My Turn: Surprise and alarm over Northfield SoulFest

  • mactrunk mactrunk

Published: 1/24/2023 4:58:46 PM
Modified: 1/24/2023 4:58:18 PM

After more than two months reviewing Moody Center’s plans for the three-day SoulFest Christian Music Festival, the Northfield Select Board issued a strongly-worded letter to the President of the Moody Center. The five members of the Select Board wrote, “the Moody Center and its partner opted to announce SoulFest and sell tickets as if the event was a ‘done deal,’ surprising town officials and alarming the community.”

The Select Board noted this size event will cause “major impact on public safety and infrastructure … we are very concerned as to whether 8,500 attendees, especially on Saturday night, can safely fit into the event space, given the lack of detailed maps and measurements for event spaces, fences, tents … portable toilets … parking, camping, etc.”

Nobody was more surprised to learn they were hosting this event than public officials and residents of Northfield. Tickets for SoulFest had been on sale for three months before the first meeting between the Select Board and Moody Center to discuss the Preliminary Review for a Special Events permit that Moody needed to hold the event.

These comments by the Select Board reflect the specific concerns presented by town residents. “We think the level of consternation with the surprise announcement and subsequent ticket sales is abundantly evident,” the board noted. “Given the scale of this proposed event and its importance to the Moody Center, we are surprised and disappointed that the due diligence normally done for a major decision and event announcement wasn’t in the presentation.”

The story begins when the festival organizers made a preemptive announcement on Aug. 4 that SoulFest 2023 was moving to a place called the Moody Center in Northfield, Massachusetts. Several online ticket sellers, including Eventbrite, Vivid Seats, Event Tickets Center, and Box Office Ticket Sales, all began selling 3-day passes to the Northfield event.

Here’s some relevant history. In August of 2022, two weeks before the opening of the three-day SoulFest Christian Music Festival at the Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford, New Hampshire, event organizers were very pleased. “We completely went to capacity on parking,” one event spokesperson said. Campsites were sold out months in advance. Ten thousand people attended the final Saturday of the concert. Ticket sales were up 20% from the previous year.

But then things hit a discordant note. According to the New Hampshire Union-Leader newspaper, “The entire senior management staff resigned … over a long-running feud with the Gunstock Area Commission.” Gunstock management warned the organizers last year that “the event would no longer be welcome — even with 5 years left on its contract,” according to the newspaper. The Gunstock Area Commission wrote in its meeting minutes that the event was not profitable for the resort, and required significant resources. “They just didn’t want us back,” a SoulFest spokesperson admitted. Event sponsor New Sound Concerts reportedly “looked at multiple spots in New Hampshire” before deciding to move to the Moody Center property.

SoulFest 2023 appears to have violated the Terms of Service of ticket seller EventBrite, which mandates Permit Organizers “will obtain, before starting ticket sales, all applicable licenses, (which) includes … municipal or other local authority’s authorization of the event…” as evidenced by the Moody Center’s neglect to seek such local permission before selling tickets to the public.

In the past, the Moody Center has stepped into two messy situations in each of its attempts to support its mission. First, a controversial “glamping” proposal that led to litigation by Northfield neighbors and second, an ill-considered high-rise apartment building at the northern end of historic Highland Avenue that met with a furor of protest and was withdrawn. Now we are faced with this huge “surprise” music concert proposal.

The Select Board is right to “express deep concerns,” over the inadequate SoulFest planning. The board says its letter “should provide a very clear sense of the sentiments and priorities of the Select Board and the community.”

After Moody Center’s plans for a large apartment building were demolished by public opinion, a new Campus Center Campus Collaborative Committee (C5) was formed to help the town and Moody work collaboratively in the future. The Moody Center should “surprise” us again by telling the town it is moving SoulFest to a venue that actually agrees to host it in advance.

Jamie Yost and Christopher Sikes live in Northfield.


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