Whenever Jazz Fest announces its upcoming lineup, there are always people who dislike and like to dispute the choices made for booking and managing the Fest. The 2019 complete lineup hasn’t yet been revealed as of this writing, but it’s common knowledge that The Rolling Stones are “probably” going to play the second Thursday of this year’s Fest (May 2).
Recently Don Paul, a local writer and Grammy-nominated producer, posted a long and detailed critique of the Festival on his social media page regarding the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, WWOZ, AEG and the money, management and booking policies that dominate the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Mr. Paul did a lot of research for this article, which we present to you in its entirety. Also be aware that this guest editorial by Mr. Paul is an incomplete picture of the the festival’s total finances or its relationship with the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Festival Productions, WWOZ and AEG. But it does give the reader an idea of the massive revenues the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell generate. What is does not focus on is the costs associated with producing the event, nor the uses of net proceeds generated by the Jazz Fest that supports the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s many programs that rely on the support generated by the Jazz Fest.
Jazz Fest and A.E.G.: Better Choices Abound
by Don Paul
News and rumors swirling about the 2019 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or Jazz Fest, help us see inner workings of a Festival that generates more than $35-million each year.
One certain bombshell of news that struck to the roots hit on November 9, 2018. The co-producer of Jazz Fest, New Orleans-based Festival Productions, announced that a second Thursday of performances would be added in 2019, the 50th anniversary of Jazz Fest’s beginning.
That is, for 2019 both weekends of Jazz Fest would include a Thursday. In prior years the Festival’s second weekend featured a “locals’ Thursday” in which Louisiana acts were headliners on main Stages and New Orleans’ residents could buy two discounted admission-tickets for $50 apiece.
Festival Productions’ November announcement told us that in 2019 “locals’ Thursday” is moving to April 25. It also separated the new, second Thursday, May 2, as something special, stating that the Brass Passes offered by New Orleans’ radio-station WWOZ would not be honored on May 2. Brass Passes traditionally provide entrance to Jazz Fest and to WWOZ’s Hospitality Tent every day of Jazz Fest. Brass Pass sales are a major part of funding WWOZ, the volunteers-driven “voice of New Orleans’ music and culture,” itself 38 years old, that broadcasts more than 20 hours of Jazz Fest’s live shows each year to its global audience. For 2019 the 3,000 Brass Passes allotted to the station cost $600 each—making their revenue $1,800,000 that would then be split with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.
The Foundation Is at the Heart of These Matters
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation, or NOJ&HF, is central to any story related to Jazz Fest and WWOZ. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation owns Jazz Fest. It has also owned the license for WWOZ since 1987. The NOJ&HF also is the parent entity that’s contracted with Jazz Fest’s co-producers, Festival Productions and Los Angeles-based AEG Presents, since AEG became a partner in January of 2005.
The now 13-year-old partnership has been lucrative all-around. Over the past seven years the NOJ&HF and its Board of more than 60 current and past members has gained on average more than $3-million each year as the Foundation’s share in profits from Jazz Fest. The NOJ&HF now holds more than $40-million in assets, of which around $10-million is cash. Screenshots below of the NOJH&F’s IRS 990s [990s are the “tax return” form that large non-profits send to the Internal Revenue Service] from 2012 through 2015. These are available online through ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer website [and elsewhere online], show the Foundation’s steady accumulation of funds via Jazz Fest.
Furor Rises among Those Devoted to Jazz Fest
In November purchasers of the Brass Passes already sold by WWOZ during its Fall Pledge Drive were unhappily shocked by Festival Productions’ announcement that the new, second Thursday would be excluded to them. WWOZ’s General Manager, Beth Arroyo Utterback, said that the announcement surprised the station, too. “We found out at the same time as everybody else did,” she said. “We weren’t trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”
Rumors arose with the unsettling news. Among the more specific rumors were: that the new, second Thursday would have attendance capped at 50,000; that its ticket-price would be $175 at the least; and its headliner would be The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger of the Stones further focused speculation on Twitter by including New Orleans between Jacksonville and Houston on a list of spring tour-stops.
Posters on the online Jazz Festforum grew more irate and inclined to revolt and boycott.
One of the forum wrote: “I’m sad that Fest is going for the money grab…as an exhibitor for almost all of the past 35 years, my voice has always been that the Fest should follow the mission statement of the Foundation which is to promote the local music, arts, and culture. If this scenario happens as people describe, it is pretty much opposite of the mission.”
