Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Phil Coultrip & the 2007 Mountain Music Festival

Phil Coultrip

 Remembers 2007

The Mountain Music Fest


Phil Coultrip is a survivor. As a teenager he booked acts like Bob Seger, The Amboy Dukes at the brand new Midland Center for the Arts and when the powers to be shut down rock & roll at the Center, Coultrip shrugged, thumbed his nose at convention and booked Apple records protégés Badfinger at the Midland High School. It proved to be a huge success. He was a shaker and mover before he even realized how deep he could go, hanging out with Bob Seger and learning the gospel from Punch Andrews, Seger’s manager. Phil had his own cross to bear as the lead guitarist for Breadfruit, a local Midland outfit that seemed destined for big things. Coultrip was a talented musician yet his vision went much deeper than Midland. He saw a wider vista of opportunity through building alliances with promoters as well as talent. Through the years Coultrip has rubbed shoulders with Country Music’s elite, stars as well as agents, writers and producers. Phil Coultrip is a man with soul. He’s been on the top and fallen hard. He’s real, resilient unassuming and just stubborn enough to do it all over again.



 Can you tell me about some of the decisions that led you to develop the Mountain Music Festival?

I was moving back to Michigan. I was living in Florida. I had a nice house down there and everything. We were doing great, and I couldn’t be away from my son. We were just starting school up here. He’s in his second year of high school now.

So I was looking for something to do, and I happened to be driving past a sign about eight mile lake so I drove to the property and I saw it’s for sale. I’d been thinking about putting a festival together. I drove in there, and there was this big huge natural landscape and I bought it for $650,000 and then proceeded to put 2.9 million in it for renovations. It’s got the biggest stage in the state of Michigan… completely covered. It’s got 350 acres for camping. I put in all the electricity, put in all the water, put in all the rooms, cut down all these trees, cut down everything, replanted everything. I put in filling stations that happened to be there and it was a perfect layout to the stage and made it easy set-up. It had a capacity of 75,000 people. It took me a year and a half to get all the permits, zoning, and inspections. It was very difficult to do but I finally got approval. There were two counties and two townships, and the biggest problem was the local township, they were not quite convinced. But we got it through, and it started snowing that night. Perhaps it was a signal. I had already wanted to have all the grass planted and everything for the next year. I spent a whole year on it. I had 12 different partners and none of them were in the music business.


Did you have a board of directors?


Yes,  but when it comes down to it the only person that mattered was me because they were outside of Michigan. They didn’t really know the community and they didn’t really want to participate. They weren’t involved in the management of it at all and they weren’t involved in the building and construction of it from the ground up. They were just all just, “You made it, you run it, you do it.” None of them were in the entertainment business before or after. They weren’t really partners. They were the investors… they were purely investors. In fact, there was nobody from Michigan involved at all!


Were the investors the same folks who knew you when you promoted country shows?


Yes and no, I was very comfortable with them and myself. But on hindsight I’d never have done it at all because I would’ve been my albatross for the rest of my life. The bottom line is I was highly involved with other things. They investors were making a fortune…it was so incredible because instead of renting the building, we kept everything. We kept the parking, the ticket charges, all the alcohol sales, all the food sales, all the parking sales. There was nothing we had to give away. If we had just rented the building, we’d have had to give all that away. The real true bottom line story was the crash of 2008…Lots of people, hundreds and millions of businesses went out of business, and Michigan was extremely hard hit by it. Detroit was just going to crap…that’s what happened.

I read an article about your almost frantic efforts to promote the Mountain Music Fest

Well, nobody knew about Farwell, it was off the map so to speak. I traveled to radio stations all over this nation and did a ton of interviews but nobody ever heard about us. I don’t think it really hindered what happened in the second year when the economy just hit the skids. It wouldn’t have mattered where you were…Minneapolis any of the major markets, they all were hit so hard. Disposable income was gone. People weren’t partying. People weren’t buying tickets in advance. Everybody was holding back. The housing market crashed, and everybody was losing their housing. Nobody could borrow any more money. It was much more severe that anybody realized at the time. It still has a huge effect on everything. I couldn’t set things in motion until we finally had approval from all the participants. Conditionally, we held all of that land and properties which allowed us to run.  We had a time frame and we had to get our liquor licenses in ASAP. We were very late. October 31st  was the first country show. We ended up doing all of this in the middle of the winter. There were people up on the stage blown sideways, and it was a terrible winter.


