn Park and the surrounding area for one weekend during the year, in a way that helped to unite the community. We are proud of our heritage and the long-term success of the festival and what the Foundation has been able to accomplish over the last two decades.

However, due to the recent economic downturn, weather challenges, low attendance, low ticket sales, and other factors, revenue from this year’s Festival was drastically below expected levels and insufficient to pay the expenses of the Festival. Coupled with the substantial debt the Foundation has carried from previous years, the inability to meet the expenses of this year’s event cannot be overcome. Therefore, we regret to inform the community, our loyal sponsors and vendors, and the many volunteers who have lent their time, talent and effort to this endeavor that it is no longer viable to continue this Festival.

The Foundation is now irretrievably insolvent. With great sadness, pursuant to a resolution adopted by its Board of Directors, the Foundation is in the process of officially going out of business and legally terminating its existence. City Stages has come to an end.

We would like to thank all of the artists, corporate sponsors, vendors, festival attendees, the City of Birmingham, Jefferson County, State of Alabama, local small businesses, board members, community organizations and all of the other many volunteers and partners who have worked with City Stages over the past 21 years. The Foundation would also like to express its regret that the drastic reduction in revenue from this year’s event has made it impossible for the Foundation to satisfy its debts.

It appears vendors such as Bottletree Cafe, which provided catering and shut down its restaurant/bar for five days, will not be fully reimbursed.

Rebecca Davis, promoter for the club, mentioned via Twitter:

PLEASE come out and support Bottletree!! We won’t be getting paid what we were owed for the catering and hospitality we did for City Stages.”

(Hat tip: Bham.fm.)

More from Bottletree Cafe on its blog:

• • •

A few more updates:

  • ABC 33/40: “Some vendors say they were paid but their checks bounced. Others, like Bottletree, only got half of their money and don’t know how they are going to pay their staff.”
  • The Terminal: Scott Schablow’s musical tribute to City Stages’ passing
  • Black and White (published before festival’s termination): McMillan “makes perhaps his boldest and most repugnant claim, i.e. that his efforts with the festival were done ‘for this city.’ “
  • Black and White (published before festival’s termination): “With all of the financial problems this event has suffered over the past nine years, somewhere, somebody should have put a stop to the idea that City Stages had to compete with every other festival in the region.”

• • •

Complete City Stages coverage.

22 Yips for “BREAKING: City Stages festival ends its run in debt”

  1. Ike
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 12:57 pm

    Many considered the festival past its prime, and pointed to the Crawfish Boil as the hipper, trendier and more relevant musical experience.

    Factor in the emergence of RiverFest in Gadsden cutting in on the low end, with the effect of Bonnaroo tying up big-name acts on the same weekend, and you have George McMillan cast in the middle with a bad case of Jan Brady Syndrome.

  2. Noneya
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 1:01 pm

    Sorry to be anonymous, but I am still connected and I have access to the financials.

    The Administration fees almost always were the same amount of money that the festival fell short by.

    Nepotism really killed this festival, if it had the same selfless leadership as Do Dah, Artwalk, or countless other events it would be going strong.

    I hope someone submits a different plan soon. Otherwise we all lose.

  3. Kenn McCracken
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 1:15 pm

    I’m fairly sure that no one from the City Stages accounting office will post a comment, because you have to add two numbers successfully to post.

    I am thrilled that an extra quarter million of money that could have gone to street repairs, police paychecks, or Langford’s defense fund instead got tossed out the window into the rain.

    I like to light cigarettes with twenty dollar bills, too.

  4. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 1:19 pm

    Ike: Even festivals once on the ropes, like JazzFest in New Orleans, found a way to bounce back. But was it competition that doomed City Stages? Did McMillan do enough to outmaneuver that growing list of competing music festivals?

    Noneya: I have heard before that it was a closed circle that ran City Stages. No new blood, no new influx of ideas can cripple innovation and accelerate rot.

  5. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 1:32 pm

    Kenn: City Stages has an accounting office??

  6. Dennis Pillion
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 1:39 pm

    I’m sad to see the festival go but creeped out that I eulogized something and it died three days later. It just shows that once you get on my bad side, there’s no coming back.


