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Organizers cancel Songwriters Festival, Symposium

The Songwriters Festival and Symposium, scheduled for July in Pagosa Springs, has been cancelled by the event organizers.

Also cancelled is a related three-state road show to eight southern cities in late April that was set to promote Pagosa as a tourist destination and encourage attendance at the music festival.

The decision was announced by Janis Moomaw, chair of The Pavilion, a proposed new local concert venue, and head of the group organizing the Songwriters Festival and Symposium, which had been slated to be an annual affair.

She cited, “division within our community” as the reason for the change in plans. “It has become increasingly clear to us that dissention surrounding the mission of the Community Development Corporation (CDC) will make it impossible to go forward with our festivals,” Moomaw said.

“In spite of the fact that Colorado State tourism officials from both the Ritter and Hickenlooper administrations in Denver advised Steve Vassallo (executive director of the CDC) to create major events to bring visibility to Pagosa as a visitor destination, some vocal critics disagree. No event can be successful without widespread community support and goodwill.”

Moomaw also said the controversy surrounding first The Pavilion and now the Songwriters Festival and Symposium has resulted in a delay in fund-raising necessary to put on the concerts, as ticket sales typically cover only about a third of the cost of cultural events. This delay has a cascading effect, because grant approvals frequently depend on a community’s first showing financial support for an activity.

Local support

Moomaw pointed out that in spite of the naysayers, there are a great number of local proponents of the Songwriters Festival and Symposium, many of whom have been working hard for months to make the festival a reality. They include the creator of the group’s website, a grant writer, graphic artists designing ads for local, regional and national publications, and a committee involved since last November in planning and organizing the event.

Local supporters also include Kelcy Warren, new owner of BootJack Ranch, who said he would purchase a tent seating up to 500 people for use at The Pavilion, “to host local music festivals in town and thus help further economic development for the community.” The Songwriters Festival and Symposium was slated to be the inaugural event under The Pavilion’s tent.

Moomaw singled out Vassallo as the major influence on the festival’s promotion team because of his contacts within the Nashville music scene.

“All four of the singer songwriters were coming here only because of Steve,” Moomaw said. “He knows them. He recruited them. He brought them to Pagosa last November. They fell in love with our community and they got excited about the idea for the Songwriters Festival and Symposium.”

Southern road show

For the five-day road show to Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana promoting Pagosa and the festival, Vassallo, the songwriters and their publicists had arranged 25 media interviews on radio, TV and with newspapers, as well as two musical performances. Al White, director of the Colorado State Tourism Office, called the road show a valuable tool to promote Pagosa Springs.

“All of the Pagosa road show participants were volunteers traveling at their own expense and on their own time,” Moomaw said. “We were seeking no personal gain except the satisfaction of giving back to our community and helping its economy. We know that the economic impact of the Songwriters Festival would have been significant — for our restaurants, our merchants, and our lodging businesses — and hopefully in the longer term, for our real estate and construction people.”

Concern re. negativism

Lisa Reeve, owner of the local real estate firm United Country Mountain Properties, said she was greatly concerned by the negativism surrounding the CDC and events like the Songwriters Festival and Symposium.

“It breaks my heart to see mud thrown at individuals and at hard-working volunteers,” Reeve said. “Pagosa is a very small community. It is not good to have people in such distinct camps. The next time you start to criticize, I hope instead you will go talk to the people involved to find out what’s really going on.”

The Songwriters Festival and Symposium was set to feature a unique blend of country, rock, pop, folk and Americana music performed by four of Nashville’s greatest singer-songwriters — Dickey Lee, Buzz Cason, Richard Leigh and Pat Alger. Three are inductees and one a nominee to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The festival had been planned to encompass four performances. Thursday evening, July 7 would have been a gala fund-raiser catered by the Alley House to raise money for scholarships for local music students. Friday, July 8, and Saturday, July 9, were evening concerts. Saturday afternoon was a symposium for aspiring songwriters from across the United States.

Pavilion on hold

Meanwhile, The Pavilion itself and the tent purchase by Kelcy Warren also have been put on hold by the CDC controversy and the cancellation of the Songwriters Festival.

Seven different pieces of private property were offered to The Pavilion at Pagosa Springs as possible sites for its concert tent, and Moomaw and her group had narrowed the choices down to a piece of prime downtown land. Negotiations were almost concluded for its lease and eventual purchase at a very reasonable price because the owner, a community leader who also is a music lover, wanted to support the mission of The Pavilion, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization made up entirely of volunteers with no paid staff.

With The Pavilion on hold, other proposed musical events for the venue this summer also are in limbo and likely to be cancelled, Moomaw said. They include three Music in the Mountains concerts in July — an orchestra event and two chamber concerts –– as well as five separate Americana concerts in August by Austin-based recording stars from the Music Road Records label.

“We also have lost opportunities to host conventions and other large events,” Moomaw said.

Lost economic benefits

“The Songwriters Festival and Symposium and these other events at The Pavilion would have provided a huge economic opportunity for Pagosa to showcase our wonderful community and all its amenities,” Moomaw said. “We were looking forward to hearing great music and also generating significant financial benefits for our local businesses and residents from visiting tourists.”

Moomaw said that she hopes something good will evolve from the controversy surrounding the CDC and The Pavilion.

“It is so easy to criticize, and so much more difficult to voluntarily do the day-to-day hard work that makes positive things occur. We need everyone to tone down the negativism. We all need to work together to help our community recover from our economic difficulties.

“Even more, we need to start saluting positive activists who volunteer their valuable time, talent and money rather than giving so much visibility to negative naysayers,” Moomaw said.

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