Despite Two Misfires, 3 Rivers Music Festival Will Have Ample Public Funds for 2015

Full Count
By Jordan Lawrence
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
For the second time in as many years, the 3 Rivers Music Festival is cancelled.

Scheduled for last Saturday, the event — envisioned as a less cumbersome and less costly successor to the Columbia festival that used the same name from 2000 to 2006 — is now slated to return on June 25, 2015. According to a representative for Sandra P. Sims, the festival’s executive director, this year’s date became impossible due to deaths in Sims’ family: In April, her mother died after a short illness. Her mother-in-law passed away two weeks ago, having battled an extended illness. Dealing with these unfortunate circumstances put Sims and her team too far behind to be ready for this month.

Other than the date, no details have been announced for 3 Rivers in 2015.

“We don’t have any other information other than that at this time,” said a Sims representative when Free Times called her office last week. The woman rushed off the phone after delivering what sounded like a prepared statement. “As soon as we have an update, we’ll be posting it to our Facebook page and our website.”

Last year’s first go at rekindling 3 Rivers failed more visibly. A preliminary gospel and jazz concert went off without a hitch, but the more expansive of the festival’s two days — a free two-stage affair bridging country, soul and R&B headlined by Lee Greenwood and Musiq Soulchild — was postponed due to inclement weather. Organizers ultimately canceled the show a week later, vaguely pointing to the possibility of more unfavorable forecasts and difficulty rescheduling many of the national acts.

On their face, these are troubling setbacks. After all, if these organizers couldn’t pull off a full festival in two attempts, what reason is there to believe the third time might be the charm? But missing the boat the last two years may well be a boon for next year’s event.

For June’s festival, organizers were granted $25,000 in accommodations taxes by Columbia City Council and $98,225 in hospitality taxes by Richland County Council, with the city advancing $12,500. Both allotments were budgeted for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which runs through June 30.

By law, these amounts are allowed to carry over to a second year, giving 3 Rivers until June 30 of 2015 to spend both amounts. If there’s no festival by that date, organizers would have to pay back the city’s advance.

On June 12 — two days after Free Times broke the news that this year’s event was canceled — the Richland County Council approved an additional $51,775 in H-tax revenue for 3 Rivers in its budget for 2014-2015.

All told, organizers will now be able to burn through up to $175,000 in government money for next year’s event, cash that could go a long way toward making it special. Funneling all of these funds into one outing may not have been 3 Rivers’ intention, but it now has that opportunity — and, as Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine points out, the festival broke no rules in making it happen.

“With the rule of carrying forward for the year, that’s with anybody we fund,” she says. “They’re not being treated any differently than anybody else. I guess it remains to be seen if they’re going to use it this year or not. But if they don’t use it this year, then they would lose the funding. And I certainly think that in future years we would probably look at it very carefully.”

Still, it’s hard to be optimistic about 3 Rivers’ future. Following a frustrating 2013, the festival’s latest effort never took off. Organizers unveiled the date in early March but never announced a lineup or promoted much outside of the festival’s Facebook page, which has mostly served as an outlet for unrelated posts from notoriousjazz.com. The Columbia Police Department confirmed that organizers filed paperwork to bring the festival to Main Street, but no details were ever announced.

Next year, provided they’re not too far in the hole, 3 Rivers’ organizers can throw around some considerable cash. Now to see if they’ll actually make use of it.

Let us know what you think: Email music@free-times.com.

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