BY BOB KEYES

The Portland Press Herald

Maybe it was too good to be true.

After a successful inaugural year, the Nateva Music & Camping Festival will not go on as planned this August at the Oxford Fairgrounds. Promoters announced its cancellation Friday, citing slow ticket sales and a crowded summer concert market that’s getting more crowded by the day.

“We have a very thin margin. It’s still a difficult economy and a competitive environment,” said festival founder Frank Chandler of Massachusetts. “I don’t feel we can go out there and do it right. We brought a world-class event to Oxford, Maine, last year; but if I can’t do it right again, I have no business being in the game.”

Various problems had been mounting for Chandler, including the departure of his festival director and his inability to work around permitting issues that prevented him from massing as many people as he would have liked at the fairgrounds itself.

However, the event that caused him to cancel came Thursday, when the band Phish confirmed its plans to host a major festival in early July at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

“It’s going to compete with a lot of festivals and suck up a lot of money,” Chandler said.

The announced headliners for Nateva were the Gregg Allman Band, Bob Weir, the Thievery Corporation and Peter Wolf, among others. It had been scheduled for Aug. 4-7.

Last year, the three-day festival attracted Furthur, the Flaming Lips and moe. as its headliners, with such second-tier acts as Jakob Dylan, She & Him and Umphrey’s McGee.

In a statement issued late Friday afternoon, Chandler said, “In the end, it’s all about being able to put forth a first-rate event that everyone can be proud of and that our customers can enjoy. We just don’t have the confidence to go forward at this time. After an epic inaugural year, we have found ourselves struggling at every turn as we have tried to push forward with preparations for this summer.”

One of the lingering issues was the limited capacity of the fairgrounds. Chandler estimated he could accommodate 8,000 to 10,000 people at the fairgrounds. To host the kind of festival he envisions, he was hoping to draw crowds of up to 15,000 people each day.

To do that last year, he had to provide remote camping and shuttle buses. That proved inconvenient, and Chandler did not want to go that route again. To accommodate more people on site, the fairgrounds had to resolve permitting issues with the state about neighboring land.

“The fairgrounds is moving toward getting a change-of-use permit (for the adjacent land), but we’re four months out and we do not have that permit. I can’t plan that way,” he said.

Instead, he decided to try to put the festival together with a target audience of 8,000 to 10,000 people. The economics of that prospect simply did not work out. The bands that he could afford did not have enough appeal to sell tickets this far in advance. A four-day pass cost $219. Ticket sales were slow, he said.

In the end, he said, “there was too much risk and too many sleepless nights.”

Customers who purchased tickets through natevafestival.com will receive refunds automatically to the credit card used at the time of purchase in the amount of the ticket face value and per-ticket fees, according to the news release.


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