Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rhonda Vincent breaks ban on commerce

One of the wonderful things about Strawberry, which distinguishes it from every other music festival I know of, is that it takes no money for commercial sponsorships. There are no corporate logos of any kind on display, even for subject-appropriate products such as musical instuments. By comparison, one of the standout festivals in the category, Merlefest, slaps a sponsorship on every stage and part of its program. Most others are somewhere in between, raising a significant portion of their revenue from sponsorship sales.

In general, if the products that are promoted are relevant to the musical style and spirit of the event, few patrons take exception to festival promoters raising some additional dollars by selling sponsorships. But that has never been "the Strawberry way." In fact, I was once told by head honcho Charlie Cran that he once had to threaten Robert Earl Keen with being pulled from the lineup when he showed up at the festival with signage and materials for his personal sponsor, Copenhagen chewing tobacco. In that case, according to Cran, Keen had to hide his tour bus out of view and agree not to promote Copenhagen before he went on.

So I had been wondering what Cran would do about Rhonda Vincent, who is well known for her constant promotion of her sponsor, the Martha White flour company. Vincent's bus, the Martha White Express, is emblazoned with commercial messages and her standard set includes two songs celebrating the wholesome goodness of Martha White.

The answer is that Vincent went on without any restraint on commercial messages. I was keeping track of Martha White mentions during her set. In addition to the two songs, she made were no fewer than five mentions of the product and even tossed promotional t-shirts into the crowd. (However, the bus was not on display since she and her band had flown in especially for this appearance.)

I must say that I was not personally bothered by the blatant display of commerce, and I don't think many in the audience were. Martha White was been sponsoring bluegrass music for decades. Before Vincent, Flatt & Scruggs were the standard bearers for the company. Also a biscuit company is fairly innocuous compared with chewing tobacco. And Vincent is so earnest and well-meaning that it is hard to hold it against her. Nevertheless, it did break tradition for Strawberry, and I wonder if Cran knew in advance what was coming. If not, I would not be surprised if we don't see Vincent at Strawberry again.

If so, that would be a shame. She gave a wonderful performance.

No comments: