Jeff Miller knew weeks before his performance at last year’s pride festival in Clarksville that he was likely to run into problems getting paid.
The country singer, who has performed his gay-oriented material at plenty of pride festivals over the years, was asked by his talent agent, Craig Dean of Outright Speakers & Talent Bureau, to renegotiate his fee a month before the event.
“Normally there’s a deposit,” said Miller, “then they have to pay the balance upon completion of the gig. Craig had set that (performance at the Clarksville Pride festival) up a long time in advance but then a month before the gig he had to renegotiate all the contracts because they (Clarksville Pride) couldn’t afford what they booked. So we all agreed to take less.”
Outright also represents last year’s headline speaker, the writer/activist Michelangelo Signorile. The talent agency coordinates speaking or performance engagements for its roster of gay-identified clients. In addition to Signorile and Miller, the Clarksville festival hosted a performance and book signing by transgender actress/activist Calpernia Addams.
“They had an impressive lineup,” Miller said. “It was more impressive than I’d seen at other Prides, but I also knew how much these people charge and how expensive this all was. As soon as I got there I knew, based on the talent they booked and, just looking at the stage and everything, I figured they couldn’t pay for it. Especially without an admission (fee).”
In an effort to collect the debt, Dean sent an e-mail early last month to David Shelton, the chairman of Clarksville Pride. In it he claimed he was still owed $2,000 and was forced to pay both Signorile’s and Miller’s fees himself. He also threatened to file a “mechanics lien” against the two-year-old nonprofit. He then defined a mechanics lien this way: “this will mean your June event will not go on unless I receive my payment on the contract your group signed with me.”
(But nobody is ever entirely innocent. Upon learning of Outright’s collection plans, Miller laughed. “Craig still owes me for a gig I did in October,” he said. “He paid me out of his pocket” – for the Clarksville Pride performance – “because I wouldn’t do the gig in October until I was paid for the gig in Clarksville. I’m not taking any [more show dates] from Craig right now. He owes me $1,500 bucks!”)
The executive board of Clarksville Pride then held an emergency meeting in early March where they unanimously agreed to cancel this year’s pride festival. Shelton made the announcement in an open letter to the community.
“We currently owe around $5,700 to various people and companies,” he wrote. From that amount, they owe $2,000 to Outright, their single biggest debtor. In addition, events such as a previous fundraiser, the Rainbow Ball, while “a great event for everyone,” according to Shelton, were not financially successful. That one left the organization owing nearly $1,200.
The board of Clarksville Pride decided then to cancel this year’s Rainbow Ball and to postpone indefinitely the Drag Pageant. It plans to spend the next while focusing on fundraising and producing inexpensive programs for the community.
Though all are in the planning stages, Shelton says such ideas have come up as building a stronger online community, establishing a GLBT “help line” and hosting more community meetings/forums. According to Shelton, these are low-cost high-impact events that will “only benefit the community.”
He said that Clarksville Pride has made a small payment to Outright and anticipates that debt paid by the end of April. Just where that cash infusion will come from appears at this point to be more a matter of faith than concrete planning. Shelton confirmed that membership dues and direct donations will be an important means of income now.
Nashville Pride president Todd Grantham understands the situation Clarksville Pride is in.
“When I came on the board years ago,” he said, “we had to make up payments after the fact.”
As president of Nashville Pride, he has overseen, for the past two years, a festival that is easily the single biggest GLBT event in the state of Tennessee.
“For us, fundraising has become a bigger task because it’s becoming a bigger festival. There are also many more GLBT-oriented nonprofit organizations going after those same dollars,” Grantham said. “All are deserving of money, but it just makes everyone’s job more difficult because most the time it’s the same sponsors we’re going after.”
He adds that his organization has been forced to look for new and unusual ways to generate funds. “We’re trying to think outside the box to think of new ways to secure sponsors and find ways to cut costs. ‘What’s not a necessity?’ we ask ourselves. That’s where we cut costs."
“It takes the entire community’s support for us to make this festival happen, be it through volunteers or financial support,” Grantham continued. “People have to realize that the financial support is important.”