As the final nail is being hammered into the coffin of one local reggae festival, another is looking to return to its roots.
A legal notice ran on May 17 announcing that Tom Dimmick’s ranch in Piercy - the site of the Reggae Rising music festival - is in foreclosure and will be sold at public auction next month.
The news seems to underscore the extent of Dimmick’s financial trouble and all but assures the end of the short-lived but popular festival, which saw thousands of revelers flock to the banks of the Eel River for three days of music.
Meanwhile, the Mateel Community Center is working on bringing Reggae on the River back to its original site, a swath of property right next to Dimmick’s. Named French’s Camp, the site accommodated the festival for more than two decades until a bitter dispute between the Mateel, Dimmick and the festival’s production company, People Productions, uprooted the renowned reggae concert.
”We’ve been wanting to take the festival home ever since we were forced to move,” said Justin Crellin, the Mateel’s general manager, of Reggae on the River, which will be held at the Benbow Lake State Recreation Area this year.
Reggae on the River began in 1983, put on by the Mateel to raise funds to rebuild its community center, which had been destroyed by an arsonist. The festival grew - both in attendance and notoriety - and became renowned as one of the best reggae concerts in the United States, featuring three days of music from some of the best acts in the world.
In addition to becoming a favorite summer destination for revelers from near and far and the Mateel’s main annual fundraiser, the festival was a lifeblood for many nonprofits - including Southern Humboldt schools and fire departments - which operated food booths at the festival, bringing in money that helped sustain them for the rest of the year.
In 2006, the festival moved across the river from French’s Camp to Dimmick’s ranch - a location organizers hoped would allow for larger attendance and make for a better festival experience. But that year’s festival ended in a dispute over revenues that ultimately led to a lawsuit that pitted the Mateel against Dimmick and People Productions, the festival’s longtime organizer.
Ultimately, the Mateel retained the naming rights to Reggae on the River and was awarded $500,000 in damages, and Dimmick and People Productions started Reggae Rising on Dimmick’s ranch, forcing Reggae on the River to find a new venue.
Reggae Rising managed successful festivals in 2007 and 2008, drawing more than 13,000 attendees and boasting impressive musical lineups. In 2009, the festival saw 14,000 people walk through its gates, but cracks quickly showed in its foundation, as shortly after the festival wrapped, vendors and workers complained of not being paid.
Things came to a head in 2010, when the Humboldt County Planning Commission unanimously voted to deny Dimmick a permit for the festival, citing poor planning and concerns over Dimmick’s unpaid bills. The landowner pledged Reggae Rising would return in 2011 better than ever, urging some 2,000 people who had already paid $109 or more to purchase a ticket for the 2010 festival to hold onto their tickets, as they might “be a great investment.”
But that was the last the county or anyone on the festival circuit seems to have heard from Dimmick. He never contacted the county about putting on the 2011 festival, according to Humboldt County Senior Planner Michael Richardson, and he didn’t respond to a host of civil lawsuits filed against him in late 2010 and 2011 by festival vendors alleging he failed to make good on his contractual obligations. Ultimately, the court issued some $180,000 in default judgments against him.
Now, news comes that Dimmick’s ranch is the subject of foreclosure proceedings - Dimmick having defaulted on a $1 million loan - with the bank’s lien on the property coming up for a public auction June 7 on the steps of the Humboldt County Courthouse.
Crellin said the Mateel looked into purchasing the property, but has decided against it.
”We looked into it, but I don’t think we’re in a position where we’re going to be able to do it,” he said. “It kind of hit our radar a little bit late, which didn’t leave a lot of time to rally and try to parcel that out.”
Instead, Crellin said, the Mateel is hoping the property winds up in good hands and is concentrating on putting on a successful Reggae on the River in Benbow this July and returning the festival to French’s Camp in 2013. The move would allow festival goers to camp on site, which isn’t possible in Benbow, forcing revelers to walk or shuttle to nearby campgrounds.
”With the original campground, the camping was right there, which enabled more of the village experience,” Crellin said.
Having already reached an agreement with the property owners, Crellin said, the Mateel is now working with the county and other regulatory agencies to get all the necessary permits in place for 2013. Crellin said organizers are looking to sell about 6,000 tickets for the 2013 festival and then increase that number to 8,000 in subsequent years.
”One of the things that’s been nice about Benbow is the community feel - it’s smaller and it’s more representative of our community,” Crellin said, adding that he doesn’t foresee the festival ever again drawing the attendance it once did. “It’s safer, and it’s more of a family event now, and we are looking to keep it that way.”
Richardson said he’s had a couple of meetings with folks from Reggae on the River, and they are in conversations with all the reviewing agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol and local fire departments.
Richardson said the Mateel is also putting together a supplemental environmental impact report, noting that the primary concerns the festival organizers will need to address are potential impacts to traffic flows and the water quality of the Eel River.
Meanwhile, it appears folks holding the 2,000 or so tickets sold for Reggae Rising 2010 have little recourse.
While many said they realize they could attempt to take Dimmick to small claims court in an attempt to get a refund, they said it probably isn’t worth the trouble, especially given the possibility he doesn’t have the money anyway.
”I’ve pretty well given up,” said Jenny Williamson, of Santa Cruz, who paid $300 for a pair of tickets for her and her boyfriend.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.