Article Comment 

CVB, Cash festival organizer at odds

 

Tim Pratt

 

A majority of the Johnny Cash Flower Pickin'' Festival next month won''t take place at its usual location in downtown Starkville, but at Rick''s Cafe American on Highway 182. 

 

The change in location is the result of a down economy and a disagreement between festival organizer Robbie Ward and the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

 

"The economy has caused us to downscale some, but we''re doing our best to cut costs and still have a quality event," Ward said. 

 

The cost of putting on the event in the past has run around $75,000, Ward said. This year he''s estimating it will be closer to $30,000. 

 

Troubles started when the CVB considered forming a committee or advisory board to run the festival. Ward would have been a member of the board, he said, but he felt the move was an attempt to "hijack" the festival he created in 2007. 

 

The event will still feature vendors and live music, though this year they will be located inside and outside of Rick''s, Ward said.  

 

A clash between Ward and the Starkville CVB contributed to the change of venue. 

 

The CVB threatened to withhold its annual $5,000 contribution to the event unless Ward agreed to the change in leadership, Ward said. The CVB, however, eventually reconsidered its stance and attempted to work with Ward, Greater Starkville Development Partnership President and CEO Jon Maynard said. The CVB operates under the Partnership. 

 

The second conflict between the CVB and Ward came when Ward asked for help with food vendors, staffing and other services for the event. At least two of Ward''s usual festival organizers were unable to help this year, so Ward asked the CVB for assistance in coordinating volunteers and other manpower. 

 

But Maynard and the CVB wanted to see contracts and confirmations from all musical acts; a contract for stage, sound and equipment; a contract or commitment from stage technicians; a printed publicity schedule; and event venue confirmations for each day of the festival. Only then would the CVB "mobilize," Maynard said. 

 

It was at that point when Ward decided he was done trying to work with the CVB and was moving the event from Main Street to Rick''s.  

 

"Rosanne Cash performed at the festival last year on her word," Ward said of Johnny Cash''s daughter, who was the headline act at the 2008 event on Main Street. "The CVB wants me to provide contracts and commitments and e-mails to verify everything I''m doing. They''re treating me like I''ve never done this before. They''re treating me like I haven''t put on a successful festival the past two years." 

 

Maynard said the CVB wanted to check on all the musical acts and details of the event because he heard several times the festival wasn''t going to take place this year.  

 

"We''ve gotten a wide variety of answers," Maynard said. "The festival is on; the festival isn''t on. We''re going to have it downtown; we''re going to have it at Rick''s. This headliner; that headliner. We''ve never gotten concrete answers on anything. We''ve never seen anything tangible. We''ve never seen any contracts. We''ve never seen anything that shows us that he is fully committed to this other than verbally talking about it. 

 

"We can''t really do anything until we understand fully where it''s going to be; what''s going to be happening; who''s going to be doing everything; what sort of publicity we''ve got going on," Maynard added. "I mean, we need to understand and see proof that those things are going on." 

 

Despite the conflict between Ward and the CVB, Maynard said the organization already has "called people and started doing things" to prepare for the event, though he''s still waiting on more details before the CVB truly mobilizes. 

 

"We want to help," Maynard said. "We just need to understand where everything is going and what everything is doing, because we have just heard too much ''this'' and ''that.''" 

 

For Ward, who has spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours organizing the event each of the past three years, the CVB''s inaction is frustrating. 

 

"You would think an organization whose sole purpose is to promote tourism would work with me on an event that brings thousands of people into the city," Ward said.  

 

"Instead of getting a key to the city, I have to go to the doctor''s Tuesday because I''m having anxiety issues," he added. 

 

Ward estimated 4,000-5,000 people have attended the Flower Pickin'' Festival each of the past two years. He already has received e-mails from people as far away as Dubai this year who plan to attend.  

 

Neither Maynard nor any representatives of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership attended the Starkville Rotary Club meeting Monday, where Ward announced the change in venue.   

 

The headlining acts at this year''s festival are Carlene Carter and Justin Townes Earle. Carter is the daughter of June Carter, who went on to marry Johnny Cash. Earle is the son of singer/songwriter Steve Earle. 

 

The festival begins Friday, Oct. 16, and ends Sunday, Oct. 18. For more information, visit www.pardonjohnnycash.com.

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment Robert Ratliff commented at 9/15/2009 10:54:00 AM:

When you are dealing with public funds you have to be accountable. I head a CVB in Alabama. I would NOT expect anything but what the Starkville CVB is asking.

 

Article Comment Leeroy Jenkins commented at 9/15/2009 11:46:00 AM:

Ricks's is a crap hole. The whole establishment smells like vomit and urine.

