The Cascade Festival of Music announced Thursday that it is ending the event, two months before its 27th summer concert season was set to begin.
The festival announced last fall it was $190,000 in debt, and in March it announced it was moving the classical music event from Drake Park to Bend High School to save money.
And though the festival has reduced its debt to about $93,000, this year it couldn’t find enough sponsors, and the board decided to shut it down, said Henry Sayre, the festival’s board president.
“If we had gone forward, rather than being $95,000 in debt, we would have been $300,000, $350,000 in debt, and it was just irresponsible to do that,” Sayre said.
The board consulted with lawyers, he said, and the agreement was to cancel it. The board will decide next month whether to file for bankruptcy or dissolution, which would end the organization.
“I think it’s a terrible thing for Bend,” he said. “Whenever a community loses one of its really long-standing (events) like this, it’s a tragedy for the community.”
Sayre didn’t know how many tickets had been sold for this year’s event and said people with the festival will be contacting ticket holders. However, they might not get all their money back. The festival will sell its assets, like its stage, to repay the debts it can, but that might not cover the complete cost of the tickets, Sayre said, adding that they still are tax deductible.
The problem wasn’t with ticket sales, he said, adding that ticket sales had been pretty strong, but only cover less than 30 percent of the festival’s budget.
“You can’t pay 80 guest musicians and orchestra, lighting and sound, all of those things with ticket sales,” Sayre said. “And so as strong as ticket sales might have been, or we could project them to be, that certainly wasn’t going to be enough to get us through.”
The problem is with the economy, he said. Sponsors, who in the past have been banks, real estate companies and builders, weren’t giving as much. People who might have given $50 in past years weren’t donating as often, he said, which could be due to a variety of factors from gas prices to political contributions getting much of the attention.
The festival usually ends its seasons in the red, he said, but covers that with advance ticket sales. But that doesn’t work when the sponsors the event was depending on don’t come through, he said.
“When the economy gets unhealthy, these kind of really tough situations begin to occur,” Sayre said.
Over the last 26 years, Bend residents have gotten many more options for musical events, he said, and some of the community support for the event was also slipping.
“I think some people felt that it was worn out, I think some people actually didn’t like the tent, and other people didn’t like the high school,” Sayre said, referring to the festival’s earlier plan to move to Bend High School this summer to save an estimated $90,000.
The festival currently owes $93,000 to some of the musicians as well as local organizations, including light and sound operators and a ballet company, he said. Festival organizers also have a list of all the ticket holders, gold card holders and creditors, and will be contacting them about settling the accounts, Sayre said.
But one of the festival’s former board members thinks the shutdown could have been averted. Chris Schroeder Fain said that she and others had been on an advisory board that encouraged the current board to step up the fundraising and ask for the community’s help earlier.
“I think the festival is just loved by so many people, and if they would have told us at the beginning of last season that they were so far in debt, the people would have rallied,” Fain said. “I think that the current president and the current director could have taken a different approach.”
The Cascade Festival of Music was, with the Sunriver Music Festival, the first cultural event in Central Oregon, she said.
“I think it’s sad that it’s the end of an era kind of. Perhaps someday something else will evolve in its place,” she said, even though Bend’s options have now grown to include concerts at Les Schwab Amphitheater, the Bend Athletic Club and many other places.
Perhaps the money is spread thinner among music events these days, said Michael Scott, a musician with the festival for 21 years, but not having the Cascade Festival of Music is a huge loss for the community.
“It’s an institution in Bend,” he said. “It’s a pretty sad thing, and I’m sorry they couldn’t make a go at it one way or another.”
He was with the festival when it started, said Scott, a bass player, and remembers going down Galveston Avenue in the early years, asking business owners if they would buy an ad in the program. When the festival was in June, seeing the tent go up was the sign that summer was starting, he said.
“After this long,” Scott said, “it’s like part of the personality of Bend.”