Sacramento Music Festival, formerly Jazz Jubilee, issues emergency call for funds

The Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society has issued an emergency plea for money to members and volunteers because of a budget shortfall in its operation of the Sacramento Music Festival.

The festival, which is the recent incarnation of the former Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee, will need to make up an $80,000 deficit in order to operate through Dec. 31, said Tom Duff, executive committee member at the festival and its incoming executive director.

“That is what we’re projecting as the shortfall, if we do nothing,” Duff said. “If we keep the same personnel and facilities that we have today.”

Mike Testa, vice president of the City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said festival organizers haven’t provided adequate answers about what caused the deficit. The city bureau has helped market the festival for the past two years. Testa

said this year’s event turned a $42,000 profit.

The 41-year-old festival is in the midst of recasting itself from a jazz-only event to one that offers a wide range of popular and American roots music in addition to jazz. In 2011, it made the controversial move to change its name from the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee to the Sacramento Music Festival.

In 2013, festival organizers decided to present bigger name acts from the popular music realm, booking Los Lobos as the headliner. This year’s headliner was Collective Soul.

Organizers made the shift in response to a steady decline in attendance since 2002. That year, the festival brought in $2.7 million, but by 2010, revenue had dropped to $1.3 million. In 2012, the last year for which the organization’s tax records are posted, the festival brought in $681,954.

At its peak, in the 1980s, the festival drew roughly 85,000 people. Duff said this year approximately 20,000 people attended the four-day festival, which is held on Memorial Day weekend.

The festival is the major fundraising arm of the STJS and supplies about 95 percent of the society’s revenue for activities such as youth jazz camps, as well as production of the festival

The society has not responded to repeated requests for financial and ticket sales information.

It in unclear why the society felt compelled to issue the emergency call for funds since the festival made a profit this year. Duff said unforeseen expenses were to blame for the shortfall, but he didn’t know what they were since he was not involved in crafting the budgets.

Duff replaces current executive director Vivian Abraham in October.

“We spent more money for the festival than we had projected income,” Duff said. “There is no way of projecting revenue, and revenues were pretty flat. We were hoping with some of the big bands booked this year that the numbers would come in a little bit more positively than they did.”

He said the festival will try to raise money by tapping its 1,700 volunteers and members.

If that does not make up the shortfall, the society could fold or file for bankruptcy, Duff said. “We’re not taking any options off the table.”

Another option is making the festival an all-volunteer event, Duff said. The festival currently has two paid employees, including Abraham and an office manager, said Duff.

“The volunteers are capable of running this event,” Duff said. “Many other festivals in this area are run by volunteers.”

News that the festival would consider operating with an all-volunteer staff was not warmly received by Testa.

“I think that’s asking for problems,” said Testa. “You need to be able to hold people accountable, and that’s really hard to do when you’re not paying them.”

Testa also said he has never received an adequate answer from the festival as to why the $80,000 operating shortfall is now looming despite the fact that such costs are typically accounted for in yearly budgets.

“You should know how much you budgeted to spend on item X. You should know that bill is coming, no matter when it comes,” said Testa.

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