 

Article Comment Rick Welch commented at 9/15/2009 12:59:00 PM:

thanks for the kind words Leeroy...

 

Article Comment newhopenative commented at 9/15/2009 1:28:00 PM:

aww LEEROY you probably just say that because you were passed out IN the urine and vomit on the floor of ricks. With that being said, I haven't been to ricks in several years, but when I did frequent there, it never smelled of urine or vomit. There's not many bars/clubs that would provide transportations for drunk college students. Call it morals, I think ricks is a good venue, and a very good location in starkville. You just go to every article on this site, and attempt to bash what you can.

 

Article Comment Saara commented at 9/15/2009 1:36:00 PM:

The spirit of this festival is gone. Ward obviously just wants to take all of the credit for this. The point is supposed to be to honer Johnny Cash, not Robbie Ward. But look at the web site an you will see it's all about tooting his own horn. Heck, just read this story. You have anxiety issues? mabye you are taking on a little too much then! Wouldn't it be better to see the festvial prosper than see it die? Sad. Sad. But i wont be going to it if its going to be at Ricks. The fun part was having it downtown.

 

Article Comment Leeroy Jenkins commented at 9/15/2009 2:35:00 PM:

I didn't say I have never vomited at Rick's because I have. I took the bus in my hay day too. The mens bathroom stinks and the bartenders are shady.

 

Article Comment Arma Salazar commented at 9/15/2009 3:50:00 PM:

First - I think that there are two sides to every story and the newspaper gave each side to tell it. I think the CVB has the right to ask questions, but they do have a Sponsorship Application that Ward has submitted just like every other organization requesting money. Why are they singling Ward and this event out?

Second - Rick has been a very active person in the community not asking for credit and a lot of times doing things behind the scenes. I still support the Johnny Cash event even if at Rick's Cafe American.

Lastly, if you have not planned a festival then you really don't know what all goes into it. Ward gave birth to this event long before it was a project out of the Starkville Partnership Leadership Forum Class. When volunteers didn't show up, Ward had to pick up the slack. When money didn't come through, Ward put up his personal money. Ward cares about the Johnny Cash Festival, the Starkville community and doing what is right. It takes a LOT to put on a festival.

The CVB, the City, community citizens intersted in helping with the event shoould pull together and support this event which is a good tourism event. No one should be in competition with one another. Yes, public dollars have to be accounted for and every year Ward has submitted a Sponsorship Application and then a Final Report with no question of how the funds were spent.

I think Ward is just at the end of his rope trying to do something good for the community and always receiving opposition.

 

Article Comment Arma Salazar commented at 9/15/2009 3:55:00 PM:

First - I think that there are two sides to every story and the newspaper gave each side to tell it. I think the CVB has the right to ask questions, but they do have a Sponsorship Application that Ward has submitted just like every other organization requesting money. Why are they singling Ward and this event out?

Second - Rick has been a very active person in the community not asking for credit and a lot of times doing things behind the scenes. I still support the Johnny Cash event even if at Rick's Cafe American.

Lastly, if you have not planned a festival then you really don't know what all goes into it. Ward gave birth to this event long before it was a project out of the Starkville Partnership Leadership Forum Class. When volunteers didn't show up, Ward had to pick up the slack. When money didn't come through, Ward put up his personal money. Ward cares about the Johnny Cash Festival, the Starkville community and doing what is right. It takes a LOT to put on a festival.

The CVB, the City, community citizens intersted in helping with the event shoould pull together and support this event which is a good tourism event. No one should be in competition with one another. Yes, public dollars have to be accounted for and every year Ward has submitted a Sponsorship Application and then a Final Report with no question of how the funds were spent.

I think Ward is just at the end of his rope trying to do something good for the community and always receiving opposition.

 

Article Comment robin commented at 9/15/2009 7:23:00 PM:

I have attended the festival for the past few years and have been completely unimpressed. I have wondered why things were not getting any better and now I know why. I think the idea of the festival is great, but so far, has not been carried out well. I do not plan on attending this year because I do not expect it to improve this year, and it would be a waste of time.

 

Article Comment emily commented at 9/16/2009 8:28:00 AM:

What's more important to Starkville: Luring tourists to town to celebrate a unique moment in its history or criticizing the arduous process of making that celebration possible?

I know Robbie Ward to be a good and decent man whose heart bleeds for Starkville. I also understand the CVB's need to account for public dollars before spending them.

The article here is interesting in that it gives us a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes woes of organizing such a festival. But it is only a snapshot, and not a complete picture.

Let's all support Robbie Ward and the CVB as they work together to hold a successful event. Let's also vow to lend a hand by volunteering and show our support by attending.

This isn't Ward's festival or the CVB's festival. This is Starkville's festival. Let's be proud.

 

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