Changes [Were] Needed to Keep Biscuit Viable

Changes [Were] Needed to Keep Biscuit Viable 
By Dee Bailey - Clarksdale Press Register - Nov 24, 2000

[The King Biscuit Blues Festival reached a peak of over 100,000 attendees in the late 1990s, making it the largest blues festival in the Delta region.  The KBBF, however, collapsed under exorbitant costs and was forced the reconfigure the event after losing an estimated $500,000 in 2000.] 

HELENA, Ark. — It was with considerable regret — not surprise that I learned of the dismissal of Randy Williams as executive director of the King Biscuit Blues Festival.

Now, some of the statements I'm going to make in the following paragraphs will disturb some people, and they'll probably make others mad as hornets. That's OK. I feel the festival is at a crossroads, and its supporters need to do some serious thinking. 

First off, I'm told that the festival hasn't broke even in three years (I didn't think it had ever made money). I suspect it has lost money for awhile. During those three years, the festival was under Williams' leadership. It may not be fair (and, then again, it may be), but that's probably why he was dismissed. 

The fact that it hasn't made money is not all together bad. It wasn't organized as a moneymaker. It was supposed to have been a vehicle to bring people — people who spend money — into the area. It's done that and, again I suspect, has put lots of money into the jeans of some of the merchants. 

That much it has accomplished — but there is more. 

It has brought Helena and Phillips County worldwide fame. People from Berlin to Tokyo know that Helena is the home of the King Biscuit Blues Festival. That's some-thing that couldn't have been done any other way and have been successful. 

So it has accomplished its goal in that respect. 

It has shown the world, even in the light of our track record, that white people and black people can work together for the mutual good of each other. Goodness knows, that's something we've needed to prove. 

But, if the festival is going to continue, changes are going to have to be made. 

First of all — and I shudder as I write this because I know many people oppose the idea — the festival cannot continue to be a free event. Admission is going to have to be charged. 

For years now, we've been hearing fan-tastic attendance estimates — 100,000 people in attendance in 1999, for example. 

But, let's say next year the festival attracts only 50,000 people; at $10 a ticket the festival would at least break even (I'm told it takes at least $500,000 to stage the  event). We would also have a device by which we could determine just how many people attended, and it would be helpful in anticipating crowds for the coming year. 

Were I the powers that be when it comes to the festival, I'd fence off Walnut and Cherry streets from the Doughboy to Missouri Street to the other side oldie levee.  I'd place gates at strategic points and give tags or or armbands to those who forked over $10.  You'd have to double —maybe triple — the security force, but it would be worth it. 

Everything else would remain the same. Oh, yes, the music would remain the same. I'd have one stage - the main one for the blues, and I'd let the gospel stage stay at the Malco. 

If at all possible, I'd consider cutting down on the number of entertainers (as long as we had the old-timers — Robert Lockwood Jr., Pinetop Perkins, etc. — as part of the festival) and would ask the headliners to play more than one set (one a day over a three-day span). If an individual is not willing to pay $10 to see and hear the kind of talent that has been on the KBBF stages over the last few years, I'd question his right to be called a "blues fan."

Oh, yes, if possible, I'd have one rip-roaring headliner (BB. King always comes to mind, but he's probably too expensive) to close out the festival. Maybe that night, promoters could charge a little extra. 

This kind of setup isn't new. It's done all over. 

Let me emphasize that, like many others, I'm not jumping up and down and clicking my heels over the prospect of paying money to hear the blues. But I'd rather do that than to see the festival go down the drain.  

Clarksdale Press Register, Nov 24, 2000
I know there are other people who have other ideas — probably a lot better than the one outlined above. If they are around., I would urge them to contact some of the festival shakers and movers and talk with them.

The Biscuit, as it is being called these I'd days, is too valuable to be allowed to full by  the wayside. We must do everything we can to keep it vibrant and healthy and being staged on Cherry Street in Helena every October.

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