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Sacramento Music Festival organizers file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy

Sights and jazzy sounds from Sacramento Music Festival 2017

A parade and various performances kick off a weekend of music at the 2017 Sacramento Music Festival in Old Town Sacramento on May 27, 2017.
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A parade and various performances kick off a weekend of music at the 2017 Sacramento Music Festival in Old Town Sacramento on May 27, 2017.

Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, effectively ending the nonprofit's half-century run.

Ex-president Dennis Speciale said the society's board members preliminarily voted to declare bankruptcy at the end of December. After consulting Roseville attorney Darrel Rumley, they came back for another vote at the end of January.

This time, it was unanimous. The Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society officially filed in the Eastern District of California's federal bankruptcy court Friday.

"We’re done. The society is no longer in existence," Speciale said.

When the society announced on Dec. 18 that the Sacramento Music Festival would not continue, marking the end of a 44-year Memorial Day mainstay, its board members still thought the society could be saved with budget reshuffling, Speciale said. A closer looked quickly determined that would not be the case.

Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society has $33,572 in assets, including all organization-owned instruments, and owes its 32 creditors $222,571, according to the bankruptcy filing. That sum includes roughly $72,000 owed to Wells Fargo, $42,000 to the Sacramento Convention Bureau and $20,000 to the State of California, as well as smaller amounts for people who bought pre-sale tickets to the 2018 Sacramento Music Festival.

One reason for the society's debt: declining revenue as interest in its flagship event lagged. Attendance figures shrunk nearly every year since the early 2000s, and bankruptcy filings show the nonprofit brought in $648,562 in 2017, down about $47,000 from the previous year.

"What it finally came down to was that we didn’t have enough to continue on for the foreseeable future without taking care of the past," Speciale said. "We stopped outgoing expenses for the new festival hoping we would have enough to continue on (with the society), but it turned out to be not enough."

Visit Sacramento took over programming for the Sacramento Music Festival - long known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee - for several years and attempted to appeal to broader audiences with headliners such as Tower of Power and Collective Soul.

The partnership ended in 2014, but Visit Sacramento CEO/president Mike Testa said his organization continued paying the society $65,000 annually through the following year to help keep it afloat.

"Our goal was to help them try to improve the event to to attract different demographics," Testa said. "I think they made some great attempts to try to improve and try to attract different audiences, but unfortunately it didn’t work out ... and I'm not all that surprised (at the bankruptcy filing)."

Shuttering the society's operations took a toll on members, said Speciale, who had been involved with the organization for more than 30 years. Some are working to assemble an offshoot called River City Trad Jazz, the name now atop the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society's website, but they'll be starting from scratch without many of the resources or people from the old guard.

"I really believe we brought something to Sacramento that was part of the city's cultural heritage," Speciale said.

Davis attorney J. Michael Hopper has been named the society's interim trustee.