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Vendors Fire Back Over Money Owed from Promoter of West Beach Music Festival

In the wake of a bankruptcy filing by Twiin Productions, vendors speak out about conditions of this year's event and treatment by the company

When local jewelry designer Beth Harake arrived to set up her booth at the West Beach Music & Arts Festival in September, she noticed things she hadn’t seen at the dozens of other events she’s worked. Harake designs jewelry as a hobby, and she has been to numerous events since she began her business in 1998. But she says this year’s Santa Barbara event was different.

“It felt like the event was run by high school or college students,” she told Noozhawk. “I have never seen anything run so poorly. ... Nothing was as promised.”

After months of wrangling with city of Santa Barbara officials over whether to let the festival go forward as it had the previous year, twins Joshua and Jeremy Pemberton of Twiin Productions were given the go-ahead — but not without serious casualties to their original business plan. A whole day of the three-day festival was dropped, along with the revenues that come with an extra day of performances.

Harake is one of many vendors left unpaid after Twiin Productions filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.

Harake recounted that when vendors began to arrive at this year’s festival to set up their booths, they were put near the parking area — nowhere near the stage.

“We were so far apart we couldn’t even hear the music,” Harake said.

She had only three people stop by her booth during the eight hours she was there. She said she’s used to clearing $2,500 to $3,000 per festival with her jewelry sales, but that she sold only $45 worth the whole day. She packed up and told others she wouldn’t be back the next day.

Harake believes she was the only vendor who lives locally, and unlike the others, she was privy to the stream of local news on the Pembertons and their tug-of-war with the city.

“They built themselves to make you believe that it would be this over-the-top thing,” she said. “At the end of the day, it was absolutely nothing.”

City officials allowed the event to go forward, but with conditions on the promoter. The festival was moved to Chase Palm Park from West Beach, which capped attendance at 8,500 per day, compared with 13,000, and was cut to two days from three. Four West Beach festivals were part of the company’s history, but 2010’s event proved to be too much for the owners to handle. The Pembertons continued to sell tickets on their Web site, even when the future of the festival was unclear and as they were undergoing meetings with the city.

Despite the vendors who went unpaid, one of the biggest checks the Pembertons wrote — for nearly $98,000 — cleared. That amount, in the form of a cashier’s check, went to the city of Santa Barbara to cover charges for permits and policing of the event.

Earlier this month, the company announced it was filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and court documents stated that the “debtor estimates that, after any exempt property is excluded and administrative expenses paid, there will be no funds available for distributing to unsecured creditors.”

As of Thursday, the bankruptcy filing listed more than 50 creditors, including local companies and national firms such as American Apparel and Coca-Cola. Companies from across the country, and even in London, are listed as being owed money. A partial list of creditors is posted below.

Attorney Josh Lynn, who is representing the Pembertons, issued a news release Nov. 5 stating that the company had been faced with “unprecedented and inconsistent governmental and bureaucratic obstacles created by the city of Santa Barbara.” He maintained that the company couldn’t succeed because of unfair demands.

Lynn couldn’t be reached for comment this week, but he told Noozhawk earlier this month that “if this was a Smooth Jazz Festival, the city would have reacted very differently. ... All I ask is that everyone is treated the same way as they make it through the permitting process. My observation is that Twiin has been treated very differently, and very unfairly.”

The Pembertons’ bankruptcy filing lists both their assets and liabilities at zero to $50,000. Vendors from the event are less than hopeful that they’ll get their money back.

“We all kind of expected this to happen,” said one vendor, a clothing designer, who talked with Noozhawk on condition of anonymity. She said she has been to dozens of festivals since beginning her business two years ago, and that she was referred by a friend who had sold similar types of clothes at the festival the year before and had done well.

“They assured us that it was all going to happen,” she said.

Vendors were told the festival would be three days, and after it was shortened to two, she was assured she would get a refund of $250. A week passed, and the check never appeared.

The woman said there was no intermission for people to browse, no supplied lighting and that the vendors being placed off the beaten path directly affected their sales. She added that police herded the crowd out after the show, and though her business handed out dozens of stickers, which may have been good for marketing, “it was a total loss, as far as business goes.”

“I would never work with that production company again, even if they hadn’t filed for bankruptcy,” she said, adding that although the $250 she is owed may be “chump change,” the promoter should have been more up-front. “They screwed us.”

