Originally created 06/04/06

Festival was bad act, that's for sure



Was it a very bad B movie or a circus that came to town last week? We're not sure, but there was only one highlight, and that was the gracious and generous appearance of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown himself. It couldn't have been easy for a man his age, already booked up for Memorial Day weekend, to fly to Augusta between shows in Portsmouth, Va., and Atlantic City, N.J.

But then how could he not show up, if only briefly, at a festival honoring him in his own hometown? Too bad he couldn't have been consulted before the date was set.

That said, we here at City Ink lean toward the B movie concept. Call it The Return of the Godfather.

Here's the plot: An ambitious young man, full of hot air, attempts to resurrect his failed political career by capitalizing on the fame of a sleepy Southern city's favorite son, a world-famous entertainer.

The young man, call him Junior, decides to hold a festival honoring the entertainment icon. Junior announces a star-studded lineup and predicts massive crowds flocking to the city for his festival. He's long on ideas but short on cash, so he hits the city up for a big chunk of change and gets chump change instead. As the festival approaches, the big-name acts mysteriously evaporate. Even the appearance of the star attraction and honoree is uncertain until the last minute.

People do not flock to the city. Crowds are sparse. Vendors are disappointed. Confrontations between Junior and musicians erupt. Confrontations between Junior and vendors erupt. The highlight of the show turns out to be Junior's near arrest rather than his honoree's appearance.

The movie ends with our main character standing on an empty stage proclaiming victory while onlookers shake their heads and the mayor says, "We've got a lot to overcome if we are going to have a successful festival next year."

The end.

MEMORABLE LINES FROM the return of the godfather:

- "We're on the move. 'Cold Sweat.' Hit me." - Mr. Brown as he grabbed the microphone before his performance Saturday night

- "I said James Brown was going to perform, and he did." - Champ Walker

- "... He said he didn't have any money and couldn't pay anybody. So I said if he didn't have money, I'd have to shut the event down and warrants could be issued for his arrest, and he'd be charged with theft of services." - Richmond County sheriff's Sgt. Walter Ashley, after Sunday's confrontation with Mr. Walker over security for the venues

- "What he said was 'Pay us right now.' I have witnesses that will say that I didn't do anything." - Mr. Walker

- "Walker stated that he's not gonna pay anybody. Walker tried to create a scene by shouting that the sheriff's office was canceling the event, they were going to arrest him and that the sheriff's office was threatening him." - Sheriff Ronnie Strength, during a news conference Tuesday

- "He wanted a confrontation. I think he wanted us to lock him up. He wanted the media attention." - Sgt. Ashley

- "I'm really just gobble-smocked." - Musician Tony Wilson, who claims Mr. Walker owes him $25,000 for backing Mr. Brown in his Saturday performance

- "I can't begin to tell you how bad it was. It was just a total disaster. ... I would take the side of, almost, Jeffrey Dahmer over Champ Walker. - Kathie Williams, FunkMasters manager

- "I don't know whether Champ Walker is or is not the person to run the festival. He made some mistakes. We (the city) set him up to fail, and he took advantage of it. We didn't support this thing like we should have. Everybody should have been behind it." - Mayor Pro Tem Marion Williams

EUPHEMISM OF THE WEEK: City Administrator Fred Russell saying he was called to the festival Sunday to "facilitate the communication."

BAD TIMING: When Mr. Russell was a deputy with the Christiansburg, Va., sheriff's department, a man from Roanoke drove there to rob a liquor store. He waited outside, masked and armed. A few minutes before he thought the store was to close, he jumped out running and hit the front door, but the store had already closed and the door was locked. He hit the door and knocked himself out. Police arrived and found him lying outside, masked and with a gun.

After surveying the situation, the question became what to charge him with. Clearly, he had intended to hold up the store, but he hadn't. So after searching the statutes and finding that it was against the law for anyone 18 years or older to wear a mask in public in Virginia, they charged him with that.

WHERE THE BUCK STOPS: Mayor Deke Copenhaver is said to be leery of putting his name on the dotted line to execute the interest-rate swap on the city's $160-million utility bond.

For one thing, continued questions about whether campaign contributions helped grease the skids on the deal and no evidence any firm except Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc. was given the opportunity to broker it, are bugging the mayor.

He's reportedly received dozens of calls from financial folks in and outside Augusta warning of the risks of the transaction and the way it was handled.

Reporters from Bloomberg News, a financial newsletter, have been calling Augusta commissioners concerning the swap. The newspaper published an article in September headlined "The Banks That Fleeced Alabama," in which they referenced the Mobile County, Ala., school district's $121.5 million, 30-year interest-rate swap from JPMorgan in 2003. The bank charged the district more than four times the national average in fees. Gardnyr Michael Capital Inc. served as financial adviser/swap adviser on that deal.

Commissioner Jimmy Smith, who voted for the utility-rate swap last month, now says he "definitely should have voted against it."

"I made a mistake," he said. "I didn't understand that. It's something that Richard has pushed for a long time."

Mr. Smith was referring to former Commissioner Richard Colclough, who resigned his seat on the commission to run for the Legislature.

Gardnyr Michael, meanwhile, has set up an office in Augusta, but unless the mayor gets his concerns addressed, they might start thinking of moving on to greener pastures.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.