Jazz fest refunds slow coming

Published 10:04 pm Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Two weeks after the Suffolk Riverfront Jazz Festival was canceled the day before it was to take the stage, an artist who was set to perform in the show says he has not been able to get in touch with the organizers, and patrons have complained on the festival’s Facebook page that they have not received refunds.

“Really, it’s just been kind of crazy,” said James Racine, who goes by “Maestro J” in jazz circles. “The day before my arrival, I got a message from, I guess, someone working with the festival saying because of ticket sales, the festival was canceled.”

Racine says other artists who were set to perform learned of the event’s cancellation from him.

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“It was really unprofessional,” he said. “I still can’t get a hold of them to refund my travel arrangements that were paid out of pocket and were supposed to be reimbursed upon my arrival there.”

The festival was canceled via an email on Thursday, July 25, the day before the festival was originally set to begin at the Hilton Garden Inn on East Constance Road. The email noted slow ticket sales and suggested would-be guests thought the price was too high compared to jazz festivals in Norfolk and Richmond.

“It’s been a headache even trying to get in touch with anyone,” Racine said. “They have not answered any emails, any Facebook messages and of course any calls. It’s been sort of disappointing.”

This week, the festival’s website and Facebook page were taken down, and informational phone numbers and email addresses connected with the festival were inoperable.

Multiple phone calls and emails to Aubrey Wilson, president of the Gladys Gatlin Foundation, were not returned. The festival was set to benefit the Gladys Gatlin Foundation, which was formed in 2011 with the stated purpose of assisting female veterans adjusting to civilian life.

Some patrons who purchased tickets to the event also say they have not received refunds.

Joycelyn Spight-Thrower said she expected to have her refund within a week but so far has not received it.

“I figure, if you cancel, within a week everyone should have their money back,” she said. “In the meantime, I’ve contacted my credit card company and filed a dispute.”

Newport News resident John Marshall III bought his tickets online in April, paying $274 for two tickets for Saturday and Sunday nights. Unlike what the organizers suggested, he thought the prices “were very reasonable considering the quality of people they were presenting.”

However, he got a call that Thursday informing him the event was canceled.

“That seemed really odd and fishy to me,” he said. “I would think that any event that is teetering is going to have to make a decision more than a day or two in advance to pull the plug.”

Marshall also hasn’t been able to contact anyone about his refund, he said.

He provided an email he says he received from former project manager Karin McKinney.

“We want to first thank you for your patience and express our sincere regret for the delayed follow-up as we have contacted you twice with updates regarding the processing of refunds,” McKinney writes in the note.

“As the Project Manager, since the day of the cancellation I have worked with integrity and fervency to resolve the refund process. Per legal advisement, at this point my hands are tied and my authority as Project Manager has come to an end.”

McKinney’s email went on to provide contact information for Wilson and the Gladys Gatlin Foundation.

“All further contact must be made directly with Mr. Wilson.”

The last Internal Revenue Service Form 990 available online for the Gladys Gatlin Foundation, filed in 2011, listed income of $4,587, with $30,461 paid in “professional fees and other payments to independent contractors.” The foundation ended its first year with a deficit of more than $26,000.