They had the music, they had the food, and they had the fashion, but what the organizers of the MTK: Music to Know Festival didn’t have was the crowds.
Just a week before the festival was set to debut, the stage nestled among greenery cradling an unused portion of a runway at the East Hampton Airport, festival organizers on Saturday pulled the plug on the event, citing poor ticket sales.
“It is with heavy, heavy heart that we regret to inform you that the inaugural MTK: Music To Know Festival in East Hampton will not take place,” said festival promoters in a release. “Despite our unique vision and arranging a world-class line-up, ticket sales were not adequate to allow the event to continue. We wanted to let everyone know now before engaging more deeply.”
“Along with our ticket holders, vendors, sponsors, business associates, colleagues and friends in the community, we too are filled with deep disappointment,” continued the release. “We pledge to endure during this difficult time with the same integrity and professionalism displayed throughout the creation of this event.”
The MTK: Music to Know Festival was conceived by hotelier and businessman Chris Jones and screenwriter Bill Collage, both Sag Harbor residents.
It aimed to bring up-and-coming, as well as celebrated indie-music artists, to the East End for a two-day festival that would also feature beer and wine gardens, high-end and local cuisine, an area for children, and special access to artists in the VIP area. One artist rumored heavily among industry sources to be set to perform an acoustic set at MTK was the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who has earned critical and popular praise for her vocals in the film “Country Strong” and on the television show “Glee”
On Tuesday, Jones said that in order for the festival to go on, 5,500 tickets of the 9,500 tickets up for sale needed to be sold. Tickets were priced at $195 for a two-day pass, and two-day VIP passes for $695. One-day passes were also later offered as an option for festival attendees.
As of Saturday, Jones said the festival only sold 2,500 tickets. While it was possible that more tickets would have sold in the coming week, Jones said that was a possibility he unfortunately could not count on.
“The bottom line is when you run an event, you have a certain amount of losses you can take, and then you have to make a decision,” he said, adding Saturday was the last day the organization could make final decisions regarding expenditures.
The event was plagued from the beginning, when it was first proposed at an Amagansett venue, by a handful of critics locally who questioned the town’s decision to grant Collage and Jones a commercial mass gathering permit in the first place. Comments appeared to wane after the festival was moved to the East Hampton Airport, and particularly after a promised $100,000 was set aside in an escrow account for a number of local charities including The Retreat, Phoenix House, Project MOST, all East Hampton based food pantries, and the East Hampton Day Care Learning Center, to name a few.
Those charities will not receive that funding now, confirmed Jones.
“That is the most disappointing part,” he said. “It was contingent on the event taking place and you can’t really say anything more than that except it is really, really disappointing.”
As to what led to the lackluster sales, Jones said he could not say.
“One thing I will stand behind is the bands,” he said. “We really feel from the bottom of our hearts that we had an amazing lineup. As to what happened thereafter, who knows, but the lineup I will stand behind.”
In addition to a roster of acts including celebrated indie-rock bands like Vampire Weekend, Bright Eyes, and Dawes, folk artists M. Ward, British songstress Ellie Goulding, Brooklyn duo Matt & Kim and Fitz & the Tantrums, Collage and Jones also booked Suddyn, a rock band with roots in Montauk.
“Being born and raised in MTK, I was looking forward to being part of this incredible festival, I would like to humbly express my gratitude to Chris Jones and Bill Collage for their extraordinary efforts to make this seemingly impossible dream a reality,” band leader Alan Steil posted on the group’s Facebook page. “It is important to note that the loss of this festival was beyond the control of these two men and everyone else involved in the process. Again, we’d like to thank them for the opportunity and we were proud to be a part of it every step of the way.”
Since Saturday, Jones said he has been focused entirely on making things right as quickly as possible, in particular for ticket holders, who as of Tuesday night were still without information on how they could gain refunds.
“The Company is working very hard in making arrangements for a mechanism to provide ALL ticket holders with refunds,” read a message on musictoknow.com. “Purchasers of tickets have done so through various interfaces, we will provide clear direction for each of these on this website as soon as possible, but no later than Friday, August 12, 2011.”
“Since this happened I have spent all of the hours I am awake focusing on how to sort this situation out to benefit as many people as we can,” said Jones on Tuesday. “I am not interested in what has gone on. I am trying to make everything right moving forward. I am really focused on trying to do the best thing we can for everyone.”