Dear Moog...Love, Asheville


Dear Moog...Love, Asheville

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    Asheville Grit is what Asheville has to say. It's a free-form, curated forum for Ashevillians to submit blog posts on music, art, food and drink, opinions on local things and more. Contact us if you...

By Andrew Fletcher (originally posted on his blog on July 17, 2015)
This is in response to Moogfest’s dam­age con­trol spin-zone press release pub­lished today. I rec­om­mend you read it before con­tin­u­ing on.

Dear Moogfest,
Thanks for the $14 mil­lion in eco­nomic activity. But, maybe Asheville would be even more thank­ful if Moog would have planned for the future and cre­ated an Asheville-appropriate event that could have been suc­cess­ful year after year. That could have brought in a lot more than $14 mil­lion over the years. Maybe Moog could have brought in some profit to be shared with their new employee own­ers too. That would have been pro-Asheville for sure. Now before I con­tinue, remem­ber that this is what Moog pitched as the rai­son de vivre of the festival:

“Beyond a tra­di­tional music fes­ti­val, Moogfest aims to be an engine for dri­ving eco­nomic devel­op­ment in West­ern North Car­olina … the long-term goal say Moogfest orga­niz­ers, ‘is to inspire big think­ing start-ups, entre­pre­neurs, and inno­va­tors to con­sider Asheville as a com­mu­nity to relo­cate their for­ward think­ing busi­nesses, just as Bob Moog did in 1978′…”
“Moog Music Pres­i­dent Mike Adams took the risk on financ­ing this spec­u­la­tive ven­ture because of the poten­tial pay­off for the community’s future – help­ing to attract new busi­nesses and cre­ate jobs in West­ern North Carolina.”

(News­flash: Durham is evi­dently now in West­ern North Carolina)
I wouldn’t have any prob­lem with this if Moog hadn’t pitched the whole event as a slam dunk for our com­mu­nity and a sure­fire sign of their com­mit­ment to the growth of Asheville. Talk of grow­ing a “Sil­i­con Moun­tain,” throw­ing a great party (it was fun) and bring­ing national media atten­tion to our city falls flat. It’s more like Sil­i­con Mole­hill, and my busk­ing friends and I enter­tain thou­sands every week and have brought plenty of tourists and national media atten­tion here. Moog is not the only peo­ple work­ing for Asheville. But they did a great job of los­ing $1.5 mil­lion while doing it. And now we have one less music fes­ti­val here, not one more.
And how impressed should we be with that $14 mil­lion fig­ure? $30 mil­lion sounds a lot bet­ter, doesn’t it? That’s what was promised by Moog when they ini­tially chased that pub­lic invest­ment. No doubt this was on the minds of the Bun­combe County Cul­ture Recre­ation Author­ity when they rejected the plea for $250,000 for the 2015 fes­ti­val that was even­tu­ally scrapped. It prob­a­bly didn’t help that the grant appli­ca­tion was late and incom­plete. Whoops. For com­par­i­son, Bele Chere was esti­mated to cre­ate $8–10 mil­lion of eco­nomic impact and on a much smaller bud­get. Not as cool or fun, but on the same order of mag­ni­tude if you look at it per day of the festival.
The vaunted “cool fac­tor” that Moogfest claimed would bring tech star­tups to the region loses a lot of cool when the big accom­plish­ment of the fes­ti­val is show­ing every­one what a “cool” place to lose money Asheville is. Cool doesn’t impress busi­ness­men. Profit does. Clyde Smith wrote a great piece about the hol­low­ness of that “Sil­i­con Moun­tain erupt­ing from a music fes­ti­val” bull-dinky over at Hype­bot. Check it out.
Moog spent money like a col­lege stu­dent with a credit card. They booked dozens and dozens of niche artists with some blast-from-the-past head­lin­ers like Kraftwerk (3D!) with largely over­lap­ping draw. Some of these bands had to be flown in and put up at great cost, money spent that likely did not impact ticket sales. A bet­ter approach would have been to cre­ate a more hor­i­zon­tal pro­mo­tion scheme. The fire sale on tick­ets in the last two months before the fes­ti­val were a clear indi­ca­tion that their ver­ti­cal pro­mo­tion scheme had failed. Every­one that was going to buy a ticket bought it imme­di­ately, but the appeal out­side the nar­row, core audi­ence didn’t spread. You could call this wild spec­u­la­tion of mine Mon­day morn­ing quar­ter­back­ing. Or you could call it Pro­mo­tion 101.

Kraftwerk performing in Asheville at Moogfest 2014. Photo from the Moogfest Facebook page
Oh, and that bit about the 7,700% return on the pub­lic money invested? That’s not how “returns” work and the inde­pen­dent study men­tioned in the press release doesn’t actu­ally say how much money was actu­ally returned to local munic­i­pal  cof­fers. Lit­tle of that state and local tax actu­ally returns to the City of Asheville or Bun­combe County gov­ern­ments. Most goes to the State of North Car­olina who return a small por­tion of it to the com­mu­nity it orig­i­nated from and the Tourism Devel­op­ment Author­ity receives all money col­lected from the hotel tax. Else­where, I’ve seen that there was a direct ROIof 200% to the city, but I can’t find a pri­mary for that figure. Caveat lec­tor. But munic­i­pal grants don’t aim to turn a profit — they are designed to aug­ment the com­mu­nity and expand the tax base over many years. By that mea­sure, those grants were a fail­ure because Moogfest is leaving.
The truth is, Moog couldn’t fig­ure out how to get $3 mil­lion of rev­enue out of 6,090 ticket buy­ers. Because that’s ridicu­lous! Tick­ets would have had to have cost $492 each to break even. A smaller, cheaper, yet more hor­i­zon­tal, more diverse lineup (I’m not talk­ing ban­jos + beards, more like adding some electropop-hipster bait like Beach House) could pos­si­bly have brought more ticket buy­ers and appealed to cor­po­rate spon­sors as per­haps, more real­is­tic. (Yet there are no audi­to­ri­ums that can fit 3,000+ for the head­line acts in Asheville, an admit­tedly major stum­bling block for any large fes­ti­val that wants to locate here.) Costs were sim­ply way too high, and the cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship wasn’t there. Were com­pa­nies that skep­ti­cal to spon­sor an event in Asheville? Or were they just that skep­ti­cal to spon­sor the doomed event that Moog pitched them?
And of course, Moogfest’s newest suitor, Durham, thinks that they’ll “fit right in.”
Just admit it, Moog: you’re not com­mit­ted to Asheville. You’re com­mit­ted to Moog. And that’s fine. Just don’t tell us you love this com­mu­nity when you don’t. In the words of the old song, “Be sure it’s true when you say ‘I Love You.’ It’s a sin to tell a lie.”
The only ques­tion remains: was Moogfest inept, hyp­o­crit­i­cal or merely oppor­tunis­tic? Or just naively before it’s time? Let’s ask Durham this time next year.
Love, Asheville
P.S. For any­one who wants to drive to Durham next year for Moogfest, there are [or at least were] 300 tick­ets avail­able for Asheville locals at the Moog store for $99 a piece.