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The most recent Blues and Jazz Festival was in 2001, right around the time when local enthusiasm for the blues began to wane. Naber sold the Grand Emporium in 2004, and it closed for good a few years later. In recent years, Knuckleheads has stepped up to house big touring blues acts, but the festivals and events that the KCBS was associated with are memories — and growing more distant.
"The '80s and '90s were the real boom years," Gilley says. "You still had these legendary blues figures touring. The problem today is that the blues community hasn't replaced those legends with up-and-coming talent. There's still some people connected to the music, but most are older. It's a different world than it used to be."
Mismanagement in the KCBS hasn't helped. After failing to file an annual registration report in 2001, it lost its 501(c)3 status that year and didn't regain it until 2002. The same thing happened in 2007. And again in 2009.
Sherrick has been on the KCBS board since 2005, and he often claims (see: "Letter From the President," Blues News, January 2013) that he saved the KCBS from dissolution in 2010. This is not entirely accurate. The paperwork necessary for reinstatement was filed with the Missouri Department of Revenue prior to the first meeting of the board at which Sherrick was president. Then-treasurer Bonna Yost signed the application for reinstatement. Three months into Sherrick's first term, Yost resigned from the board.
A few months after Yost's departure, Sherrick attempted to appoint his girlfriend, Abraham, as treasurer. Some balked. "We felt it was unethical for two people living under the same roof to have total control of the Blues Society's finances," Houze says. "Joe pitched a fit, but we held our ground and demanded a vote on it. But we lost."
The opaque nature of the KCBS's finances has triggered concern among members, particularly in light of the first KC Blues Fest at Kaw Point, held September 29, 2012. Only Big Bill Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters, was paid to perform; none of the local bands that played saw a dime. "Joe sent an e-mail to the bands telling them, essentially, if you donate your time this year, the KCBS will look favorably on you when they organize the fest next year," Baum says.
But is there going to be a 2013 fest? Last year's event was staffed by volunteers, was poorly promoted (The Pitch received no press releases about it, for example) and poorly attended (members seem to agree that about 100 people showed up).
Gilley, who knows a thing or two about throwing a blues festival in KCK, says, "I offered to help in 10 different ways. I've done nine street festivals. I worked on three blues and jazz festivals. The staff at Kaw Point had zero experience. We always paid a reasonable salary to the bands [at KCK Street Blues Festival]. Kaw Point charged $20 at the gate. They had no real star power, and it wasn't BYOB. Of course nobody showed up."
The KCBS has refused to produce a financial statement about the event, despite requests from the board and the society's members. Powell, the KCBS secretary, tells The Pitch that the festival "broke even" but has declined to elaborate.