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CVB would be sorry to see Charlie West go

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau said they'd hate to see the Charlie West Blues Fest leave Charleston, but whether it stays or not isn't up to them.

Jama Jarrett, vice president of operations and communications, said the CVB loves the blues festival.

"Charlie West Blues has grown to be a phenomenal event," she said. "It's a great event and helps kick off our summer season of music events, Live on the Levee and everything else that's going on."

The festival took place May 17-18 this year, during the Armed Forces Day weekend. Live on the Levee kicked off a week later.

Jarrett acknowledged that the bureau's relationship with the festival's founder, Jack Rice, has been strained the past few years. She doesn't agree with some of Rice's complaints about the bureau's support of the event.

Rice made several complaints Thursday about both the CVB and the city of Charleston, ranging from advertising money for Charlie West Blues Fest to logistics such as access to water and the location of banners at the event.

On Thursday, CVB officials did not comment about Rice's complaints, but Jarrett chose to speak after the Gazette ran a story Friday.

Jarrett said the CVB provided marketing for the blues fest locally and regionally.

"Our role is to market what's going on in Charleston outside of the area and to local residents," she said. "We reached out to areas in close proximity to Charleston, places where people would travel from. Our goal, basically, is to get heads in beds. We want people to come in for the event, spend the night, spend money."

Jarrett said the CVB knows how to reach the leisure market, but she placed the responsibility for getting the word to the blues community on Rice.

"He knows that market better," she said.

Jarrett disagreed with Rice, and said the CVB advertised with far more media than just a pair of local radio stations and a pair of local TV stations in its promotion of the blues fest. She said the CVB marketed the festival on Bristol Broadcasting, LM Communications and West Virginia Radio locally, as well as Clear Channel in Huntington and Parkersburg.

The CVB also used Charleston newspapers, TV stations WCHS and WOWK and a variety of Internet-based media such as Facebook, Google and the Pandora music service. Jarrett said they spent $16,000 on advertising.

As far as the drastic decrease in financial sponsorship for the event itself, Jarrett said the Charlie West Blues Fest received $5,000 through partner Central West Virginia CVB, which she acknowledged was significantly less than the $30,000 the Charleston CVB gave them the previous year ($25,000 to help cover the premiere act and $5,000 for advertising).

"But that money isn't meant to sustain an event," she said. "People have to reapply each year, and it can vary from year to year."

Rice, she said, applied for $100,000 through the Charleston CVB, which was well beyond the CVB's capabilities or desire to contribute. They declined, but told him to apply for a grant through the Central CVB, which the CVB partners with to distribute local funds.

"Mr. Rice submitted an application and was subsequently awarded $5,000," she said.

Jarrett said working with Rice during the past couple of years has been rough. She even characterized his treatment of CVB staff as "abusive and unprofessional."

One of the CVB's chief complaints was that Rice was putting too many demands on them. He contacted different members of the CVB staff, which was pulling them away from their other duties, which were also important, she said.

"We have a small, dedicated staff, but they have their own responsibilities," she said.

Jarrett said they finally told him he could only work through one person at the CVB.

"We also advised him that he might be best served to hire an event manager, someone who could take on the grunt work, the administrative work," she said. "I think he takes on too much responsibility for himself."

Jarrett said the CVB would love for the Charlie West Blues Fest to stay. Rice could apply for another grant through the Central CVB, and the Charleston CVB would be happy to help with promoting the festival.

"We'd hate to see it go, but if it does, we'll go out and try to find something to replace it," she said.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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