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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

For-profit Tom Petty festival approved for three years amid controversy

Tickets are limited to 6,000 per day

Honoring Tom Petty’s legacy has become more complicated after a unanimous vote at Thursday’s City Commission meeting.

On Wednesday, the City Commission amended its meeting’s consent agenda, which means a motion can pass without discussion. They added one controversial item: the approval of a multi-year event at Depot Park to celebrate one of Gainesville’s Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, Tom Petty.

According to the agenda, the Full Moon Fever Festival is replacing the Annual Tom Petty Birthday Bash and will first take place in October 2022. It’s a two-day event — Oct. 22 and Oct. 23.

In the past, the birthday bash was a free event for the public. But with the changes, Depot Park will be fenced off, with ticket sales ranging from $25 to $230. 

Activist and 66-year-old Porters Quarters resident Faye Williams spoke at the meeting, worried about how an event attracting thousands of people might affect her community. 

“I’m sure Tom Petty is turning over in his grave,” Williams said at the meeting.

She said the local community isn’t being given a fair chance at sharing input.

“We thought all parties would be able to talk about it,” she said. “I’m waiting for a call from Red Light Management. [The city] should hold this at Legacy Park instead.”

Because of the time and resources it takes to set up an event of this size, organizers want to close Depot Park for six days, from Oct. 19 to Oct. 24, 2022.

The organizers will have to pay a fee for total park closure that can’t exceed six days, and the fee will increase gradually: $15,000 in 2022, $17,500 in 2023 and $20,000 in 2024.

Petty’s surviving friends who still live in Gainesville also showed up to the meeting to express their disapproval.

Chris Nixon, 49, was one of the organizers of the former Tom Petty Birthday Bash. His family was lifelong friends of the Petty family. Nixon’s father was Tom Petty’s best man at his first wedding. Nixon’s aunt was also Petty’s daughters' godmother.

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Petty’s eldest daughter Adria Petty, he said, is helping to organize the event to make a profit.

“We were doing it free for the community,” he said. “We found local sponsors to fund it, and we ended up building an event that is actually larger than the one that is being proposed, which is limited at 6,000 tickets per day.”

He said city manager Lee Feldman, who recently resigned in September, was the main point of contact for Red Light Management. Nixon said Feldman wanted to get the festival approved by the city before he left.

Nixon was originally invited to speak with Red Light Management about local acts and businesses it could collaborate with. He said they agreed the event would be free, at least for the first year, but the group went back on their deal and are capping the number of people who can attend and charging attendees for tickets.

After speaking with members of Petty’s family, the new festival is not what they envisioned to preserve Petty’s legacy.

“They think that the locals should keep their festival,” he said. “Adria should start her own thing instead of trying to eliminate the local festival in order to establish hers.”

Commissioner Reina Saco said the management group came and talked with the Commission.

“They heard our concerns; they heard the public’s concerns,” Saco said. “They are trying to accommodate as much as possible — shy of just canceling the whole thing. I don’t know what other accommodation they can give at that point.”

She said that if the event does not work out, it can also always be prevented from recurring the next year.

“For whatever reason, the city is allowed to cancel the other years,” Saco said. “We’re allowed to just drop it with minimal reason, so that is a lot of power for the city if it does cause a complete disaster for the community.”

Jeff Goldstein, founder of the Gainesville Music History Foundation, said hosting the event won’t be much of a headache, as it’s only a few days out of the year.

“Certainly, Gainesville can live with that,” he said. “It’s on a weekend; it’s time to relax.”

Commissioner David Arreola said there are still unknowns when it comes to the logistics of the festival.

“By now, we can sort of figure out how to address things, like we know parking could be an issue, we know overflow could be an issue,” he said. “I just want to make sure that these things are being taken into account during negotiation and not after the fact.”

Mayor Lauren Poe said he would like to write up a contract to clarify some of the nuances.

“Tom Petty’s name and what happens as a part of his legacy is up to his daughter and his family to decide, and this is what they want to do,” Poe said. “They don’t want to do that in L.A., or they don’t want to do that in New York … they want to do that here.”

Alex Levy, one of the festival producers, said he’s determined to spotlight the story of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

“We're putting on a different event,” he said. “What those guys did was wonderful, but it was a fan festival. We're talking about bringing a fully sanctioned event into the park with national bands.”

Levy said that he wants the community to greet the festival with open arms, and this is something that they should be excited about. He said organizers are even planning on giving back 15% of total revenue to a local charity, which they are in the process of looking into.

Adria said the response from some Gainesville residents has been “shocking” and “hurtful” to watch.

“Chris is not an authority on our dad, our family or our business,” she said. “He was certainly not Dad’s confidant.”

According to Adria, Nixon had spent very little time with Petty in person. She said he probably met Petty less than five times, mostly backstage at shows.

“It is sad to see him violate a lighthearted, long distance friendship with me and my mother by publicly attacking our family and our incredible management team,” she said. “We most definitely considered him a friend of the estate, and we only wish him the absolute best going forward. But what he is saying is not true.”

She said that the event was never going to be a free festival, and the bands who travel to perform deserve to be paid for their work — something that ticket sales would help fund.

The organizers’ vision of the Full Moon Fever Festival, she said, is a low-priced, high-quality event, bringing exciting talent into town to remember Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

“It was not a corporate or insincere endeavor,” she said. “Giving back and carrying on our father’s spirit would be the only reason we would do anything in Gainesville.”

Contact Jiselle at Follow her on Twitter @jiselle_lee.

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Jiselle Lee

Jiselle Lee was The Alligator’s Summer 2023 Editor-In-Chief. She was previously a reporter with NextShark News and a reporting intern at The Bradenton Herald.

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