BLUE ASH, Ohio — Country fans in the Tri-State area were understandably shocked when organizers announced Monday that they were canceling this year's Buckle Up Country Music Festival, scheduled Aug. 5-6 in Blue Ash.
The word came courtesy of a terse statement from Columbus-based promoter PromoWest, which cited "circumstances beyond our control."
But just what were those circumstances? PromoWest president and CEO Scott Stienecker told WCPO.com it came down to too much country traffic.
"There was so much country competition going after that country dollar with all the Riverbend shows, all the amphitheater shows in Indianapolis, all the different festivals (in the region)," he said, noting that PromoWest had been looking forward to rebooting the event in a new location, Blue Ash's Summit Park.
After purchasing both the rock-focused Bunbury Music Festival and Buckle Up from local promoter Bill Donabedian in 2014, Stienecker said his company was "too far along in the booking window" to get a lineup locked for 2015, which prompted the year's hiatus.
"Unfortunately, it didn't pan out," he said of this year's attempted revival of the brand.
This year's festival was scheduled to feature headliners Brad Paisley, Chase Rice and Randy Houser, as well as singers Brooke Eden, Maggie Rose, Tyler Farr, Maddie & Tae and a dozen others.
Asked if soft ticket sales were the cause of the decision, Stienecker said, "They were not where we had hoped they would be," a situation he said was not foreseeable when PromoWest began booking acts.
"We felt the lineup (with Paisley, Rice, Houser, Farr and Maddie & Tae) was worth 15,000-20,000 people, but it didn't materialize," he said.
The first Buckle Up festival in 2014 took place at Sawyer Point and Yeatman’s Cove on the same footprint as Bunbury and drew a reported 60,000 fans for sets by Willie Nelson, Drive-By Truckers, The Band Perry, Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson and a number of other performers.
Stienecker has had a strong presence in the Columbus area for nearly 40 years, promoting thousands of concerts at venues including EXPRESS LIVE!, Newport Music Hall, the Basement and A&R Music Bar, as well as Stage AE in Pittsburgh. PromoWest entered the festival business with the Bunbury/Buckle Up purchase in 2014 and has organized two editions of Bunbury since that time, as well as the launch of this summer's PromoWest Fest in Columbus, which Stienecker said drew 28,000 fans over three days.
"Festivals are completely different animals," Stienecker said. "As soon as artists hear 'festival' that price triples and you're dealing with large guarantees and large expenses. It's basically turning park areas into cities with utilities, power, Wi-Fi and facilities, and it's very, very expensive."
Donabedian said he's also disappointed but has been promoting events long enough to know that there's "always a chance that's going to happen."
"A lot of things have to go right for an event to take place and be successful," Donabedian said.
He said one factor that might have hurt Buckle Up is the buzz it generated in its first year and then the lengthy time off and relocation, which he thought might have tainted the brand's trustworthiness in consumers' eyes.
PromoWest said all tickets purchased will be automatically refunded via Ticketmaster. While Stienecker wouldn't give an exact dollar figure, he characterized the losses as "huge. It's a large amount."
Stienecker said PromoWest is evaluating this year's failure to launch and said he's not ready to make a decision yet on what might happen next year or in the future.
Could Buckle Up possibly be handed back over to Donabedian?
"He still has a piece of both festivals and if he would want to reboot it we'd work something out," Stienecker said.
Donabedian, who retains a minority interest in both festivals, sounded resigned, however, to move on to the next venture.
"I've talked to Scott and he said to me, 'If this is something you want to do again, you could,'" Donabedian said. "If it had been around for five or six years, and we had to take a year off, that would be a different thing. I think I'm festival-outed when it comes to doing something in Cincinnati, though."