A conversation with Mateel Board of Directors Vice-President Garth Epling
With just nine days until Reggae, it seemed a good time to check in with the Mateel regarding ongoing issues. My call to Taunya Stapp was passed off to Mateel Board V.P. Garth Epling…
Well, it’s about a week until Reggae weekend and I’m looking for an update from the Mateel perspective. I called Taunya, I assume she called you. Is she still employed by the Mateel?
We’re going to contract with her for institutional memory on the legal issues.
You mean as the suit goes forward. What’s the status of all that?
The status of the lawsuit? Right now we have a continuance. We had to do arbitration on the Dimmick agreement; that has a ways to go. It’s delayed until I’d say late October or November.
Is the end plan with that to re-establish the Mateel’s lease with Dimmick to do Reggae on the River next year?
We’ll find out whether our lease agreement is valid or not and that will affect many other things, like damages etc. But honestly, even if the lease is proved valid, if there’s a hostile landlord then what kind of situation would that be? We’ll see how it works out.
I’ve heard that you were thinking about trying to do Reggae just at French’s Camp.
Possibly, although Dimmick does have a three-year lease option that he obtained on that, and I think he’s exercised that option so he kind of controls that side of the river as well.
Are you considering doing Reggae somewhere else?
Yeah, although I’d think we’re looking at a smaller scale. Talking with our membership and local people, a lot of them want to see Reggae on the River return, but in a scaled back version, certainly under 10,000, more likely in the 8,000 range. We have some feelers out but there’s no other site set. Right now we’re focusing on the lawsuit.
Do you have an ongoing contract with Boots Hughston and 2b1 to produce the festival again?
Boots had the agreement for this last year and of course was unable to produce it due to all the legal conflicts. We may end up going with him again, certainly. We still owe Boots since he paid up front for Reggae 07.
How much do you owe him?
We owe Boots $150,000. We paid back half of what he paid us, but he’s agreed to very reasonable payment arrangements, over three years and no interest, stuff like that. He’s definitely here to help the Mateel out and to see Reggae go forward. If there’s an opportunity to do Reggae in the future, I’m sure he’d want to step up and help us out with it.
Of course you could potentially just do it yourselves.
If we did it with Boots that would of course eliminate any debt we had with him, but there’s also a possibility, if we did it on a smaller community level, that we could easily produce it ourselves. Summer Arts has turned into quite a festival. Ideally we’d like to see Summer Arts move to the [Southern Humboldt] Community Park eventually, but there are permit issues and things to be worked out.
Isn’t there a big concert there tomorrow night?
I’ve heard rumors of that.
My friend has a ticket to see Hank Williams III there.
I’m not sure how that’s working. I was talking to the caretakers and they’re trying to keep in small scale, but Hank III seems like a pretty big deal.
What do you think about what could be described as the Mateel resistance against Reggae Rising? Mostly it’s from some very vocal critics on the blogosphere.
I’ll tell you a lot of our membership who did not want to see Reggae Rising go forward are kind of upset at us right now because they don’t see us taking direct action against the County and stuff like that. The thing is, we do have legal fund backers, but money is tight and we have to pick and choose the battles we’re fighting.
Did trying to stop Reggae Rising on the permit level seem like a losing proposition?
Our attorneys though it might be possible, but they felt the County would put up some heavy resistance and we might even end up having to sue the County to get it done. I don’t think we were willing to go there. I know there were some individuals who were going to try to step up to try to block the permit, but it seems to me it’s a little too late at this point. We wanted more time. The arbitration (on the lease issues) was originally scheduled for July 11, and our lawyers felt it was crucial to gather more evidence and do a few more depositions with the individuals involved. We have to explain everything to this retired judge.
So the plan was to get that done before the permit was finalized.
We were. But the attorneys said it would be a lot better if we got a continuance and put together more hard evidence. To get that extension, under the advice of our attorneys, the Mateel agreed not to interfere with the permitting process.
That was a shift in the nature of the fight. When I spoke with (boardmember) Bob Stern at Summer Arts he told me the Mateel was going to try to stop Reggae Rising, but it seems like instead you’ve decided to focus on a damage settlement.
It’s all about monetary funds and paying attorneys. Personally I feel that we should be trying to stop something from happening on the same day, same time, same place as our festival, but the attorneys told us, ‘You have to choose your battle.’
Jumping back to the middle of May, when negotiations broke down, it seems like there’s a very real potential that in standing firm that the Reggae on the River name and trademark was paramount, you may have created a situation where that name may now have no value.
I think the Reggae on the River name still has quite a bit of value. Obviously it lost some value in this whole fight and in the fact that it won’t be produced this year.
Do you have any regrets at not taking the deal offered?
I was shocked that the production company (People Productions) did not take our offer. We wanted $200,000 straight up depending on Planning Commission (attendance) numbers. The only holdup was that they wanted to use the Reggae Rising name. Honestly I think if we’d gone ahead and said ‘OK, do Reggae on the River produced by Reggae Rising,’ that would have devalued our name just as much.
As I understand it, the suggestion was to call it Reggae on the River and say, “presented by Reggae Rising and the Mateel Community Center.”
