It was the festival that wasn't. The first annual Sugarfest dissolved two weeks before its birth date, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of those involved. The festival was scheduled to kick off Friday, May 20 under the water tower at the American Tobacco Amphitheater in downtown Durham. The lineup represented the best of local label Sugar Hill Records' lineup, including Guy Clark, Tim O'Brien, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, and Sonny Landreth for Friday's show. Saturday's entertainment was to be headlined by the Duhks with performances by Maura O'Connell, Sam Bush, Greg Trooper, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Grey DeLisle, Reckless Kelly, and the Gibson Brothers.
The festival, planned since last August, was cancelled by the American Tobacco Historic District management because of poor ticket sales, says Sugar Hill's General Manager Bev Paul. Paul says she received a call last Thursday informing her that the show was not going to happen.
She says she knew there were problems with the timing of the event. "I knew that it had been cold this spring, and I also knew that a lot of people who would attend this kind of thing would also be attending Merlefest and probably wouldn't be making plans until after that." Still, Paul was surprised by the announcement. In an e-mail last week, an American Tobacco Historical District representative confirmed that poor ticket sales led to the cancellation and for now there is no plan to reschedule the concert.
"It is our hope that the talented artists at Sugar Hill Records will perform at our venue in the future," said Paul Pope, general manger of the American Tobacco Historical Campus. "It is our goal to provide quality entertainment and dining options for the Triangle. The American Tobacco Historic District is a great place to live, work and play."
According to Paul, there won't be another chance for Sugarfest. "I swore up and down I would never do this to begin with," Paul says. "It's more than a little dicey to get involved with our artists because what we do is sell records and market that music." Sugar Hills's GM thought it would be uncomfortable for the label to contact their artists directly about playing for them and negotiating fees, so that was done by a third party. "I didn't want them to charge me less because we were the label, but I wanted to make sure we were getting a deal," Paul says.
It was a deal for the community as well. Ticket prices were in line with what you'd pay for any show with a single headliner of the proposed Sugarfest festival caliber. Priced at $60 for both nights or $30 for Friday and $40 for Saturday, it compares with prices at Merlefest and Shakori Hills.
"I want to focus on the fact that the community lost what would have been a great event," Paul says. "And we were kind of celebrating the fact that we've been in Durham for so long--over 25 years. It is a shame, because it was a cool little deal."