Jeremy Segel-Moss believes St. Louis aldermen will choose money over local culture as they continue to consider inking a long-term deal with ICM Partners to bring music festivals to Gateway Mall beginning Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends in 2015.
The musician, a member of the Bottoms Up Blues Gang and vice president of the St. Louis Blues Society, started a MoveOn.org petition to voice concerns about the Summer Rocks proposal that's now awaiting approval from a city government committee.
Segel-Moss said the issues outlined in the petition mirror much of the talk among St. Louis musicians. "All I did here was put together the arguments I've been hearing and allow folks to raise their voice," he said in a brief interview.
RFT Music: When did you first hear about the festival proposal?
Jeremy Segel-Moss: As a person involved in the blues community, a musician and vice president of the St. Louis Blues Society, I was made aware of the bill a week or two ago because of the changes it would make to STL Bluesweek and Taste of St. Louis. I was also at the first aldermen's meeting to find out more about the bill.
Are you completely against the idea of these festivals, or are you concerned that it's being fast-tracked through the city government? I am definitely not opposed to festivals in the city of St. Louis. However, this particular bill, without being passed, has displaced no fewer than three St. Louis-run festivals. It seems destructive to me to impose a megafestival on the city during the weekends we already have two successful events -- as well as not allowing others to surface for the next ten to twenty years. It is the way in which this bill is being fast-tracked without any investigation into the real economic and community effects. Also, this bill and the festival have affected me because they specifically affect St. Louis culture.
Aside from Taste and Bluesweek, which is the third you're talking about? The St. Louis World's Fair event that was supposed to take place Labor Day weekend in Forest Park, which has now been pushed to two weeks later so as to not conflict. I also have issue that they will be replacing two free events with two events that will, on average, cost about $250 for the weekend.
Can you see any argument where this might be good for the city in any way? Honestly, I think the biggest upside is the conversation surrounding the bill and its effects. The music, art and food communities are having the conversation about how much we are worth to the city of St. Louis. Clearly, if the powers that be thought we were an economic commodity, they'd be building stages instead of ballpark villages. They'd be investing in the already successful, world-class events that are the end result of local people celebrating local talent. That, to me, is the beginning of change.
Do you think any of the festivals have the reason and marketing power of ICM? Can you see where an economically depressed city might enjoy the million in outside money spent to pull off these festivals, not to mention the money spent by festival-goers? No they do not. However, the festivals that they own -- Jazz Festival, Austin City Limits and the likes -- didn't start as huge events. They started like Bluesweek. Like Taste. I can certainly see where the immediate money is helpful to the city. However, if you're looking at the long term, I believe that, over time, the culture of St. Louis is worth far more than what ICM is offering.
If these festivals were in addition to the already successful free events, I really would have less of a problem. But they push out what has already been working. There is no language in the bill to include St. Louis musicians or artists. There is no allocation of funds to support out world-class music scene. In fact, I'm not sure where all this money will go.
Continue to page two for more.
So you're nearing your goal on this petition. What happens when you get the 200 people signed up? I think the way MoveOn works is when you get to 200, they say the next goal is 300.
What's your endgame with the petition? Honestly the damage has already been done. Even if ICM or the city decides against it, at least those two festivals will not be returning. My ultimate goal here is to raise the level of conversation. Maybe, hopefully, come up with a strategy to quantify the worth of St. Louis culture, and in turn, create a St. Louis that is so proud of its culture that no company, regardless of size and money, is worth more than the people who cultivate and celebrate culture in St. Louis.
And do you think the city will listen? I think the city will listen to dollars. If we were in New Orleans and asked their city hall what the worth of their music, food and art was, I'd imagine they'd say its priceless. St. Louis culture is one of the city's least tapped resources. If we, as a city and county, can come together to relay what we think the value of ourselves is, they might listen. Ultimately, if we can't stop the bill, we sure would like to affect it.
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