After a complaint letter was sent by the vendors several days after the festival, an e-mail arrived from Sarah Wright of Twiin Productions. About a dozen vendors were listed on the e-mail, including those quoted in this story. Wright apologized for the losses and explained that attendance was much lower than expected, compared with past years.

“Unfortunately, many of these circumstances were out of our control,” Wright wrote. “Not only did the city scare ticket buyers away, but they arrested an important band member who many ticket buyers came to see, and caused problems rather than solved problems.”

Wright also wrote that the production company took an enormous loss and would be “scrambling to try and keep our business operating and alive for the next few months. Although Twiin took a major loss, each and every one of you will be receiving a partial refund back for the loss of Sunday. We promised this and will stay true to our word.”

In closing, she encouraged the vendors to write a letter to the city to talk about how the changes had negatively affected their business.

“Again, I apologize to you all that did not enjoy your experience at West Beach this year,” Wright wrote. “We will be taking our festival to other cities that appreciate and encourage the business to grow and succeed rather than try to diminish and destroy it.”

Vendor Charlie Clingman was more merciful with the Pembertos than some of the others. He’s an artist from San Luis Obispo and was selling paintings and gifts at his booth that weekend.

Clingman said he feels that as soon as the festival was reduced to two days from three, the fate of the event was sealed.

“I saw it coming,” he said. “The city did not want the festival to happen, and this is just a result of that.”

Clingman wasn’t refunded his $200, but he said he has faith that the Pembertons would make good in the future.

“I think I would give them the opportunity to make it right,” he said.

As for Santa Barbara, Clingman is a bit more skeptical: “A quaint posh town having a raging party downtown? I don’t think so.”

He recalled seeing an older gentleman walking in the area with two young girls, presumably his granddaughters, while a performer was on stage unleashing a string of obscenities. He said Santa Barbara and an event like West Beach are incongruous.

“There’s a reason that there’s not something like that already,” he said. “There’s a reason why any big festival is in the middle of nowhere.”

It remains to be seen who’s at fault, whether the city for being too restrictive of an advantageous event, or the Pembertons for overreaching and leaving misused vendors in their wake.

Either way, Harake and others haven’t been paid.

“I really felt taken advantage of,” she said. “Now I understand why (the city) put up such a fight.”

Creditors Listed in Twiin Productions’ Bankruptcy Filing, as of Nov. 18

21st Capital Corp. of Los Angeles
A Greener Festival Ltd. of London
A&G Inc Dba Alstyle Apparel of Dallas
All Phases Event Group LLC of Boulder, Colo.
American Apparel of Los Angeles
American Cleaners of Santa Barbara
Anthony Pighetti of Santa Barbara
Apple Dumpling Gang of Myrtle Creek, Ore.
Ari Berman Insurance Services of Camarillo
Arizona Office Technologies of Phoenix
ASCAP of Atlanta
AT&T Mobility of Los Angeles
Audry Acosta Designs of Davis Bay
Cad Services of San Rafael
BBQ World of San Gabriel
Bernice James, Santa Barbara County Tax Collector
Big Head Todd and the Monsters of Sausalito
Bookkeeping Experts of Santa Barbara
Brock Rideout of Phoenix
Brockcom Communications of Los Angeles
Brungardt Enterprises LLC of Aurora, Colo.
California Roots Clothing of Discovery Bay
Central Coast Management LLC of San Luis Obsipo
Channel Islands Janitorial of Carpinteria
Chris Dixon of Santa Barbara
Cit Technology of Jacksonville, Fla.
Classic Party Rentals of Carpinteria
Classic Thai BBQ of Arleta
Coca-Cola Enterprises Bottling Co. of Los Angeles
Cox Communications of Phoenix
Cox Media of Santa Barbara
Dale Ferguson of Carpinteria
David Boire of Santa Barbara
Dead Sexy Clothing of Carson
Deep Magazine of Carpinteria
Dj Skeet Skeet of New York, N.Y.
Doja Clothing of Santa Cruz
Draganchuk Alarm Systems of Ventura
DSR Audio of Carpinteria
El Dorado Broadcasters of San Luis Obispo
Encore Jewelry of Santa Barbara
Events and Leisure International Inc. of Santa Barbara
Ford Graphics of South Pasadena
Forever Stoked of Los Osos
Garrett Stryker of Yantis, Texas
Gold Coast Broadcast of Ventura
Gold Coast Security Services Inc. of Ventura
Hyper Crush of New York, N.Y.
IDA Es of Port Hueneme
Jorge M. Barriere of Santa Monica
JS Productions of San Clemente

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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