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Sacramento Music Festival returns on Memorial Day weekend, despite recent cash crunch

Memphis Boys bassist Joe Jazdzewski, left, and guitarist Gino Mertegillano perform at the 40th annual Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento in May 2014. After changing its name in 2012 from the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee, the event aimed to retain some trademark jazz while expanding to reggae, rock, country and American roots music.
Memphis Boys bassist Joe Jazdzewski, left, and guitarist Gino Mertegillano perform at the 40th annual Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento in May 2014. After changing its name in 2012 from the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee, the event aimed to retain some trademark jazz while expanding to reggae, rock, country and American roots music. Sacramento Bee file

Despite a plea for emergency funds last year because of a cash shortfall, organizers of the Sacramento Music Festival say it will return this year with a four-day lineup on Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ll be back,” said Tom Duff, executive director of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, the organization that has presented the festival – formerly known as the Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee – for more than four decades.

Last August, the society issued an online emergency plea to members and volunteers citing a $80,000 deficit. The organization said it needed to make up the shortfall before Dec. 31.

Since then, the society managed to raise $60,000 from its members and laid off its two remaining paid staff members, a move that Duff predicted will save another $65,000. The society also closed its office in Old Sacramento and is now being run entirely by volunteers.

“I want to make sure that we’re in a positive situation next year,” said Duff. “Anything not relevant to the festival is on the chopping block.”

The festival is the recent incarnation of the former Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee.

The name change came in 2012 in an effort to move the festival away from its traditional Dixieland and jazz origins in order to attract a broader audience. The idea was to retain some trademark jazz offerings while expanding wide-ranging music offerings that include reggae, rock, country and American roots music.

Attendance has steadily declined since 2002, when revenue was $2.7 million. Yet the jazz society said the festival still made a $42,000 profit in 2014. The society has never been able to fully explain why it issued an emergency plea for funds last August if the festival made a profit.

In 2015, the society hopes to operate the festival on a budget of roughly $700,000, Duff said.

“The whole budget is designed for us to have $100,000 after the festival is done,” Duff said. “I’ll be happy if we make $25,000 after everything is paid.”

Duff said the society hopes to raise $600,000 from ticket and other sales between now and the first day of the festival, which is May 22. As was the case last year, the organization is getting help again from the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau and a consortium of area hotels.

“Without doing any advertising we’ve already opened our ticket sales for 2015, and we’re already over where we were last year,” said Duff. He said the society has brought in $15,000 in ticket sales.

The visitors bureau is running the festival’s marketing this year as part of a three-year partnership. That partnership is in its last year, said Mike Testa, senior vice president of convention sales at the visitors bureau.

Last year, the festival received a $65,000 grant from the Sacramento Tourism Marketing District for booking headliners at the festival, said Testa. The visitors bureau was charged with booking that talent. The directive from the district was to book headliners that appealed to a wide demographic.

Last year, the festival headliner – Collective Soul – was booked with those funds, as were performers Mat Kearney and Trombone Shorty.

“For us, it is important that this festival is on a course for success,” said Testa. “When we committed to help them with marketing, we made a three-year commitment, so this is a make or break year for that commitment.”

This year’s festival will be scaled back slightly from last year, Duff said. The festival has scuttled its Hyatt Ballroom and Pioneer Square venues. The former never saw more than 200 tickets sold in what was designed as a 1,200 seat venue, Duff said.

He said it is too early to announce bookings, but that the lineup may reflect more country acts than were booked last year.

“We’ll bring in top-notch national talent, mostly rock ’n’ roll type music,” said Duff.

The festival will also offer a slate of traditional jazz and youth bands, plus an afternoon devoted to soul music. The prices for the festival have gone up this year, said Duff. A full pass is now priced at $125 and a one-day pass at $45.

Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

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