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Superfest plays to empty park

St. Petersburg had hoped a concert festival at Vinoy Park would bring bowl visitors across the bay. It didn't happen.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- They tried cutting the admission price. Then they threw open the gates.

Finally, at 5 p.m. Sunday, promoters of the Superfest 2001 concert festival in Vinoy Park gave up. They put the event out of its misery six hours early.

Dee>Art Enterprises, a Florida corporation formed by two people from Atlanta in consultation with local businessman George Farrell, canceled Sunday's headline act, Jerry Lee Lewis, because of the nearly non-existent turnout.

Saturday night's main act, the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards, didn't play, either. The band had done a sound check but refused to play because the promoters could not pay the $10,000 remaining on the contract two hours before show time, band manager Ben Crosby said Monday.

"It's a simple thing with me: Bottom line is I'm strictly business," Crosby said. "They pay, I play. I want the city to know I think this thing was totally mishandled. There was absolutely no advertisement at all, not a single radio spot, TV spot, poster."

Like Lewis, the Temptations Review walked away with a "small deposit" that had been paid in advance, but Crosby said that didn't cover expenses like flying 16 band and crew members in for the show.

The city government sponsored the event "in name only," which gave the promoters permission to use the waterfront park and to serve alcohol at the event. The City Council approved the sponsorship based partly on city staffers' mistaken belief that Dee>Art's leaders had experience producing events of a similar scale.

In truth, Dee>Art co-owner Art Johnson Jr. had previously sold roasted corn at a Milwaukee festival and toured with a dance act that played an arts festival in Atlanta. But he had no experience in putting on the kind of show he planned in St. Petersburg.

The Suncoast Boys and Girls Club provided about 30 volunteers for the event in hopes of receiving about $50,000. External relations director Adam Struckhoff expects that the club will never see that sum, but he still thinks the club will get some kind of donation.

Farrell, one of the organizers, said he hopes to provide one, even though the event was a big money loser. He said the promoters paid most fees up front.

"Everyone was paid," Farrell said. "As far as I know today, everyone we did business with was paid. And if not, they will be paid in full."

City Marketing Director Anita Treiser said the promoters gave the city an advance check for more than $15,000 to cover anticipated police expenses. The city hopes to receive another $15,000 or so to cover city park and sanitation services.

Farrell conceded that the few local cable commercials promoters bought were not enough to bring out crowds.

On Friday night, Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters, another oldies revival act, was the only planned headliner that played -- for just a handful of people.

"We played," Pinkney said with a sigh by phone Monday. "It was quite cold, and of course we didn't have over 30 people watching, if we had that."

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