Promoters break silence on canceled Toby Keith music festival in Schaumburg

The promoters of last month's canceled Freedom & Dignity Music Festival in Schaumburg starring country singer Toby Keith are breaking their silence over the debacle.

Imagn Events President Mike Birt and Vice President Justin Orick say they were falsely characterized as the primary organizer of the concert and wrongly blamed for its cancellation, leading to death threats and the end of their fledgling company.

"I think they thought they could hang it on our neck and walk away," Birt said. "My reputation needs to be restored. I need to work. I got destroyed by this and I didn't do anything wrong."

The promoters say they have documents, emails and text messages proving the Dan Gibbons Turkey Trot Foundation, which they've sued over the failed charity concert, was the sole owner of the Aug. 10 event and made the decision to cancel it just days before, when only about 4,500 tickets had been sold.

About 70% of ticket holders have been refunded through the money Imagn could access, Birt said. The suit against the foundation is the only way to reimburse the remaining 30%, he added.

Dan Gibbons declined to comment through his foundation's attorneys. They instead referred to a countersuit filed against Imagn.

That counterclaim includes an allegation that Imagn Events received unjust enrichment through its role in the failed festival while the foundation lost more than $82,000.

A chief exhibit in the counterclaim is the event agreement, which defines the foundation as the owner of the fest and Imagn Events as "an independent contractor" for the foundation.

But it also states Imagn's obligation to "be fully responsible, at its sole cost and expense, for designing, coordinating, producing, managing, implementing, operating and executing the event and all activities." Their budget for the event, according to the agreement, was a maximum of $975,000, with net revenue to be donated to the foundation.

The initial announcement about the festival's cancellation was made Aug. 7 by the Schaumburg Boomers, who were hosting the concert at Boomers Stadium. The announcement states the concert was canceled by Imagn, "the concert promoters who organized the event to benefit Café Liberty, a charitable arm of the Dan Gibbons Turkey Trot Foundation, benefiting veterans and their families."

The foundation issued its own release the same day, stating that it canceled its contract with Imagn because of "significant concerns that those materially supporting the event would not be compensated and that (Imagn) Events was unable to deliver on its obligations to provide an enjoyable event for all attendees and performers."

Birt categorically denies any role in the decision to cancel the concert, or initiating the idea for the event as the foundation has claimed. He said the foundation approached Imagn in November and they later reached an agreement to serve only as the event's promoter.

Among the items provided to the Daily Herald by Birt and Orick is a bank document they say shows Gibbons as co-signer on a Chase Bank account established for the concert, giving him full access to financial records and funds.

That, they say, refutes Gibbons' claims that Imagn was not transparent about the event's finances.

"He knows where the money is," Birt said.

The promoters said there were discussions about calling off the event about a week before its scheduled date because ticket sales had fallen far behind expectations, and far below the 10,000 needed to break even.

They decided to move forward until early the next week, when the Gibbons foundation asked the promoters to turn over what was left of the ticket proceeds, Birt and Orick say. When they refused without the charity's commitment to go forward with the show, the foundation announced its cancellation and blamed Imagn, they said.

Birt said he remains at a loss to explain the slow ticket sales for a Toby Keith concert in the Chicago suburbs. Keith drew a crowd of about 14,000 two years ago at Ribfest in Naperville, he said.

"It's a good event," he said. "It's Toby Keith playing with several other people. I still don't understand it. Why did this not sell? If you presented this to anyone else, no one would think this event would miss."

Despite the poor ticket sales, Birt and Orick say they wanted to push forward with the event. They had high hopes for strong walk-up sales, as was the case at other outdoor music fests this summer.

"It's a guarantee fail if we cancel," Birt said. "There's still a chance if we go forward."

In the immediate aftermath of the cancellation, Gibbons said Imagn Events was only making a bad situation worse by turning it into a public and legal fight.

Birt echoed that sentiment.

"Let's get settled," he said. "The only ones who can benefit from this going to court are the attorneys."

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