BERLIN — The organizers of this month’s music festival near Berlin defended the event this week after an article last week and an ongoing dispute over the treatment of one band.
Taking place from Thursday, Sept. 11 through Saturday, Sept. 13, the Soundwave Music Festival, produced by Airlift Entertainment, was hosted at Airlift Acres, a 50-acre field north of Berlin and featured a lineup of tribute and original rock bands from across the country. The Law Enforcement Officers Safeguarding America Foundation was a major sponsor of the festival.
A week after the event, Ocean City Today ran a scathing article titled “Music Fest Hits Sour Note With Fans, Musicians.” Citing one fan interviewed in person, an anonymous online comment and performing guitarist Tim Barbour of the New York band Blameshift, the article criticized every aspect of the event from attendance to food to organization.
Tim Keane, owner and promoter of Airlift Entertainment, responded this week to the article, which he claims was a blatant smear job by a biased reporter.
“[Ocean City Today Staff Writer] Nancy Powell misrepresented our event citing untrue events and information. Examples before getting into the content of the article she wrote: the large picture she placed in the paper falsely misrepresented this year’s event,” Keane wrote in an email. “The picture she posted is actually last year’s picture before the festival opened and was taken during a sound check. This was solely intentional on her part to lead people to believe the picture was taken during this year’s event while it was open.”
In response to an email seeking comment on Wednesday, Powell responded, “I took the photo this year. It was not during a sound check.” Powell, who invited this newspaper’s editor to her house to show proof the photos were from this year’s event, added, “I have no reason whatsoever to lie to you or anyone else.”
While disagreeing with that claim, attendance wasn’t as high as initially hoped, Keane admitted, but was higher than the measly pickings portrayed in the article. Roughly 3,000 tickets were sold or given away through promotions, according to Keane.
A physical count of attendees was made each day by Airlift with Thursday at 125, Friday at 161 and Saturday at 362. It is fair to note that those numbers don’t necessarily represent “unique” attendance as many festival goers likely visited on two or even all three days.
The numbers do not include tailgating spectators or guests of the bands. If accurate, the physical count means that at least 362 individuals attended Soundwave, though the number is most likely higher than that.
This is only Soundwave’s second year and the weather was hit-or-miss during that weekend, said Heber Pampillon, which could explain the lag in attendance. Pampillon is a member of the Atlanta, Ga.-based band Kickin Valentina and he enjoyed the festival.
“For us, the experience was great. Everybody was very friendly. Whatever they told us and whatever we had under contract with them, they followed through on it,” he said. “We enjoyed ourselves and we could definitely come back if they decided to do it again.”
The sentiment was not shared by Barbour. There remains some dispute between Airlift and Barbour’s band Blameshift over what exactly happened during the event. Blameshift maintains that the band was not paid its full, contracted price for playing. It did receive an advance of half its fee, but, according to Barbour, the band was not given the remainder after the set.
By Barbour’s account, after his band had finished, members attempted to settle up their fee at which point they were mistakenly given an envelope with a different band’s payment which was more than they were supposed to receive.
“Not being scumbags or whatever you want to call it, I decided to give the envelope back to them,” Barbour said.
But after doing so, Barbour said that Airlift was unable to find the band’s proper envelope and concluded that Blameshift must have already been paid.
“At that point, I said that we’re not going to leave until we get paid, in a nice way, by no means were we disrespectful,” Barbour said.
When Blameshift pushed, Barbour said that the band was escorted off the property by police along with others who had supported them.
Airlift’s account of the incident was similar in structure though much different in detail. Keane acknowledged that there was some mix-up with Blameshift’s final payment though couldn’t say whether Airlift or the band was at fault.
“The envelope that contained their final half was somehow lost behind the stage and was found behind the stage the next morning when the band had already departed the area,” Keane wrote.
Keane didn’t dispute that members of Blameshift and a few others were escorted off Airlift Acres but claimed that the band was removed due to multiple reports of illegal drug use not because of any fight over pay. The band was not searched and no arrests were made, however.
“I wish they did [search us] because our band doesn’t participate in any drugs,” said Barbour. “I mean we drink alcohol but we don’t do cocaine, we don’t smoke pot.”
Even after the envelope containing Blameshift’s payment was found, Barbour said that the band has yet to be paid.
“It turned into them losing our money, to us getting kicked off of the premises, to them getting hurt about the fact that social media stuff became involved and they got some bad reviews and then now they’re just not paying us,” he said.
The reason Airlift gave for not paying the final half was a breach of contract due to the alleged drug use as well as Blameshift not playing their full hour-long set. But Barbour said that the band played for almost exactly 52-minutes, which he claimed to have cleared with management ahead of time.
Barbour acknowledged that the scenario boils down to a “he-said-she-said” and isn’t sure how to proceed but doesn’t want to let it just drop due to the principle.
As for some of the other criticisms leveled at Soundwave by the recent article, such as low satisfaction and an underwhelming VIP package, Keane said that the story included information that was at times misleading and at other times completely false.
Tina Koch, the owner of OC Imports, attended the festival with her family and said she didn’t see any of the issues the article claimed were taking place. Like Pampillon, Koch did notice that attendance was lighter than expected but said crowds were still reasonable, especially during the evening.
“I’m not sure why the attendance was low but the festival, I thought and everybody that I talked to, was very professional,” she said. “The stage was incredible. All of the bands had lightshows and smoke machines and this, that and the other.”
The attendance actually worked out in her family’s favor, Koch continued, as it wasn’t too difficult to get close to the stage or interact with the bands. Her son was able to get several drum sticks autographed by some of the rockers and Koch, who attended Soundwave last year, said that she would return for a third festival next year if it is held.
“It was totally professional and I’m sorry that there weren’t more people there to see it,” she said. “Everybody there was having a great time. It worked out for us because we kind of got front row seats.”
Koch, whose husband had paid extra for VIP privileges, also said that the family was satisfied on that account. General admission was $45 per day with a package of all three days for $110 while VIP tickets were $75 per day or $180 for the entire festival.
Last week’s article criticized Soundwave for alleged broken promises regarding VIP packages including cheap food, recycled T-shirts in gift bags and unfulfilling meet and greets with the bands. There weren’t any issues with food and drinks, said Koch. Keane stated that there was actually a buffet offered.
“We served lasagna, macaroni and cheese, meatball subs, chicken breast sandwiches, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs. I can guarantee you that it was not a bag of salad and a hamburger [as reported],” he wrote. “Everyone ate and drank as much as they wanted and enjoyed the buffet line inside the VIP tent throughout the entire three days.”
VIP gift bags did include a T-shirt from last year’s Soundwave festival, but Keane said that was only a “commemorative gift” and that 2014 festival shirts were also included.
Kelley Jamieson, a festival goer who journeyed down to Soundwave Friday and Saturday from New York, said that she did not receive the 2014 shirt in her gift bag but was able to obtain one as soon as she mentioned the issue to Airlift.
“It was a little different than expected but overall I had a good time,” she said of the festival, adding that there are a still a few kinks for the event to work out but that staff was friendly.
By all accounts, Soundwave did not meet its own attendance expectations, but Keane considers the fledgling festival on the right path for future growth and believes that this month’s event left most fans and musicians satisfied. Accounts may vary but Keane has said that a number of bands, including Slaughter, KIX, Kickin Valentina and LA Guns, have signaled that they would all be willing to return next year.