Saturday, May 09, 2009

The climbdown: Correspondence between the Curmudgeon and the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival, as the latter prepares to welcome megaswill.

When I learned about the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival’s climbdown in permitting megaswill to contradict the stated aim of “artisan” traditions and, by tragic extension, push craft beer vending at the fest to a decidedly lower tier, I wrote to the Madison, Indiana tourist office, which forwarded my comments (somewhat condescendingly, I might add) to the committee chairman, who's a good man apparently beset by powers in the local apparatus that are too great to resist, i.e., someone of importance had to have Bud Light, and conceptual integrity be damned as a result.

Following are the texts of our exchange last week. I believe readers will find it instructive.

For context, go here: Madison's Ohio River Valley Folk Festival veers off course, will pander to swill in 2009.



I’m Roger A. Baylor, owner of the New Albanian Brewing Company.

I noticed two significant things about the website for the 2009 Ohio River Valley Folk Festival.

One was this description of principle from past years, unchanged this year:

“In keeping with the Ohio River Valley's artisan tradition, we proudly offer hand-crafted Beer and Wine from the people who make it. Like the folks who select their wood for a fine musical instrument, these small-production, high-quality vintners and brewers are engaged in the entire process, from the selection of the grain and fruit, to pouring your glass! They are fine examples of regional brewing and winemaking. We're sure you'll agree. Cheers!”

The second was this: I did not see the Anheuser-Busch logo on the list of sponsors, and yet, I just learned that mass market beer will be vended this year.

I’m curious about this contradiction, since last year I remarked to several festival committee members and fest sponsors that my company, the New Albanian Brewing Company, was sufficiently impressed with, and invested in, the future of the folk festival that we would appreciate the opportunity not only to continue participating, but also would be open to the notion of assisting in terms of sponsorship.

All I asked was that we be kept in the loop so that we could attend organizational meetings and be allowed to present our case, namely, that the conceptual nature of the fest as outlined in the passage above – a passage that still appears on the web site and in promotional materials on MySpace – embraces the notion of handcrafted beer for handcrafted music.

To my knowledge, no effort was made to contact us.


Consequently, I am extremely disappointed to learn that Budweiser and Budweiser will be vended at the festival this year.

Need I point out to you that permitting a mass marketing entity to take part in this manner contradicts the stated aim of the gathering? And, that even if you elected to make this change democratically, your web site in effect perpetuates a falsehood?

I operate in the assumption that this decision was made owing to A-B (or North Vernon Beverage) sponsorship. But please note that I relayed a willingness to at least discuss the same last year.

Might we have at least been permitted to tender a bid for this?

Perhaps we couldn’t afford it, perhaps not, but you’d not know without asking.

They ARE contributing, right?

After working so hard in previous years not only to vend product, but also to publicize and praise the folk festival’s ethical model, shouldn’t we expect to be informed? Isn’t that basic decency given our previous efforts?

In the past, I‘ve put my personal integrity on the line on your behalf. In return, in 2009 I received no contact whatsoever about this year’s fest, and no information about the change to a mass market philosophy.

We had to initiate contact and call you just to find out whether or not we were even welcomed to come back in 2009. Now, learning of the Bud and Bud Light climb-down, I guess we know why. Admittedly, this is a very disheartening rebuke from a community where I have blood ties in terms of family members, and from a group with whom we’ve had such good relations in the past.

Here’s a quote to consider: “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”

It is by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, and appears at the end of “I Am a Craft Brewer,” a four-minute video created by Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Company. It was screened during Koch’s keynote speech in Boston during the recently concluded annual Craft Brewers Conference. It describes the level of commitment in the community of craft brewers. I’m sure many of the artists playing at the folk fest would agree.

View it here:

We’ve already spoken with Upland, our sister craft brewer that was in the dark, too, and we’ve contacted North Vernon (from whom I‘ve been buying craft beer for 17 years) about placement and the new rules of engagement. We will be there next week and do our best to live up to the festival’s credo as you, yourselves, have described it. But this comes entirely from our own sense of fair play. Can you really say that we’ve been dealt with in an above-board manner? If we did something to offend someone, could you at least tell me what it was? All I recall are good vibrations.

Honestly, this has been a crushing and humiliating experience for us as a company, and for me as an individual, and it’s hard for me to fathom why the communication was severed. Sorry, but beer brewed by a multi-national corporation simply isn’t worth the trouble, especially when it puts the lie to your own marketing efforts.

That’s the sad part. You’ve has a unique, original thing going on with the folk fest. Money’s tight … but we didn’t even have a chance to make the case for preserving the goodness. That’s as sorrowful as a dulcimer, don’t you think?

Roger A. Baylor
New Albanian Brewing Company


(The chairman, J, answered to the bureau and copied me)


There was some confusion and lack of communication with the craft brewers. That I regrettably admit. The decision to add a domestic beer option was a democratic one in terms of our committee- not because of a sponsorship, but because of the continuing hue and cry from festival patrons in the past.

And that decision was only made within the past 2 weeks. I probably should have taken it upon myself to contact and invite the microbrewers, but I didn't. I know Uplands was contacted right after the decision to include domestics was made and we agreed with their request that the domestic distributor not bring any craft-type beers. I also know that I specifically stated to be sure to invite New Albanian because they are "our neighbors".

The Folk Festival committee wanted to look into the matter as much as possible and not make a snap decision. In fact, we've held our position of having only craft beers for 3 years. But, feedback, both written and verbal, indicated that beer options were becoming a material issue in the overall success of the event. The only objective numbers we could look at were total ticket sales and beer sales at Ribberfest which sells only domestic products) compared with the same for Folk Festival. It turns out that we sell 3 times as much beer at Ribberfest. All we're trying to do is function like a good business and offer what our patrons want. We've heard the same feedback for 3 years--that people wanted the domestic option. Those who'll only drink domestic products probably weren't customers of New Albanian and Uplands last year anyway and there are certainly loyal fans of those brewers who turn their nose up at domestics.

