Festival ground disputes continue

Popcorn Sutton Jam not returning to Maggie
By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Nov 01, 2013

Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen approved three major 2014 events for the festival grounds, including the newly named “Hillbilly Woodstock” festival.

Hillbilly Woodstock will be held the first weekend in August and will replace the well-known Popcorn Sutton Jam. The new event will be similar to the Popcorn event, which ran for four years at the festival grounds and paid homage to the legendary moonshiner. One thing that won’t change are the organizers.

Becky Ramey and Terry Frady will continue to organize and promote the event under a new name. Ramey assisted Pam Sutton, Popcorn Sutton’s widow, in organizing the last four events. But now the two have parted ways and Ramey has created a spin-off event.

Aldermen thought they might have to choose between having the Popcorn Sutton Jam and Hillbilly Woodstock for the same weekend at the festival grounds. However, Sutton did not turn in an application for the fifth annual Popcorn event. The event will likely be held in Newport, Tennessee next year. Newport will also be the location of the Popcorn Sutton whiskey distillery.

Ramey claims that she and Pam Sutton could no longer work together after claiming former festival grounds director Audrey Hager drove a wedge between the two old friends. Ramey also called for Hager to be fired after problems with the Popcorn Sutton Jam and the Matt Stillwell concert in August.

Ramey said the new event would be more focused on bluegrass and other musical acts instead of just Popcorn Sutton. With 10 more months to plan, she hopes it will be bigger and better than previous years even without Popcorn’s name attached to it.

“We are changing it because we don’t have the Popcorn name,” she said. “But I don’t think people just come because of Popcorn because he isn’t around anymore.”

Kaitlyn Baker, an up and coming Nashville artist, will be headlining the show and Ramey said many other bands have expressed interest in performing. A few big sponsors will also help with the new event.

In the meantime, Ramey is still upset with the way the last Popcorn Sutton Jam was handled. Since Pam Sutton was the only one to sign the event contract, she was the one to receive $4,400 from the alcohol proceeds during the event. Ramey said she has not received her share even though Sutton signed a notarized affidavit from the town acknowledging their partnership and her intentions to “disburse applicable funds received from net alcohol sales.”

Alderman Phillip Wight said it was illegal for the town to cut Sutton a check for alcohol sales in September after being told by the state at the end of July that the town could not split alcohol proceeds with promoter Charlie Meadows for the Matt Stillwell concert held in August.

Mayor Ron DeSimone disagreed. The state did approve an alcohol permit for the Popcorn Sutton Jam that stipulated the alcohol sales would be split between the town and the organizer.

It was later that the state denied a similar permit request for the Stillwell concert because the new board was interpreting the law differently. DeSimone said he consulted Town Attorney Chuck Dickson on the issue and concluded that the new ruling wouldn’t apply to a previous permit that was approved.

“The town of Maggie Valley has no legal standing to withhold that check and get in between a partnership dispute,” DeSimone said, adding that the money dispute between Sutton and Ramey was solely between them.

But the town still has another money dispute to work out from the Matt Stillwell concert. Hager was fired and Town Manager Tim Barth resigned after the town investigated the financials surrounding the concert. Since the alcohol permit application Hager submitted was denied two weeks before the show, the town had to reapply for the permit and stipulate that the town would keep the alcohol proceeds. Hager stated that Barth gave her permission to move forward with the permit change, which meant the town would have to front the expenses for the concert.

Meadows, a Maggie restaurateur and alderman candidate, signed a contract on Aug. 9 stating he would reimburse the town for any expenses not recouped from concert revenue.

While he thought the bill might be about $3,000, the final bill he received from town hall was about $11,000 because the town didn’t subtract the $4,000 made in alcohol sales from the expenses. Meadows said he plans to refute many of the charges in court because Hager spent money on advertising for the concert before he even signed a contract.

The board has yet to address the issue at a public meeting. Wight said Meadows was willing to pay up to a certain amount and that the town should be willing to meet him halfway.

“There needs to be negotiation because we’ll end up spending more money trying to collect the full amount if it goes to court,” he said. “Technically it’s not a loss with the way everything transpired with the resignation of our town manager.”

Wight said that $9,000 that the town didn’t pay out to Barth for accrued vacation hours could be applied to Meadows’ balance since much of the blame lies with the town administration.

DeSimone said the issue hasn’t been put on the board’s meeting agenda because it was an issue that would be worked out with interim town manager Nathan Clark and Dickson.

“I don’t know what there is to discuss — there’s an outstanding bill and it is due,” he said. “Going to court isn’t preferable and you want to avoid it if you can, but on the other hand, it’s a good deal of money and we want to collect.”

Alderman Saralyn Price agreed with DeSimone. For her the issue is simple — Meadows signed a contract stating he would repay the town and that is what he needs to do.

Alderman Mike Matthews said he didn't know if there was anymore discussion needed on the issue and that he just wanted to see it paid.

"I'm not opposed to compromising but I don't want to forgive the whole thing either," he said.

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