The JamBaloosa Music and Arts Festival, scheduled for June 27-28, promised to be a large gathering of Pittsburgh-based jam bands: The Boogie Hustlers, Jazzam, the Poogie Bell Band, The Zou, The Sun Kings and many more. And that was just the above-ground portion: A separate stage was to be housed underground, in "Bugsly's Cavern," featuring three days of electronic and DJ music backed with lights and lasers. Promotional fliers also advertised a "parade ... drum circles, underground lakes," as well as "ATV riding, over 200 food and craft vendors."
It sounded almost too good to be true. And apparently it was: The event's cancellation has resulted in confusion and angry denunciations.
Just weeks before the event was to be held, venue Mines and Meadows announced JamBaloosa was being cancelled "due to a lack of funding by the promoter."
"It is with deep regard and regret that we on this date of June 12th 2008 inform the public ... that the JamBaloosa Music and Arts festival has been cancelled due to insurmountable obstacles," organizer Erick Gross wrote on the event's Web site, www.jambaloosa.com.
The news took many participants by surprise: Headliners The Boogie Hustlers learned of the cancellation not from Gross, but by reading about it in the Beaver County Times. As of last week, people were still calling Mines and Meadows, in Wampum, for tickets, according to Dave Tullis, an official with the ATV resort.
Gross did not return several calls, messages and e-mails from CP requesting comment. Even JamBaloosa's Web site has gone dead: Gross' statement has been removed, and the URL is now for sale. But on June 5, the Ellwood City Ledger reported that Gross had claimed that Mines and Meadows officials, along with "a neighboring property owner, and borough leaders from Wampum and New Beaver kept piling on stipulations that ate into his profits."
In his online letter, Gross charged that JamBaloosa had been "held hostage. ... Mines and Meadows added too many last minute stipulations that had huge financial implications which made it impossible to continue. ... [T]hey did not see the dream and were only interested in the money."
For his part, Tullis said Gross didn't provide Mines and Meadows with three crucial items -- signed contracts with bands, valid insurance certificates and payment -- even after an extension. Tullis says Underland Development, owner of a portion of a nearby mine that was to furnish JamBaloosa's underground stage, didn't receive payment either.
Other parties involved say they regret trusting Gross.
"He really put me in a financial loop," says Kevin Orzechowski, promoter of the festival and president of SimonShows. Orzechowski says he put together a $10,000 promotion for the show, but that Gross had paid him only $500. "I have no money to sue him," Orzechowski adds.
Orzechowski says he met Gross through craigslist, and that he believed Gross worked for a California-based company called Total Knockout Productions. But Ed Jentsch, a member of rock band The Slow Learners who says he's known Gross for about five years, says Gross started the company on his own after working for a Philadelphia promoter. (Jentsch says he has been unable to reach Gross.) In any case, Orzechowski says communication with Gross grew spotty as the festival date approached.
"All my dealings with Erick were strange," Orzechowski said. As he grew concerned that Gross might be "bogus," he says, "I would do things like call Mines and Meadows and say, 'Are you really doing this?' I started e-mailing bands to see if they were coming."
The bands, meanwhile, were scarcely more certain about what was going on. Stephen Pusateri, manager for The Boogie Hustlers, says the last time he spoke with Gross, he was told his band would be backing up the Wu-Tang Clan. But "I still don't have a signed contract," he says.
Complete Ticket Solutions, the company Gross hired to handle ticket sales, says all tickets have been refunded, though the company would not disclose the number sold. (Gross initially projected sales of 6,000, according to the Ellwood City Ledger, although on April 28, CP received e-mails with the unusual offer of 100 tickets -- "FREE to your paper for inclusion in the paper.")
"Pittsburgh's the biggest secondary music market in the country," Jentsch says. "And it connects the East Coast network with the Midwest. I really thought JamBaloosa was going to help solidify that link."
Evan Weinstein of Steez Promo says he and the Bugsly's Cavern organizers hope to offer a modified version of the underground festival sometime in September.