Another wrote: “I’ve been attending Fest every year since ’91, most times for both weekends. If this is all true, I’ll get my Brass Pass and skip the 50th anniversary day.”
Another: “… how this flies in the face of the values that Jazz Fest was founded upon. This kind of stunt is the kind that makes everyone take notice in a negative way and will cause a whole host of individuals to reconsider their tourism dollars and make other choices.”
Speculation pointed to the head of Festival Productions for decades, Quint Davis, as prime mover pushing for his “dream” of having “the Stones at Jazz Fest.” Quint Davis was a fan just out of college when he and Alison Miner were chosen by Newport’s George Wein as partners to start Jazz Fest in 1969. The then-couple went on to manage Professor Longhair and add more and more elements of Louisiana’s music and culture to the Festival.
Quint Davis is, however, perhaps much less consequential to this imbroglio and to booking Jazz Fest altogether than the partner that guaranteed Jazz Fest solvency in 2004, AEG Live. AEG Live is subsidiary to a larger arm, AEG Presents, of a much larger parent body, the Anshutz Entertainment Group. In Phillip Anschutz, the now 79-year-old CEO estimated by Forbes to be worth $12.5 billion in 2017, and his and his wife’s recent philanthropy, we may see a window into how the partnership with Festival Productions and the NOJ&HF can be made into something that far more fulfills the Foundation’s mission of promoting music and culture in New Orleans and Louisiana.
Music and culture of New Orleans and Louisiana is famously known to be African-American in its most generative sources. African-Americans are likewise known to be the least empowered of New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s ethnicities.
A.E.G. Is of Many Arms and All of Them Are Huge
The Anschutz Entertainment Group owns the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the O2 and Wembley Arenas in London, the Sydney Superdome in Australia, the Allianz Parque in Sao Paolo, and many more among giant venues. AEG Presents and AEG Live and their companies and partners (Concerts West, Goldenvoice, The Bowery Presents, Winter Circle Productions … as well as Festival Productions) produce more than 30 high-profile Festivals each year, including Coachella. AEG Presents lists and profiles on its website 763 acts among the performers with which it’s contracted. Featured in banner promo—photos are Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Elton John and Garth Brooks. AEG also owns major-franchise sports teams on most continents. It’s rumored, too, to be 3D-modeling the first Golf Course on Mars.
In May of 2017 the online Pitchfork pulblication stated that AEG “owns and operates venues accounting for 61% of ticket sales worldwide in the third quarter of 2016, according to Pollstar data.”
Such reach and earnings of course translate to enormities of determinative and potential power.
AEG and its arms and Phillip and Nancy Anschutz could, in short, bring a lot good to the City of New Orleans and African-American communities who remain largely deprived of benefits from creations that owe to their ancestors and to their contemporaries.
AEG claims to support diversity and empowerment that’s expressly anti-racist. The Facebook platform for AEG Worldwide declared on June 30 of 2018: “AEG’s strength comes from different perspectives – the many ideas and voices that create a unique and powerful team. We are #BetterAsOne and we are proud to celebrate #infinite diversity. Check out our video and see why AEG is proud.”
AEG’s touted commitment to diversity is not reflected in how money is spent for entertainers and ‘Independent Contractors’ at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Finances Always Lead to Material Light
Because the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) Non-Profit Corporation, its financial records are open to the public. Its Internal Revenue Service 990s are available online through the investigative-reporting entity ProPublica and its Nonprofit Explorer website.
Reviewing the screenshot summaries of NOJ&HF 990s, that are displayed above shows that the Foundation typically takes in more than $3-million each year from Jazz Fest. In 2012 NOJ&HF’s combined Assets totaled a little over $19-million. In 2016 those Assets had grown to more than $32-million, nearly $12-million of which was in Cash or Cash equivalents.
Our next piece about Jazz Fest will focus on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and ‘The Board and Its Money.’
Here, however, we want to examine how little of the fees generated by Jazz Fest go to performers and technicians and tradespeople of New Orleans and Louisiana.
The money going to firms and musicians of New Orleans and Louisiana appears to be much less than half of the potential each year and to be steadily diminishing.
