Originally created 06/02/06

Brown festival didn't get off on good foot

Despite scheduling glitches, monetary mishaps and attendance numbers somewhere well south of respectable, James Brown Soul of America Music Festival organizer Charles Walker Jr. is still proclaiming his Little Event that Could But Probably Shouldn't Have a success.

I'd hate to see a failure.

A catastrophe from the moment it kicked off two hours late Friday until it finally wrapped Sunday with feelings of ill will between Mr. Walker and the deputies providing security, the festival was a textbook example of how things should not be done.

Scheduling was an enormous issue. Bands continued to be listed on the event's Web site despite having pulled out. Other acts, using that schedule as a guide, found themselves showing up at darkened stages or discovering that another act would go on in their stead. It didn't help matters that no printed schedule was available to patrons at the festival.

Saturday appeared to get off to a stronger start, but there were still no printed schedules and the online schedule listed 20 performers appearing on the same small Eighth Street stage between 2 and 3:30 p.m. A short list of performers and performance times was posted behind the main stage. It wasn't exactly adhered to, but it was there.

The only thing that seemed to go off on time and without a hitch was the scheduled 6 p.m. performance by James Brown. Like clockwork, the Godfather hit the stage, blasted through four of his hits and then, like the Lone Ranger after riding in to save the day, was gone.

The good news is that very few people were on hand to witness the overall debacle. Attendance, at its peak, came nowhere close to the 7,500 that Mr. Walker had submitted to the city or the 25,000 he announced a week before the festival. Instead, it ranged from a few dozen early on to perhaps a thousand or so for Mr. Brown's performance.

It should be noted that I am not placing all the blame for the festival's failures on Mr. Walker. While it's true that the event's controversial leader did make mistakes, particularly in terms of releasing information in a timely manner and alienating those who might have supported his efforts, it takes a team to design a disaster of this magnitude. After all, Mr. Walker was not responsible for the relaxed pace the technical crew seemed to adopt in getting acts on and off the stage, nor is Mr. Walker to be blamed for the stifling heat that undoubtedly kept some fans away.

The question now is what comes next. Mr. Walker has stated that he sees this as an annual event, but can the damage be undone? There are certainly participants and patrons who would have to think long and hard before returning to another James Brown Festival, and given their experience, it's hard to blame them. But as problematic as I see a sequel being, it's still not an idea I'm opposed to. I still count Mr. Brown as one of Augusta's greatest resources, a singular artist whose enormous contributions to music and culture are worth celebrating.

At this point, I just wonder whether Mr. Walker should be the man leading the charge. Yes, asking him to step aside does cast him as something of a scapegoat, but his very public presence at every step of this event's planning and execution has inexorably tied him to the concert's failings. In order to convince an already fickle public and artists that might be feeling a bit burned that next year can and will be different, another captain might need to be seen at the helm.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.

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