SHEDG: Cost-efficient Jamboree in black

Scott Swanson

Reduced talent budgets and cuts in other expenses are turning things around for the Oregon Jamboree, festival Director Robert Shamek told Sweet Home Economic Development Group board members last week.

The meeting was the board’s first since August, due to unavailable board members and other circumstances, Chairman Ron Moore said.

Board members acknowledged that this year’s crowds were noticeably smaller than others in recent years, but Moore said that SHEDG has been working for three years to get itself righted financially.

After being “minimally profitable” last year, the festival is more solidly in the black after this year’s event, though specific figures aren’t available yet, he said.

Heather Search, chair of the SHEDG Finance Committee, told the board at the Oct. 9 meeting that net revenue this year was nearly double – “almost over 100 percent” – what it was in 2017.

Moore said after the meeting that “solid numbers this time of year are still hard to come by, but the key thing is that we’re paying our bills.”

The festival has gone through some hard times, and has burned through most of the profits generated during the mid-2000s.

Prior to 2017, the last year the Oregon Jamboree reported a profit was 2009, when the festival made $305,000. The 2007 festival was the high point for the Jamboree, when it reported profits of $350,000.

After years of red ink, Moore said the board instructed Shamek two years ago to “delve into our event and determine how to move forward to get ourselves moving in a better direction.”

He said the decision was to “go back to where we started.”

Shamek said the Jamboree was “overspending in just about every category” when he took over as director three years ago.

“From talent to the stage, and everything in between, I’ve had to make changes and cuts to try and get things back on track without taking away from our patrons’ experience,” he said in a report to the board.

He and board members acknowledged that they need to explain more fully to the community what their strategy is.

Shamek said that in the 22-year span between 1993 and 2015, the Jamboree had never paid over $500,000 to any single artist. In 2016, he said, talent prices jumped due to the increasing popularity of country music and the rise of more festivals and tours.

“The acts that we were paying $500,000 for are now going for $750,000 to $1.2 million, with the biggest names reaching upwards of $4 million,” he said, noting that that works out to about $11,111 per minute for a 90-minute performance.

The board has determined that it’s time to stop trying to compete and do what Sweet Home does best, Moore and other board members said.

“We need to do what we need to do for our community,” Moore said. “Our goal is to have the Jamboree be a three- to four-day event that brings people into the community to spend money.

“When music entertainment was less expensive and tickets were selling and there was less competition, it was easier to spend money on talent. As talent got more expensive, it became clear we couldn’t keep up.”

That’s why SHEDG has opted for a less-is-more strategy.

“Yeah, we may not bring in 17,000 people, but if we can bring in 12,000 or 14,000, we can be in the black,” he said.

He said people may be wondering why the Jamboree has opted for “lesser talent,” though he added that he doesn’t consider that to be the case. “I think we put on a good show.”

Board member Jared Cornell emphasized that “the changes they’ve seen didn’t happen by accident.”

“This is a three-year process we’ve gone through that purposely changed our business model.” he said. “I’m happy with the talent we put out there. I thought it was a quality product. Other folks out there think we don’t know what we’re doing or we’re struggling or this is a big downfall.

“We planned this. This is something we’ve been working on as a group.”

Shamek said the board and staff planned for a smaller crowd.

“We had a few less people on the field, but that’s what we budgeted for. If we can find that happy medium figure of what we’re spending and what we’re bringing in, we’ll be golden.”

He said that ticket sales for next year’s festival “are actually rising, especially this month.

“We’re nine days in and we’ve already exceeded our ticket sales goal for the entire month. Hopefully, we will far exceed it by end of October. If that trend carries out, and our figures are all low projections, it could be a great year for us.”

Search said the organization tends to budget “conservatively.”

She also reported that she and bookkeeper Donna Williamson have been working “diligently” to rework the accounting system, switching from cash to accrual accounting, which would provide a “better picture of what’s happening.”

Also, she said, she is establishing “a real finance committee” that will stay on top of the money.

She and Shamek said the changes will allow them to have “more accurate knowledge of what’s going on daily” during the festival, as Shamek put it.

Search also said that the organization’s accounting changes should help correct delays in filing of 990 forms, annual financial statements required of nonprofits by the IRS.

“I feel real confident, moving forward, that we will be able to have an accurate, better picture of the organization,” Search said.

Board members said they generally get good feedback on the festival.

“We have 900 volunteers who help us put on this event,” Moore said. “We have shade. We have the blessing that we have the school grounds to use that site. We feel like we put on a quality product.”

Cornell said he thinks the location and what the Jamboree offers contrasts positively to “some other festivals in the Northwest.

“We have our venue and what we have to offer – the town of Sweet Home, restaurants, lakes, rivers. When you go to the festival you’re not going to be eating dust. In five minutes you can be eating a nice meal, looking at the lake.”

Shamek said the festival has a good working relation with other events, such as the Watershed Mustic Festival at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Wash., and the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alberta, Canada, which allows it to obtain artists by cooperating to offer favorable routing – a big factor in who plays at the Jamboree.

Cornell said money isn’t the only concern for artists.

“Talent buying is extremely complex,” he said. “We’ve had artists we didn’t get because they were routed differently or got a better offer.”

“Sometimes we have artists who won’t let somebody else play with them,” Moore added.

“They definitely can be fickle,” Shamek said.

He said that most participants in the Jamboree are happy with the experience.

“I’d be hard pressed to find any artists or any vendor who has anything bad to say about the Jamboree,” he said, adding that he is working to balance the number of “quality” vendors with the anticipated crowds.

Moore said that’s a “fine line.”

“Too few vendors,” he said, “and the lines are too long.”

In addition to keeping the line-up affordable, Shamek said he plans to “revamp” the volunteer program.

“We need to get back to our roots,” he said.

That’s exactly what SHEDG is trying to do, Moore said.

“We need to find that sweet spot, where we put on good show and are profitable,” he said.

“We’re fine-tuning some things.”