After Neumeier death, a ‘Fort Smith boy’ steps up to help the Peacemaker Festival

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 6,360 views 

Ryan Bingham is one of the artists to perform in the 2019 Peacemaker Festival in downtown Fort Smith.

The lineup for this year’s Peacemaker’s Festival seemed impressive, but ticket sales are the final arbiter. And the public has spoken. Most VIP tickets sold out within a few hours, setting sales records for the event now in its fifth year. It’s a welcome relief for organizers who just a few months ago were unsure of the festival’s future.

Work began on the lineup around October 2018, said Trent Goins, CEO of Fort Smith-based OK Foods and one of the three principal Peacemaker Festival founders. Jeff Gosey, with downtown Fort Smith food and music venues AJ’s Oyster House and Harry’s Downtown, and Bill Neumeier, owner of Papa’s Pizza and a longtime downtown music and event promoter were the other two.

And then Nov. 19 happened.

Neumeier committed suicide, ending, as his family noted, a decades-long battle with depression. He was 54. Goins and Gosey vowed to carry on the work and deliver a good musical lineup to Peacemaker. While they knew what Neumeier did was key to the success of the festival, they did not fully understand the complexity of connecting with artist agents, discussing fees, scheduling and other matters related to booking talent.

“This is our first year to put together this festival without our friend and mentor Bill Neumeier,” Goins told Talk Business & Politics. “With Bill leaving us, we didn’t know if we were going to have the festival or not, to be honest with you. … We figured out real quick we were outside of our lanes.”

The critical problem was in using the Peacemaker budget for bands of around $190,000 to secure the talent necessary for good ticket sales and Fort Smith Riverfront Amphitheater crowd sizes – crowds who buy beer and merchandise – to allow the nonprofit to be financially viable and support the community through local charities. Groups receiving money from Peacemaker in previous years have included Girls Inc., The Children’s Emergency Shelter and Developmental Wings.

And then Brian Crowne called.

“He was more than happy to help us out. Brian was gracious, and truthfully, it was something he wanted to do. He’s a Fort Smith boy,” Goins said.

Crowne is a Fort Smith native and well known in Northwest Arkansas’ music scene. He and his wife, Day, bought George’s Majestic Lounge on Dickson Street in Fayetteville in 2004. He bought the Arkansas Music Pavilion in 2008 and booked the first concert at a temporary site on the parking lot of the Northwest Arkansas Mall. Crowne sold the AMP to the Walton Arts Center in 2011, and is now vice president of the popular music venue in Rogers where his primary role is in booking concerts.

Crowne, who had known Gosey for years, reached out to offer his help, telling Talk Business & Politics he wanted to do something “in honor of Bill, and not let the great work of what they’ve done with the Peacemaker get derailed.”

“Like everyone else, I was completely shocked at Bill’s passing. He’d been a friend for more than 30 years, and I knew what he meant to them (Peacemaker) and, really, to bringing good music to the area,” Crowne said. “It was, ‘Can I do something positive for my hometown?’ That’s where my head was at.”

Crowne’s head also knew landing a good lineup for a festival typically required lead time of a year. He had less than five months. He “nervously got in the pool” with Goins and Gosey, but Crowne said his advantage was that he spends – through the AMP and George’s – millions a year hiring bands.

“So my phone calls might get returned quicker, but that’s no guarantee that I can do that (pull together a good lineup on short notice),” Crowne said.

Crowne began lighting up the agent network, knowing the budget he had to work with and using guidance from Goins and Gosey to stay focused on the “red dirt, Americana” theme. But it was tough. Many bands had already booked. Or their schedules would not allow them to be in Fort Smith between other shows. (“Red dirt” is broadly described as a folk-rock sound originating in Stillwater, Okla.)

“It was getting down to the wire, and I was pushing and pushing as hard as I could to get some decisions (from bands and agents). But looking back at it now, I don’t think more time would have made Peacemaker, would have made the lineup better,” Crowne said, noting that early ticket sales were the best they had ever been.

Based on the early feedback and social media buzz about the 2019 Peacemaker lineup, Crowne is confident the festival will draw visitors from outside the Fort Smith metro. While Turnpike Troubadours and Ryan Bingham are some of the more recognized names on the lineup, Goins believes Samantha Fish will impress the Peacemaker crowd.

“Every year, we try to find someone we really thing will hit a chord with Fort Smith, and I think Samantha will do it. She’s an incredible performer,” Goins said.

Goins also said they tried to book Grammy-award winner Brandi Carlile and Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson. Carlile had touring schedule conflicts, but Nelson was a possibility.

“We almost had him, but we had a scheduling conflict at the ninth hour,” Goins said.

Crowne said future Peacemaker success will require organizers to continue to stay within their niche, and not stray too far from the Americana sound that blends country, red dirt and the blues.

“I’m real big on authenticity. I think this year we really focused on what is the identity of Peacemaker, what do we what to bring to this region. … From their first year, the lineups have really been about that, and I think it’s been impressive what they’ve done for the past four years,” Crowne said.

And might Crowne be a part of that Peacemaker future?

“My guess is I’m probably on the team for as long as Jeff and Trent will have me,” Crowne said.

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