    Let’s be honest though, competition was not the problem. The organizers just didn’t put out a product that was worth the price of admission and the hassle of the heat/parking/other issues. Lower the price or get better acts and people would show up.

  7. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 1:45 pm

    Y’all should read Dennis’ post. It shows what I think a lot of consumers and music fans were thinking.

    Competition should make products better or drive inferior ones away. That’s certainly what happened here.

  8. City Stages is no more… | The Terminal - Birmingham AL's hub
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 3:06 pm

    […] that City Stages is no more. The Birmingham News reported the story first earlier this afternoon. Wade on Birmingham and bham.fm have also posted about the news and already have comment threads of their own. […]

  9. Andy Birdwell
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 3:59 pm

    I love how in the last paragraph they thank the vendors. I’m sure that “thanks” is going to soften the financial blow.

  10. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 4:12 pm

    That’s just good manners. Like if a mugger thanks you for the tip.

  11. Joy Myers
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 4:25 pm

    Noneya, thanks for the Artwalk plug. I’ve never had access to City Stages’ financial info, but I once heard a rumor that ONE person’s MONTHLY salary was equivalent to Artwalk’s entire annual budget. That still kills me.

    It would be great if someone came along and could put together a new version of this festival. If not, maybe all their supporters, vendors, sponsors and volunteers will find worthy new places to spend their time, money and talents. I’m sure other festival organizers would appreciate any help they can get… I know I would.

    Joy Myers, Artwalk

    p.s. This year’s Artwalk Preamble August will feature Bottletree as one of its locations on August 13!

  12. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 5:52 pm

    Joy: You can find more on the financial info in this previous post.

    I think it would be OK for the city to take a break from this kind of festival. The Heritage Festival is coming back in August, after having been away awhile. Eager to see how it fares.

  13. Delgore
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 6:05 pm

    Finally, I was wondering when they would quit walking all over Fathers Day.

    I’ve posted before about the comparison of CS and Crawfish and how CS needed to pack up and die. Crawfish consistently pulled in more revenue in a smaller area and in less time than CS could even dream about.

    George, you just couldn’t get any more beatings out of that dead horse. My God man, it’s feet have been turned up for years and it’s belly bloated. It’s now just a pile of scrap meat waiting for the flies.

    Oh wait, you and your staff have already had your fill. Time for the City Sanitation Engineers to scrape it off the road and send it on it’s way to Turkey Creek.

  14. Jen
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 6:30 pm

    What we were saying in 2006: http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.viewcustom&friendId=18836291&blogId=131789564&swapped=true

    Wow, I was a really shitty blogger in 2006, by-the-by.

  15. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 6:38 pm

    Delgore: Hopefully Crawfish Boil and other local festivals will continue to grow and fill the void left by City Stages.

    Jen: From lousy to licensed blog teacher. Wow!

    [For those who can’t see Jen’s protected post, it says: “City Stages will fail someday. On June 25, 2009.” Eerie. If Jen OK’s it, I’ll repost it so all of you can see it.]

  16. Jen
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 7:31 pm

    You can repost (and even edit); I hadn’t been on that site in so long I didn’t remember my settings.

  17. Jen
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 7:31 pm

    You might point out it is MHO, not verified facts.

  18. Wade
    Thursday, June 25, 2009, 9:08 pm

    Here’s Jen’s reposted post, “Stage-fright.”


  19. jim
    Friday, June 26, 2009, 10:11 am

    The Crawfish Boil may be solvent but it’s still a piece of shit.


  20. City Stages may be terminal, but Bottletree will be Terminally Happy | Birmingham Weekly
    Monday, June 29, 2009, 3:28 pm

    […] you know from all of this reporting from Birmingham Weekly and others such as The Terminal and Wade on Birmingham, City Stages is gone. It was a good thing for Birmingham while it’s lasted, and we have 21 […]

  21. Wade on Birmingham » Blog Archive » Check and mate? Arrest warrants issued for City Stages’ McMillan, Koch
    Thursday, October 22, 2009, 12:48 am

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  22. R.I.P. Jubilee Festival | Lost in Montgomery
    Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 9:09 pm

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