Right. But once the Reggae Rising name was involved, I foresaw it as a delayed takeover of the event. The next year, you’ve boosted that Reggae Rising name up, advertised it, answered your phone “Reggae Rising,” your tickets say “Reggae Rising,” then in ’08, you go ‘OK, we’re doing Reggae Rising now,’ and you have that much more of an audience. I have no idea what ticket sales for Reggae Rising are right now.
An e-mail I got today says it’s 75 percent sold out. If you do the math, that leaves around 2,000 to sell.
On another subject, there’s a little controversy about a story published in the East Bay Express and the lack of input from your side. Were you ever contacted by a reporter from that paper?
I had an e-mail forwarded from the office, [sent to] a Mateel.org e-mail address. I think it was one or two days before the article came out. Of course with the low-power mode the Mateel is in, he might have called the Mateel office and not found anybody. Considering that they only talked to one side, I didn’t think [the story] was terrible. Whatever. It was what it was.
But, yeah, mainly it’s boiling down to financial stuff at this point. I’m watching our bridges get put in on the site right now. Our property is being used. One of the bridges alone cost around $55,000 a couple of years ago. And now we have a $33,000 payment we gave Dimmick; I don’t understand the holdup in returning that to the Mateel.
I read in a comment on one of the blogs that the Mateel sent a letter to the Sheriff, the Highway Patrol and other authorities saying that you consider your property as stolen.
The lawyers did draft some sort of demand letter saying, “Give us our property back or pay us for it. And by the way maybe you’d like to send back our lease payment as well. We’re obviously not exercising our rights to it.”
Do you think they should not use the bridge?
Well, I think all the infrastructure down there is the Mateel’s property; it’s not even in contention. It would have been nice to have received some funds for it.
I would suppose the use of your property is another thing added to the lawsuit, something a judge will look at.
It is definitely in the legal grounds now. As I said, some members still want to take it before the Board of Supervisors, but I think at this point it might be a little bit late. I don’t think the Planning Commission ever officially decided to give the event to Reggae Rising. They just accepted that there was a permit and an event going on.
I’d say they made that clear from the beginning. They did not want to decide if it would be Reggae on the River or Reggae Rising. I’d have to say, in Humboldt County, you just call it, Reggae.
(Laughs.) Yeah. I guess for me it all boils down to who’s going to profit from it. It’s no longer an event that benefits the Mateel.
But that was once on the table: an ongoing cash stream of $200,000 a year.
Sure. That was our offer.
I guess I still don’t understand why you didn’t go for that.
On the flipside, why did they want to use the Reggae Rising name?
Well, from their point of view, because they had invested in advertising, poster and so forth…
What they told us was they were afraid they’d lose ticket sales because they’d advertised Reggae Rising.
And there was a very public announcement that Reggae on the River was cancelled…
This was before that happened. We offered to transfer all the tickets we had sold as part of the deal. The only sticking point was the Reggae Rising name. We offered them, in case they did not sell out, we said we’d take out [the value of] each ticket that did not sell from what they owed us. Really it seemed like a no lose situation for them. But it’s all water under the bridge at this point.
What’s the status of the Mateel Community Center? You just had a concert on Monday. I heard it went well.
It was a successful show. We’re definitely not a production company…
While that was billed as a Mateel Forever show, I heard it was put on with money from one family.
Yeah, we’ve got some financial backers who are willing to put up their own money, at their own risk, to benefit the Mateel.
Any truth to the rumor they’re trying to get Prince to play there?
That’s a low possibility. I’ve heard the rumor and we discussed it in an events/talent meeting, but I don’t know if it will happen. We are going to shoot for larger name events, and in all musical genres, not just reggae.
Are the ongoing community programs still using the hall?
We’re trying to keep that up. We have just one staffer right now, which is Justin Crellin, who does the events/talent stuff. He’s paid for one day a week, but certainly volunteers more of his time. We have various board members and members of the community stepping up to help with the day-to-day tasks of the Mateel. It’s going to continue on. We’re keeping the doors open. The soup kitchen is still there four days a week. We’re tightening our belts and preparing to go forward while trying to keep the community center available.
What do you know about Mateel Partnership for Nonprofits? It that separate from the Mateel?
It’s going to be inside the Mateel. It’s run by Kate Crockett. She was involved in the Trees Foundation. She evolved the idea of that type of partnership. She’s volunteering her time to deal with that partnership initiative.
What’s the idea behind it?
Just to raise money for various nonprofits that might have been hurt by Reggae on the River not going forward, and not just for the short term, for years to come.
Are you talking about nonprofits that chose not to have a booth at Reggae Rising?
No, that’s not actually the case. Even if a nonprofit had a both at Reggae Rising, if they can show that they had somehow been hurt by the cancellation of Reggae on the River, they would still be eligible to join that partnership, say if they make less money than the year before.
What do you think about the “Reggae Warrior” website?
I honestly haven’t read any of that. I’ve seen his posts on Eric’s (SoHum Parlance) blog but haven’t gone to the site.
So you are not Reggae Warrior?
No, I can definitely say it’s not me. Why was that put out there somewhere? Is someone spreading rumors?
No. Just squelching them before they start.