Dear Moogfest…

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.

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 ROI of 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 300 tick­ets avail­able for Asheville locals at the Moog store for $99 a piece.

3 Comments

  1. Asheville is a tiny moun­tain town that is not locat­ed any­where near a major city. A major­i­ty of youth in Asheville is unem­ployed or under­em­ployed work­ing min­i­mum wage jobs with­out much mon­ey to spend.

    Durham is cen­tral­ly locat­ed, part of the fastest grow­ing area in NC (The Tri­an­gle), and near an inter­na­tion­al air­port (RDU). The econ­o­my in the Tri­an­gle is the best in the state and the need for enter­tain­ment is high. In the Tri­an­gle you also have plen­ty young peo­ple that have a high income because they’re employed in either IT, Bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, or Health­care. Durham is also locat­ed near North Carolina’s 3 most pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties. The Tri­ad and Char­lotte are also only with­in a 2 hour dri­ve.

    There are plen­ty of rea­sons to pick The Tri­an­gle over Asheville. There’s just not enough going on in Asheville to stay there.

  2. Cloud — you’re miss­ing the point. The fes­ti­val clear­ly didn’t and does not depend on “Asheville’s under/unemployed youth”. It’s about being a mag­net. Thou­sands trav­elled for the fest — many fold­ed it into a longer vaca­tion trip etc.

    The bot­tom line is — FIVE days was a lot to bite off, espe­cial­ly if you are ask­ing for tax pay­ers to foot part of the bill. Moogfest could have scaled back, and made the math work to where Asheville could have been a fine loca­tion. Get some of these huge, deep pock­et new brew­eries on board. Get a major liquor spon­sor etc.

    But also impor­tant­ly — Moog is a pri­vate com­pa­ny, and this rais­es issues of PUBLIC funds being used for PRIVATE , for PROFIT ven­tures. Moog got match­ing tax dol­lars when it moved to the cur­rent head­quar­ters etc. WHICH IS FINE, I love Moog Music and glad as a tax­pay­er to help that hap­pen.

    But does the polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy of the own­er­ship and man­age­ment reflect that?? It’s quite pub­lic knowl­edge that per­haps that isn’t the case. I’d like to see some clar­i­ty on that issue.

    Asheville res­i­dents invest­ed in MOOG, a num­ber of times now. As coun­ty, state and local tax pay­ers we have helped the for-prof­it com­pa­ny thrive. It’s clear that they could have tried hard­er to stay here. And I don’t mean “Fight­ing with a stub­born city coun­cil”, that’s a smoke screen.

    And –if that is sim­ply the case — why didn’t Moog do what ANY enti­ty does in such a case — reach out to the vast pub­lic well of sup­port — and ask us to reach our may­or, our coun­cil rep, our state reps?? Why didn’t they appeal to Asheville to try and keep the fest here?

  3. Heh, I am going to start call­ing the com­pa­ny moôog, not “moge”. And when my hip­ster friends try to cor­rect me, I am going to say, ” yeah, I know, but that was before they moved the fes­ti­val to Durham”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: