Financial uncertainty deepens at Sacramento Music Festival amid calls for financial disclosures

The Sacramento Music Festival has laid off its last paid employee, and its future remains in doubt as its parent organization scrambles to raise at least $80,000 by the end of the year.

The Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, which runs the festival, announced the laying off of administrative coordinator Jennifer Colindres at a contentious board meeting Monday evening. Society board president Ron Jones also said the 41-year-old festival, formerly the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Jubilee, will likely be canceled in 2015 unless the group can raise $150,000.

Two former board members attending the meeting demanded more transparency about the society’s finances. They wanted to know where the deficit came from, seeing as the city Convention and Visitors Bureau – a partner in the festival – says the event turned a $42,000 profit.

“Most people know how much money they have in their pocket,” said former society board member Bill Bua. “So why don’t they?”

Two weeks ago, the society sent an emergency email appeal to its 1,700 members and volunteers, asking for donations to keep the festival going. The email said the society needs to obtain $80,000 to continue operating through the end of its fiscal year on Dec. 31.

Society treasurer Lisa Negri-Bartels told attendees at the board meeting that she can’t produce hard numbers yet because the society is still getting bills from the festival, which was held over Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ve not gotten our financials from the office yet,” Negri-Bartels said.

The Bee has issued several requests for ticket sales and revenue information for both the 2013 and 2014 festivals. These requests have been declined.

A former society executive officer, Alicia Fullbright, told the Bee at the board meeting that she thinks the festival should release a full accounting of its finances.

“I find it outrageous that (Negri-Bartels), who has had responsibility for tracking the society’s accounting for six years, has no clue to where the financials are sitting,” Fullbright said.

Jones said financial information will be made public next week once the society’s executive committee meets today.

“People don’t understand that bills keep coming in,” Jones said. “We can’t justify trying to make up some numbers. We want to have actual numbers.”

The financial difficulties at the society come as it works to rebrand the festival from a jazz-only event to one with broader appeal. In 2011, the festival made the controversial move to change its name to the Sacramento Music Festival. It has also evolved from booking traditional jazz acts to one booking a wide range of popular and American roots music, in addition to jazz.

In 2013, festival organizers decided to present bigger name acts from the popular music realm, booking Los Lobos as the headliner. About 90 bands performed at this year’s festival, whose headliner was Collective Soul.

The music festival is operated as a fundraising arm of the society. The funds are meant to pay for youth jazz programs, and to promote the jazz art form. At present, the organization has enough money to operate through October, Jones said.

Even if the society manages to raise $150,000 and put on a festival in 2015, its scope will be greatly reduced, Jones said.

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