A near-capacity crowd fills the main ballroom at Centennial Hall during the final night of the Alaska Folk Festival on April 14. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

A near-capacity crowd fills the main ballroom at Centennial Hall during the final night of the Alaska Folk Festival on April 14. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Michael Franti concert nixed at Centennial Hall, moved to JDHS due to staging issues

Technical and staffing plans of concert producers not feasible, JAHC executive director says.

A concert by multi-genre musician Michael Franti scheduled Aug. 6 in Juneau has been cancelled at Centennial Hall — and moved to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale — due to what the head of the local arts council called impossible-to-meet staging demands by officials representing the artist.

The cancellation prompted angry pushback from a concert producer who said members of the tour crew and local residents were willing to take on duties Centennial Hall didn’t have staff for, and that unworkable items could be crossed off the list of staging plans.

But Phil Huebschen, executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, stated too many unrealistic plans for the show, poor communications with concert officials and safety concerns about allowing people not trained for Centennial Hall’s installations to engage in heavy-duty work forced the cancellation.

“It was communicated to the concert planning team that their entire tech rider was a redline,” he wrote in an email Wednesday in response to questions from the Empire. A concert rider — often separated into categories such as technical, backstage and hospitality — is a document detailing requirements for performances.

“All of the tech/lighting/sound requirements that were communicated from the concert planning team do not exist in Juneau, and made up the entirety of their tech rider,” Huebschen wrote. “We simply were not able to fulfill these requests. We are increasingly finding that many of our previously used event equipment providers no longer ship large-scale equipment to Juneau, which would have been necessary for this concert.”

Huebschen stated JAHC officials never received alternative equipment plans from the event planners.

Franti, a singer/songwriter who has performed hip-hop, punk rock and reggae for three decades, is on tour with his Michael Franti & Spearhead band. Preceding his Juneau show in Alaska is an Aug. 3 concert at SalmonFest in Ninilchik, an annual event that draws thousands to the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Michael Franti, a singer/songwriter who has performed hip-hop, punk rock and reggae for three decades, is scheduled to appear with his band in Juneau on Aug. 6. (Publicity photo)

Michael Franti, a singer/songwriter who has performed hip-hop, punk rock and reggae for three decades, is scheduled to appear with his band in Juneau on Aug. 6. (Publicity photo)

Concert officials were willing to work with JAHC to resolve logistical and other issues, but were consistently told by arts council officials there weren’t enough available staff, said Cheri Snook, head of Cabin Door Productions which is bringing the concert to Juneau.

“I’m like ‘You don’t need to do anything. You just need to open the doors,’” she said in an interview Monday.

Multiple requests for the concert’s technical rider were made by the Empire to Snook. She declined to provide the document, but in an email reply to one of the requests stated “from the very beginning it was stated to (JAHC officials) that the tech (rider) is a festival best-case scenario and to cross off what they can’t do. That must have been stated several times.”

Snook said she was getting help from a local stage production expert (who declined an interview request by the Empire), and had experienced crew associated with her company as well as other local residents willing to assist with various tasks.

“I have people to relieve your overworked staff,” she said she told JAHC officials. “And I happen to have a team of people to break down the gear and get it back into the van.”

As for other tasks, “you don’t need to train somebody to fold a chair or pick up the garbage,” Snook said.

A now-abandoned draft contract dated April 1 between JAHC and Cabin Door Productions specified a 4½-hour concert for 1,000 people between 6-10:30 p.m. Aug. 6, with Cabin Door Productions having access to Centennial for set-up from 8 a.m- to 5 p.m. on Aug. 5 and 8:30 a.m. until showtime on Aug. 6.

Huebschen, in his email, stated JAHC isn’t willing to essentially hand over the keys to Centennial Hall to outsiders — technical experts or not — and allow major logistics and staging work to take place inside the convention hall that was recently extensively renovated.

“The lack of skilled labor I referred to is in reference to the concert organizers wanting to utilize untrained volunteers to engage in moving heavy equipment, operating dangerous machinery, and moving in the Centennial Hall catwalks,” he wrote. “This is all work that our small team of JAHC event staff are proficient in, and represents specific training that we would need to organize for volunteers, which we simply did not have the time or capacity for. To allow untrained volunteers to engage in this work would have been a safety hazard and major liability for the JAHC, and with the current size of our event staff we found the desired size of production was not feasible.”

In his cancellation letter to Snook, Huebschen also emphasized “communication difficulties.”

“Through the continued planning process, there have been communication difficulties in ways that make it exceedingly difficult for us to accomplish necessary internal planning and organizing,” he wrote. “It has become clear that we will not be able to meet your expectations for this concert on the established timeline, and it would not be possible to execute an event of such scale without undue stress and hardship to our small team of event staff.”

Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall is already booked on that date, leaving the JDHS auditorium as the lone remaining practical option, Snook said. She said the JDHS auditorium has seating for 970 and the move won’t affect people who already bought tickets since roughly 75% of those intended for Centennial Hall had been sold when the cancellation occurred.

Melissa Patterson, who oversees summer facility rentals for the Juneau School District, wrote in an email Wednesday that while district staff haven’t seen Franti’s technical rider yet “when we were approached about renting the auditorium we were happy to help because our space is available.”

“We have a basic light plot and it handles shows varying from ‘The Nutcracker’ to the Juneau Symphony,” she wrote. “We still don’t have a clear sense of the scope of the Michael Franti concert’s needs, but we hosted the Alaska Folk Festival a few years ago when Centennial Hall was closed for maintenance and it went smoothly.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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