The Astoria Music Festival had until midnight Monday to book the Liberty Theatre for what would have been the classical series’ 17th season.
The festival missed the deadline.
“We held all the dates for them,” said Jennifer Crockett, the theater’s executive director, “and then they let the deadline pass and didn’t reach out.”
On Tuesday, the Liberty’s board voted unanimously to fill some of the dates — June 15 and June 16, June 21 and June 22 — that would have belonged to the festival, which historically runs for three weekends at a handful of venues, of which the Liberty is the largest.
The festival now has until Friday to let the theater know whether it plans to rent the Liberty stage for the weekend of June 29 and June 30. If it doesn’t, those dates, too, will be reserved for other performances.
Keith Clark, the festival’s artistic director, and Deac Guidi, the president of the festival’s board, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Astoria Music Festival has brought big entertainment to the North Coast since its 2003 founding, staging world-renowned musicians, drawing robust crowds and bringing tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy — a boon that the Liberty and surrounding businesses have come to rely on.
“The economic impact on our area businesses during the festival is about $80,000 in food, lodging, and purchases each year,” Crockett wrote in an email. “Not having the festival on our stage creates a loss of about $15,000 for the Liberty in missed concessions sales and stage rental fees at the tail end of our fiscal year.”
The festival has already been awarded grant money for this year’s concerts. This includes $10,000 from Astoria’s arts and culture grant program.
“If the funds were not utilized, and the activities which were included in their grant application never occurred … the Astoria Music Festival would need to remit back to us the $10,000 that were provided to them early on,” City Manager Brett Estes said.
In years past, the festival would schedule the other performances around those at the main venue at the Liberty, Crockett said. By February, however, it was apparent the festival “wasn’t making its usual steps,” she said.
In addition, the festival board normally meets with the theater to negotiate a contract in the run-up to the theater’s deadline. “This year, that didn’t happen,” Crockett said.
The festival, in fact, has been largely unresponsive. “Repeated attempts over the last two weeks to get them to sign went ignored,” Crockett said in a text message.
The theater prefers to have a minimum of 60 days to sell tickets, enough time for promotion to get out and patrons to plan their festival weekends. With that cut-off approaching, the Liberty — foreseeing a gap in their programming — chose to move on.
It was a hard decision, said Crockett, a clarinetist who has performed in the festival under Clark’s direction. “I have respect for the enormity of what he’s tried to accomplish with the festival.”
But, “as a steward of the Liberty and an outspoken supporter of the arts in Astoria,” she and the theater board decided to use the venue for other events.
“We need to get something on the stage and get those people that are coming to town engaged,” she said.
One confirmed concert is the Hermitage Piano Trio, featuring Russian cellist and longtime festival performer Sergey Antonov, who resigned from the festival.
Antonov said in an email: “At this point I will no longer be a part of the Astoria Music Festival and we will be developing a new strategy with Jennifer to bring a new wave of performing arts to Astorians!
“As I said many times before, I can’t imagine not coming to the town that has a special place in my life!” he continued.
“With Sergey and others’ help, we’re booking four large classical and crossover performances that will help capture the 3,500 visitors that normally attend each year,” Crockett said in an email.
She’s sad for the Astoria Music Festival’s turn of fate. “I think it’s a worthy festival,” she said.
But she’s optimistic that the concerts planned for the Liberty are worthy replacements. “I think we can put this together, and I think it’ll be something exciting,” Crockett said.