Vendor Tells of Mango Festival Ghost Town
Photo taken at 7:45 Saturday, when the Mango Festival was supposed to be entering its peak.
Photo: Tim Foster
Big John's Pickled Sausage was one of the local businesses that took a leap of faith with the Mango Festival. Not only would the company's vice presidents, Jon and Tim Foster, buy a booth for the event but they paid to be a sponsor, meaning that their company's banner would appear on Mango promotional materials.
They showed up with enough pickled sausage to feed tens of thousands. But only about 150 people showed up Saturday. And on Sunday, the festival never started, as funding problems caused organizers to announce its cancellation.
Tim Foster was so bowled over by the lack of attendance, he snapped photographs, like the one above. More photos, and the Fosters' account of the festival after the jump.
For the Fosters, the Mango Festival came along at a time when they were looking to market a new vacuum-packed sausage product. The festival's black musicians drew an African-American audience, and that just happens to be the demographic where their product sells best.
They were approached by Norris Wiggins, the event's lead promoter, and an advertising rep with whom the Fosters had worked in the past on radio ads. Since that was a good experience and since Wiggins claimed to be working with national advertising giant Clear Channel on the festival, they were happy to sign on for a booth and as a sponsor.
Jon Foster was out of town this past weekend, but Tim phoned him with updates from the Mango Festival grounds. "Around noon Saturday, my brother calls, and he says, 'Something doesn't seem right,'" Jon Foster recalls.
That's because Tim Foster was used to seeing a hive of activity from volunteers and organizers rushing to put the finishing touches on the event. But in this instance, there were no signs about where to park -- nor even any indication if there was a parking lot. The stage looked quiet. So did the ticket counter. And there were no signs of volunteers. Just the vendors, who began to talk among themselves.
Around 2, Tim called his brother again. "He said, 'There's no music; nobody's here,'" says Jon. The few people who did come through the gate were not happy. Mostly, these were VIPs who had paid $75 to have that privilege on one day or $120 for the whole weekend. Tim warned his brother, "There's going to be a riot."
Seeking assurances, Tim tried to reach the promoter, Wiggins. When those calls went to voice-mail, Tim approached the man that Wiggins had hired to manage the vendor booths at the event. "I said, 'Where's Norris?'" says Tim. "He said, 'You mean the same Norris Wiggins who's been ducking me all day?'"
This conversation happened at 4, says Tim Foster, and that's about the time he realized how thoroughly the Mango Festival had been mismanaged. "If you guy on the floor can't get hold of you, then how am I supposed to?"
Word passed quickly among the other vendors, who were getting restless themselves. This photo of the vendors' alley was taken by Tim Foster at exactly 5:51, which should have been prime time.
Photo: Tim Foster
Do you see any customers? Neither did the vendors. The Fosters could afford to wait; their food wasn't perishable. Other vendors weren't so lucky. "The vendors made tons of food," says Tim Foster. "But they had to just throw it out. Or they were giving it away free. It was horrible to watch all the food these people cooked go to waste."
Tim closed up the Big John's booth around 8:30 Saturday night, realizing that no one would come. The only performer of the night, he said, was a high-school girl who lip-synced a few songs during the brief period when the sound system worked.
Tim didn't reach Wiggins till Monday. "First he said, 'Sorry the way the weekend turned out,'" says Tim. Wiggins, he adds, blamed the event's demise on the sound contractor. "I said, 'Norris, that show wasn't set up at noon. Every vendor was lined up ready to serve, but there was no one there.'"
The Fosters planned their booth based on the promotional materials that were provided to them by the Mango Festival, in which it claimed past attendance of 40,000 people. Asked how many actually showed, Tim said "maybe 115 -- or 120 at its peak."
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