By now, you probably know that Rock Gone Wild, originally scheduled for August 20-23 in Northwood, Iowa canceled without much fanfare or explanation late last week.
I volunteered with the festival in the early stages, doing PR for the fledging event. I tapered off my involvement around the turn of the new year and cut all ties with the festival several months ago. I never received any money for my involvement with Rock Gone Wild but I did work countless hours securing press coverage for the event. The hours became so long it wasn’t possible for me to continue with the fest, plus my day job, plus Bring Back Glam! and my other writing career.
Over a year ago, Demetrius (Deme) Bermudez joined the Rock Gone Wild team as a booking agent for the pay to play bands. He did receive a booking fee for his services and secured five bands for the bill. Now that the festival has collapsed, there are tons of questions swirling about the management of the fest, including how money was handled and bands secured. As the term suggests, “pay to play” means a band does just that: they provide a designated fee in exchange for a slot on a national bill. Bands do this for exposure, but with anything financial, it’s always a risk. Italian band S.E.X. Department signed on to Rock Gone Wild for a one-hour prime pay-to-pay slot. The cost? $7,500. The band also had to purchase their own airfare. When the festival was canceled last week, S.E.X. Department lead the charge for justice, posting online about the situation anywhere they could including forums and Myspace. In short, the band wants their money back. Bermudez says all pay-to-play monies will be returned.
Over the weekend, Bring Back Glam! spoke with Petra Klabouch, manager of S.E.X. Department.Deme Bermudez also shared his side of the story. The interviews below are transcribed direct and long form due to the complicated nature of this story. Comments were edited for grammar.
S.E.X. Department interview:
Bring Back Glam! When were you first contacted by anyone from Rock Gone Wild (henceforth RGW)?
Petra Klabouch: “When we were back from ‘Spaghetti Glam Rock USA tour 2008’ we’ve thought to organize another tour this summer. And then we contacted RGW organization in November 2008.”
BBG!: Were you ever formally invited to invest in the festival? If yes, for how much?
PK: “We were formally invited to become an investor of RGW for a minimum of $100,000. We received the email about this possibility from [another] European band and then we were contacted directly by (festival organizer) Nathalie Faghihi with all details, contract, business plan and also the promise of Iron Maiden-like headliner.”
BBG!: Who did you speak with most at RGW?
PK: “We were in the contact almost exclusively with Deme Bermudez from DNG booking. He was our booking agent for RGW.”
BBG!: Did you ever get any sense that anything was wrong with the course of the festival?
PK: “We have got a strange sensation in the last months. There were some changes, for example in our slot time (no more 1 hour, but only 30 minutes) and no one told us nothing about this. We had important information only from Internet in the last period, not from promoters. ‘Till last week we were without tickets to sell to our fans and... then was changed also the location.”
BBG!: When the festival moved its location a month ago, when were you notified of that change?
PK: “It was really a chaotic situation. We received email from Nathalie Faghihi one day before the official announcement. After 10 minutes next email: ‘Sorry guys, it was only a mistake. This email is an old project, I was wrong to send it.’ And day after we found on RGW website the info that the location was really changed. No one contacted us more.”
BBG!: The pay to play price is high. Did this send off any red flags?
PK: “The price was high, but nothing so strange for US festivals today. For sure we don’t want to speak about prices of other open air slots, it’s a private question between bands and promoters.
BBG!: Have you been given any information on when you will receive a refund?
PK: “We received today, after two days, the call from Deme Bermudez. He promised he will give us his booking fee back. It’s something like $750, only 10% of all amount [the total amount paid]. But we can be sure only if we will have the money in our hands. For the rest of money, Demetrius says it was deposited the same day when he received it to an RGW account. No one knows the truth now. And the other RGW promoters are still in total silence. So, I think we can say arrivederci.
BBG!: Where/from whodid you receive the bulk of your money for the pay to play fee?
PK: “Not only money for the slot, but for hotels, air cargo of all stuff, visas for musicians and long weeks of hard work, too. With the big part of money and bureaucracy work [we were helped by] our sponsors, label, producer and our lawyer in New York.”