Let’s look at NOJH&F’s 990 for the financial year ending in 2015, relating to the 2014 Jazz Fest’s finances. In 2013 Festival Productions earned $3,797,472 among Jazz Fest’s ‘Independent Contractors’, while Donahue-Favret of Mandeville received $2,834,793. Out of Los Angeles, CAPS Universal took $3.215,355, AEG Live took $2,425,000, and the Creative Artists Agency took $1,100,000. Income from Jazz Fest 2013 for contractors based in Louisiana and those based in Los Angeles was thus split close to 50/50.
2015 Jazz Fest contractors
2016 Jazz Fest contractors. The Howard Rose Agency ($2,500,500) represents Elton John.
Next year, the split in the more than $16-million to Independent Contractors shifted to a more than 2 to 1 advantage for Los Angeles. CAPS Universal’s staffing received $4,846,266, AEG Live $4,146,765, and the Howard Rose Agency (Elton John) $2,500,000, while Festival Productions received $4,166,565 and Donahue-Favret $1,022,935. In short, the ‘Independent Contractors’ of Los Angeles’ earned more than double the amount of those of Louisiana from the 2016 Jazz Fest.
In 2017 only one Louisiana entity, Festival Productions, figured among the first five Independent Contractors for Jazz Fest. and its $2.663,927 represented less than 25% of the five contractors’ total of $11,585,301.
We can see, then, that New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s share of the top-five contractors’ earnings from recent Jazz Fests is diminishing to less than 25%. We can’t see from the NOJ&HF’s 990s how much New Orleans’ and other Louisiana musicians are paid at Jazz Fests. We may surmise, though, that much, much less than 25% of fees paid to entertainers at Jazz Fest are received by musicians in New Orleans and Louisiana. The headlining acts in the upper three rows of primary 2018, 2017 and 2016 Jazz Fest advertisements tell a story of prominence and preference.
We see that ONLY ONE act from New Orleans and Louisiana figures in the top three rows from Jazz Fest advertisements over the past three years. That act is the same each year, the hard-working and estimable Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. I must exclaim: one act among the more than 50 who populate the top three rows in those three years! I must ask: in which era are eliving? In which century?
We may also note an inequality between Black and White acts in the top three rows of Jazz Fest advertisements for 2016, 2017, and 2018. About one in three of these most prominent acts is Black. Such a proportion is far from a true reflection of sales and listening across all the United States during those three years. Such a proportion is much more misrepresentative for a gathering whose name is the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Is such misrepresentation Jim Crow by another name?
It looks, I must say, like something worse than disproportion and misrepresentation. It looks like programmed suppression of the vast, vital talents currently performing in New Orleans and Louisiana. It looks like programmed racism.
The diminished share of earnings for Louisiana contractors and the disproportion-unto-misrepresenation among the talent booked for Jazz Fest can easily be remedied. Different choices can easily be made. Fans may change their choices. We see from the Jazz Festforum postings above that ‘a whole host of folks may reconsider their tourism dollars’ and go elsewhere than to Jazz Fest.
Other, more sweeping choices are also available.
The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s contract with AEG expires on January 27, 2019.
Many openings arise toward new and more democratic booking of acts at Jazz Fest with the present-day AEG and its numberless issues of conflict and control out of the picture. Openings for more creativity. More equality. More profitability for Jazz Fest as a whole and for the Foundation and the missions that this Foundation is meant to serve.
Another turn may occur in 2019. AEG Live, AEG Presents, the Anschutz Entertainment Group as a whole may change. Philip Anschutz this year contributed $1-million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation and a specific effort against discrimination-unto-violence against Lesbian, Gay and Transgender people in sub-Saharan Africa. The CEO was quoted by Pitchfork on March 22: ‘I support the rights of all people and oppose discrimination and intolerance against the LGBTQ community. I see this as a matter of basic human rights.’
Phillip Anschutz and his wife Nancy earlier contributed $120-million to a much-enlarged School of Medicine at the University of Colorado. One already working goal of this School is the involvement of more people of color in Medicine.
“Anything can happen,” Bob Marley sang. (and how about more of the really popping 2018 AfroPop as well as the really penetrating AfroPunk at Jazz Fest soon?). One thing certain is that positive changes at Jazz Fest are due. Hundreds unto thousands of those most devoted to music there are calling for such changes. Stones and rumors of Stones have shaken some walls and opened eyes to larger pictures.
Coachella is not New Orleans.
Don Paul is a novelist, poet, bandleader, Grammy-nominated producer, and 20th-century marathoner.