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To date, the biggest mystery surrounding the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival has been the promoters’ profit.

Now, we can add another one.

The festival refuses to release attendance estimates. Every year, the festival’s wrap-up press release contains an attendance estimate. This year, the festival made no mention of attendance.

I sent this email to the festival spokeswoman:

I haven’t seen any attendance estimates, as in years past.

I’d like to know if the festival has an estimated attendance figure, and if so, what is it? If you’re not releasing it, why not? If you don’t know it, do you plan to find out and release it?

This is the email I received in response:

In our wrap up release John (Nugent, promoter) stated tens of thousands of people enjoyed the festival. There will be no further announcement on numbers, a decision made well before the festival. The festival was another highly successful event all around. We did have 8 out of nine days w/o rain, so that was wonderful considering this soggy summer but since the majority of our venues are indoors, those were not at all impacted by rain; they were consistently filled.

Keeping attendance estimates secret – or not doing them at all – is problematic for a number of reasons:

1. The Jazz Festival attendance figures were already suspect. The day after the festival ended last year, a press release went out declaring the event had 196,000 attendees, an increase of 1,000 from the year before, or .5 percent. Conveniently, the festival could claim record attendance. But these figures, which had no methodology attached, defy credibility. How on earth could the festival know that many people attended less than 24 hours later, to that level of precision? Remember, a majority of attendees don’t buy tickets and watch the free shows.

2. Previous contracts with the city required the Jazz Festival to reveal attendance numbers to the city as part of a post-festival report. (I don’t have this year’s contract, but have no reason to believe it’s substantially different.) I obtained last year’s post-festival report through an open records request. It was prepared by the Jazz Festival itself. It contained no methodology of attendance or economic impact. There’s no way to double-check these numbers for accuracy.

3. The Jazz Festival gets our tax money. The festival gets $175,000 from the city in straight cash and $68,000 of in-kind services. It also gets $75,000 from Monroe County. These governments do not require the festival promoters to open their books to justify the need for tax dollars. The elected officials justify giving the money (for which they get perks in return) to pay for the free concerts. In a text to a radio host, one of the promoters threatened to pull the concerts if they lose taxpayer support. (The Jazz Festival is now taking a page from the NFL.)

Attendance is not the only measurement of an event’s success, but it’s a big one. It’s a crucial metric when evaluating an event – and when deciding to fork over cash in support.

At first, I thought the festival didn’t release attendance figures because the final night was a washout. (That’s no excuse, as all outdoor festivals have risk.) But after years of boasting huge attendance numbers – and reaping the resulting publicity and sponsorships – the festival is now staying quiet. The festival has given no reason for this decision.

Perhaps attendance is down. It’s also a possibility the promoters don’t want anyone to know how well they’re doing. Maybe, they just don’t feel like telling us. If history is any guide, no one will make them.


Links of the Day:


– The incredible story of two sets of twins, mixed up at birth and raised as two sets of fraternal twins. They met each other as adults by chance.

– “I don’t talk about race with White people because I have so often seen it go nowhere.” This is a great read on racism.

– Stop lingering in the coffee shop. The owner wants you to leave.

– Boy, could you go for a Genny now? Check out this website.


Tweet of the Day:


5 Responses to Silent Note

  1. July 9, 2015 at 9:32 pm rochester_veteran responds:

    Rachel wrote: “3. The Jazz Festival gets our tax money. The festival gets $175,000 from the city in straight cash and $68,000 of in-kind services. It also gets $75,000 from Monroe County.”

    Yes, that’s the bottom line that demands more transparency from the Rochester Jazz Festival organizers.

  2. Rachel:

    You expect accountability, honesty, bus. ethics and fiscal responsibility from our political “leaders”? I think you’re expecting to much. When they “run” for political office they say all the right things and promise that their turn in the barrel will be different. Rarely does that happen. When will we learn, when will they lead.

  3. How about a caption contest for the picture taken at Nick Tahou’s (in the Tweet of the Day)?

    My entry : “Hot Dogs Eating Cheeseburgers”

  4. July 13, 2015 at 2:33 pm Mittens responds:

    I find it quite interesting that the festival organizers have avoided giving an attendance estimate for the 2015 Jazzfest. In previous years, the number would be given immediately after the festival ended.

    In 2014 the D&C ran an article on June 29th, which was the day after the festival ended, in which the organizers said 196,000 people attended the event. That stands as the official number.

    Likewise, on June 30, 2013 an article was published on the WXXI website saying the record was broken again, giving the number as 195,000. Again, this remains as the official attendance for 2013’s festival.

    Somehow they either got lazy and didn’t bother to record the number of people in 2015’s event, or the numbers were lousy and they don’t want it advertised that less people were there this year. I suspect the latter to be the case. They did admit in the D&C that “if it hadn’t rained, they’d have smashed the (attendance) record” alluding to a lower attendance, but still declined to give an official number. In fact, they said they “may never know the exact number of people.” That sounds like a cop-out to me.

    I don’t think its a bad thing that the festival failed to reach its attendance goal in 2015. The weather was far from perfect on most days (this whole Summer has sucked so far) and they were experimenting with a new layout that decentralized the East End corridor, which was packed from Main to Alexander in previous years. There’s nothing shameful about that at all. You don’t have to break records every single year. I just wish they’d be honest and address the issues with 2015’s festival.

    I’m glad someone other than myself is pointing out this peculiarity. It seems quite obvious to me that attendance is down, and hiding that from the public just makes you look even worse than being up front about it. Thank you for holding their feet to the fire.

  5. Excellent article. It may not be the case, but when these type of questions are raised, I automatically think, “Who’s hiding what?”, and that’s an an unfortunate conclusion. Leaders of govt and services often speak about ‘transparency’ but fail to follow through on it. Now, I’m curious…

    I’m also curious how I can follow your blog. Please advise.


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