Our interest is in maximizing a viable, festival revenue source by providing another option that has been demanded by our patrons. We have never given anybody an exclusive hold on the festival and we do not receive sponsorship money or even special considerations from any vendor. We are happy that New Albanian and Uplands are going to continue supporting our festival with their presence and products. They do help us maintain the theme of our craft heritage. I wish more people were adventuresome and would try the full-flavored, microbrewed products. But we know that many people simply refuse to do so. Even the microbrewers continue to add new products to appeal to different tastes as is evidenced by New Albanian's new Abzug line which has been described as a "less hoppy" truly light beer.

I'm trying to run an event that offers a lot of things of interest to a lot of people and find its own feet and stability. My committee has grown and is made up of very capable individuals who also want the best for the event. We think the "best" can be achieved by responding to the desires of the patrons and potential patrons. In the past, we've had to tweak the Folk Art venue, Storytelling and food vendors to improve the event without damaging its character. We think improvement comes, generally, from more options rather than fewer.

Thanks for sharing Roger's letter. I'm trying to copy him on this. Take care,

J, Chair



If the festival goers began demanding thrash metal, would the folk nature of the music be altered, too?

Know that I appreciate the explanation.

I would also appreciate being provided with contact information for the remainder of the committee, so perhaps I can try to convey to THEM what it feels like to spend three years touting your festival as an example of integrity, only to see it compromised a scant two weeks away from the kickoff.

It is especially disappointing to hear that people wish to compare apples with oranges, in that the Ribberfest is different, older and includes a sanctioned barbecue competition. ORVFF might have progressed into something admired for consistency principle. C'est la vie, I guess.

And: No one called me.

I have used my credibility to sell this fest for three years running. My credibility is respect that has been earned over time. I don't expend it unless merited. Fest materials disseminated all over the place are saying that the fest follows a principle when it comes to beer vending. But now, people will go, see the true state, then ask me why Bud and Bud Light were there. I'm put into a tight spot, ethically ... and no one called me to prepare me for it. No one shared anything for the past year. I told everyone last year that we'd love to participate as neighbors to grow the fest. Nothing was said, no contact was made. Silence, and then the rug pulled out two weeks beforehand. I suspect most of the committee members would be put off by this, too, it their feet were in my shoes.

I understand that it isn't you. However, I confess that I'm personally insulted. I won't raise a stink about it until afterward out of strict loyalty to Steve Thomas, whom I admire tremendously. However, even though the company will be present and vending, I won't be coming this year. They'll watch the corporate big boys contradict the stated aim of the fest, but I cannot. I suppose we'll continue to assist, and sell craft beer, and yet it will be just another vending opportunity, no longer something worth putting my heart into. Too bad. All for Bud Light.

By the way, using the same logic as the committee has used for the folk fest, can we expect a vending opportunity at Ribberfest this August?

I won't be holding my breath on that one. I hope it goes well for you.





No, we wouldn't alter the nature of the music to that extent. We do listen to our patrons, however, on who they'd like to see. We constantly fight the battle that "folk music" isn't just "Puff the Magic Dragon". It's a lot about compromise. We also wouldn't allow a domestic beer distributor into the event at the exclusion of the craft brewers. We aren't an exhibit, we're a young tourism event that does it's best to maintain what integrity we can while attempting to cater to those things that will allow the event to grow and thrive.

I apologize for the lack of a contact. We are a committee of volunteers and the person who was doing the research on the beer issue had other conflicts that brought this to an 11th hour decision. As I stated in my explanation yesterday, I thought you would be called at the time of the decision—I didn't follow up to assure that had happened, it didn't, and I accept the responsibility for your having felt left out of the loop. When I got the message from Mr. Campbell, I checked on what had actually happened on our end and that's when I found out that you hadn't been called. I returned his call immediately and assured him that we wanted your continued presence in our festival.

Rich O's was the first bar in southern Indiana that I visited (apart from those in Madison). That was about 9 years ago when my office was on Grantline Rd. Bettye Dunham actually introduced us long before I met you again at this festival thru our mutual friend, Mr. Thomas. When I discovered you had become a microbrewery, it seemed logical to include you in this event which had its emergence at about the same time. If I had any say in the matter, you'd certainly be invited to Ribberfest. It seems to me that some of your brews would marry better to the spicy foods than the domestics. I'm only peripherally involved with that event via the music committee, but I'll certainly forward the notion.

I'll be happy to provide you a list of the committee members and I'd be happy to meet with you and discuss this further. I'm the chairperson of this event, not its dictator. The beer issue has been a controversy for this committee since year one. When the committee was smaller and I was closer to being a dictator, we were able to maintain the status quo. As the committee grew and we began exploring those things we needed to do to strengthen the event, the beer issue reappeared. Our event has lost money, broke even and made about $1,500 in its 3 year history. Our continuation has always been a little shaky and we've come under a lot of scrutiny. Therefore, even though we think 2009 will be our "break-out" year, we need to pay close attention to every aspect of this event to ensure that there will be another. As a businessman, I'm certain that you appreciate that principle. I'm sure you don't persist in the expense of brewing a product line that proves to be unpopular and unsellable just on principle.

I wish you'd reconsider and join us this year. I'd enjoy having a pint and talking about this whole matter with you. If you simply can't come or won't, I'll make a trip to Rich O's to meet with you there. Again, I do sincerely apologize for the communication confusion.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to me,


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