BBG!: Do you have any shows planned in the USA during the dates of August 20-23 now that the fest is off?
PK: “No. It was all so fast, that we are without any gig in the RGW period. Next show we will play 15th August at Whisky a Go Go”
BBG!: When did you send the payment of $7,500 to RGW? Did you receive a receipt for that money?
PK: “We send the first part of money in February 2009 and the rest in April 2009. I think in this period the organizers already knew about problems. We have all documents from our bank, the contract with Bermudez, but [not] any official RGW receipt.”
BBG!: How has this experience left you emotionally? Do you feel guilty now for selling tickets to friends and family?
PK: “We can’t feel guilty, because we aren’t guilty. I’m more and more sad with every new message of other our cheated fan or person who only wanted to have a great weekend with good music. And we want to send a big ‘Thanks’ to the hundreds [of] persons supporting us in this situation. In almost three years of S.E.X. Department’s life, this one is the worst experience. We are planning to take some of our old songs and together with the other bands put online for free downloads [of a] “compilation of ROCKERS GONE WILD. [It will be] like a small sorry to all our fans and RGW soldiers.”
Deme Bermudez interview:
BBG!: Explain how you plan to remedy the situation.
Deme Bermudez: “I got an email from [pay to play band] Stallion Four. They said one of the contracts says if RGW is canceled, everything would be refunded. I looked at the contract... there were actually two. The first one was initial and second was revised that did say that. I said ‘You are absolutely right: you will get your money.’ I also talked to S.E.X. Department. I emailed Petra and told her I don’t have it [the money] and I will do whatever I have to do – get a second or third job – you will get paid back. It may be in installments or whatever...but this is your money and I will hold up my end as a booker. The contract was with me and I will pay them back. Another band was Savior from New Jersey. I told their manager the same thing and I talked to her for a long time and she knew about it... she’d read a bunch of stuff [online]. I told her I would pay them back, they have my number and I always answer my phone. The other band was The Mighty Swine. [They] said “These things happen, maybe you can do some sort of show exchange where you can book a couple shows for us out in L.A. or around. I said'Yeah, whatever we can work out...you deserve your money back.' So those four and the other was Ashamed – a young band out of Kansas City – the kid in the band called and I told him the same thing. I said none of these bands deserve this. It's [the money] gonna come out of my pocket.
BBG!: Do you think you did anything wrong?
DB: I haven't done anything. It's one thing if I took money from ticket holders, but I didn't. I was hired to do a job – sell the spots – more like show them because I didn't have a say in the pricing or what was in the contract. I'm gonna put up my end and honor my end. Those contracts were with me and I will give them [the pay to play bands] their money back. There's a lot of shit that I didn't know what was going on.
BBG!: Will people get refunds for their tickets?
DB: I have no idea – that's not my area. I never took money for tickets, that wasn't my area. I got emails to send tickets and there was never any money exchanged in my hands for tickets except for the merchant account at the beginning and I never saw statements for that until April.
BBG!: Is your career damaged?
DB: Every person that I've ever dealt with...bands and stuff...and friends they know me and I've never done anything wrong. The people that don't know me are making judgments and shit and it's fucked. I've tried for the last few years, a couple years, to establish my own little booking thing. Nothing big – I'm not making thousands upon thousands in commissions. When you make four or five hundred bucks on a show, it's cool. I like it, I like them [the musicians], it's music. I've been pinpointed as some kind of scam person...I guess I've been receiving [online] threats? It’s fucked. I'm sure it will hurt me and I don't want it too...and the people that do know me and I've worked with know I'm not that type of person. I never would be. If it takes me a year or six months – those bands will get their money back for me. I don't expect RGW or Donnie [Frizzell, RGW promoter] or Nathalie [Faghihi] to write me a check for this. I don't expect to hear a fucking word from them ever again.
I am now reaching out to the RGW promoters for their side and will continue to follow this story. More tomorrow.