Past President of Jazz & Heritage Foundation pens letter to The Times-Picayune about Jazz Fest

Letters to the Editor The Times-Picayune

Re: 2004-2006 Jazz Fest

Dear Editors:

In reference to the article on Friday, April 25, 2014 titled “Foundation Promotes Local Culture Through Grants, Festivals, Education.”   I would like to supplement information that was omitted.  As all should know, the Foundation owns the New Orleans Jazz Festival and FPI and AEG produce it.

Not once, but twice, the Board of The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival & Foundation was called upon to help save the Jazz Festival as we know it today.

I was elected to serve on the Board of the Foundation and finish the term of the previous board president, Fire Chief Warren McDaniels, who stepped down due to his battle with cancer in 2004.  I then became acting President.

The Foundation faced some dire circumstances. The Jazz Fest was on life support and would certainly have expired if drastic actions were not undertaken.

The only assets of the Foundation were the brand name “The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival” and a lease on the Fair Grounds.

The Foundation was more than $600,000 in debt. There was talk about the direction the Festival was headed and talk about finding a new producer for the event as FPI’s contract had ended.  The Foundation was about to go under with no producer and a bleak future.

As a last resort we issued a national RFP for a new producer and had approximately fifteen applicants who were able to guarantee a seven figure upfront dollar amount to make the cut.  The list was narrowed down to FPI and AEG and Rehage Entertainment.

The Foundation also had to cut its staff in half and examine questionable areas where the Jazz Festival was hemorrhaging.  The executive director’s contract was also not renewed.  Cost cutting was the order of the day.

In short, the “Titanic had to be turned around.”

In a momentous confrontation, the Board decided on September 19, 2004, to renew its deal with Festival Production of New Orleans, Inc., the long-time producer of the Jazz Fest.

Subsequently, FPI and AEG got together and approached the Foundation about having a tandem production company. The Foundation worked behind the scenes to secure an agreement between FPI/AEG and our Foundation.  The result was a multi-year long term financial agreement that solidified the viability of the Foundation in return for relinquishing production decisions.

Conditions got worse with 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.  There was some talk about moving the Festival to Houston.  On November 10, 2004, the Foundation met with FPI/AEG, and a representative of Churchill Downs (the new owner of the Fair Grounds.) The next day, I stated that the Foundation’s Board intention was to mount a “major” Jazz Fest in the spring that would “jump-start the tourist economy for this part of the world.  I stated that “we would vigorously address logistical problems.” (See Groove Interrupted by Keith Spera, p. 58).

Thereafter, the Foundation Board exercised the two year option on the lease for the Fair Grounds.

The Festival went on in New Orleans in 2005 with the support of FPI, the Mayor, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett, and the President of the Grammy awards.

Major sponsors like Shell and Acura also signed on.  We were well on our way to solvency (with a surplus) as one of the best run non-profits in the world.

When my term came to an end in 2006, the Jazz Festival was in great shape as was the Foundation.

Today this non-profit Festival enjoys success, admiration, esteem, and large crowds at its rightful home.  The City receives millions of tourist dollars.

Perhaps this will be a “footnote in history,” but those who were there know the real story.

Sincerely,

David W. Oestreicher, II
Past President

New Orleans Jazz Festival & Foundation
Acting President 2004
President 2005-2006

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