News Column

Soul Food Festival no longer welcome in Forest Park

July 16, 2014

By David Hunn, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

July 16--ST. LOUIS -- The city parks director is looking to bar a soul food and music festival from returning to Forest Park, following a "disaster" performance this past weekend which left fans angry and the park a mess.

The Kinfolks Soul Food Festival drew about 2,000 on Saturday to Art Hill, across from the St. Louis Art Museum, said city Parks Director Gary Bess, for what was supposed to be six hours of old-school funk and soul music.

But the gates opened late, patrons said, the lineup of bands began to drag, and, by 12:45 a.m. -- nearly two hours later than scheduled -- Bess said police had to shut down the concert.

Moreover, the festival didn't provide trash cans, or at least not enough cans, and no one showed up after the event to clean up Art Hill. Bess arrived Sunday morning to "a couple hundred cubic yards" of cardboard boxes, plastic cups and Styrofoam food trays.

"The event was a disaster," he said. "It was poorly organized. It was not very well attended. There was no effective plan to clean up the site. The production of the event itself was totally unacceptable."

Bess said the parks department fielded complaints from The Muny theater, disappointed that the tunes were intruding on its production of Porgy and Bess, nearly a mile away; from the Art Museum, which heard from wedding parties that the event lacked security officers to help move crowds for photos; and from attendees, who complained about mediocre food, hourlong delays between acts and a dearth of water or shade, despite 96-degree temperatures.

In 40 years working for the parks department, with more than 100 special events a year, Bess said he had never witnessed such a display.

"I'm trying to compile the litany of complaints," Bess said. "We don't plan on inviting these folks back."

Tickets for the festival generally cost from $20 to $65.

Enid Hill said she waited in line for nearly two hours to get in. When she finally got in, the food was expensive and music uninspiring. By the time the last two bands, ConFunkShun and the SOS Band, came on, the park was nearly empty, she said.

"I'm outraged," Hill said. "I can't even begin to tell you how many have the sentiment I have. It's taken me all weekend to try to figure out who to write, what to do."

Hill said she wrote to the mayor, the parks department, Old School 95.5 (which advertised at the event), the Better Business Bureau in Oklahoma City, where Kinfolk is based, and to several newspapers, including The Tennessean -- the company's concert this weekend is scheduled for Nashville.

Brian Nelson, known as DJ Kut on the local circuit, said Hill was far from alone. He said he got earfuls from patrons all night as he was spinning between sets. "I had to do everything except set myself on fire to keep people entertained," he said. "It was pretty bad. I even questioned the promoter myself."

But the promoter, Pat Williams, would not immediately answer questions on the subject when contacted by the Post-Dispatch.

Parks director Bess said the festival paid $5,000 in fees, failed to comply with at least three conditions of its permit, and lost its $1,000 deductible.

"It's a public park. Everybody has a right to use it," Bess said. "Until, of course, they give us a reason not to allow them to use it."

David Hunn covers public projects & cultural institutions. Follow him on Twitter @davidhunn.


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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