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”

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