You a great line-up of talent. Did you personally sign the contracts with all of the artists?


Yes I was used to doing that. I mean that’s what I’ve done for several years. We had contracts

But we were better off starting the year in advance, and I was doing it less than six months out. You know I was in Las Vegas until then with the International Association of Fairs and Festivals which is running right now, this weekend. I was just trying to buy up everything I could.


I recalled an episode in which you getting searched, investors folding . Did that happen?


They just went out of business like hundreds of other business during this time when banks were failing and the Feds were bailing them out. One of my investors had a big family, had three nurseries, nurseries that were quaint, right? I mean for a hundred years they had these businesses set up and running. All three of them went out business in 2008. The reason is because nobody was landscaping any more. There was no new construction so you had no new income.  He had two million dollars worth of stock sitting in those nurseries and he went from $400,000 a month to $20,000 a month to $10,000 to $5,000.

How many associated businesses were like that? … It was always done legally. There was no, there really weren’t any lawsuits at all.


 How did it go so wrong for you?


Well, we weren’t selling anything in 2008, plus we were being audited. We had two customers in June and July of 2007. The recession started in August, one month later. I was down in Louisville with my investors, and they were saying “We can’t borrow any money now.” There were credit crunches here. We couldn’t borrow a nickel if we had to, nor could anybody else. The bankers said, “We have no suggestions for you whatsoever.”



This was your vision. You had to be devastated.


I was devastated! I had some people that came to me before I did it, and said, “You know the only thing you can do is walk away from it” - I wanted to own it! I wanted to have my own place. I convinced myself that I could work so hard that I could make it happen. Ultimately  the creditors got all the money. We couldn’t sell a pop if we had to. We couldn’t sell a beer if we had to. We couldn’t sell a parking space. They were screwing us on the ticket charges. You know, you’d have a $50 ticket, and they’d have a $35 surcharge on it. It was ridiculous.  I hated it. I wanted so bad to do it on my own and it was just the wrong moment in time. I don’t think we did anything wrong, but it was bad timing. We got hit by the recession.


What could you do about it? Did you make the investors angry?


The bottom line is that I tried to pay everybody I possibly could, but when you go out of business, you’re out of business. That’s all there is to it.  I went to the investors and said, “That’s all there is. Good bye. Good luck. No hard feelings. We lost. It’s done.” If you were still in business, you’d still be paying all your creditors, but when you’re out of business, you can’t pay your creditors. I would’ve loved to, and I tried to. I did everything I could to pay them back but I had to take the punishment.


What kind of punishment did you have to take?


Besides losing the Mountain Music Festival… which only lasted one year, you know, it’s the terrible feeling that you built all this in such a short period of time and see it disappear so quickly. It came and went so fast that it was kind of like a dream. I decided to move forward, to start something new.

 I’m trying to rebound with electronic dance music, EDM. There’s a big musical movement in the world right now. A lot of people don’t even know what music is. They don’t care who the stars are. I could name you artists that you’ve never heard of yet they are making 25 to 50 million dollars a year. They have their own prioduct line. They’re world-wide stars. In fact, they’re smaller stars in the United States than they are in the rest of the world. I don’t mean that to be mean, but I’m sure you’ve never heard of any of them… I’ve been there. Las Vegas is like a bigger carnival. They have 300,000 people there just for the music EDM, and that is not a lot. Every hotel room is sold out. Now the second-largest gathering of people and the most profitable gathering of people is in Las Vegas. All of the events, all of the hours, and they’re number two.


The music, the dancing I couldn’t make heads or tails of it


It’s exactly this. You like the music, you like the song, you gotta dance, you’ve got to have big, large crowd areas, you have a need for a theater, you have need for an arena, and they get that stuff from head to toe. It’s just what it is. It’s peace and it’s love, it’s taking care of each other and so I’m very drawn to it.


Are you part of this now?


I’m trying to be…I’m looking at dates. That’s the truth. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to build from scratch, making a lot of money. I’m going to be in other cities. I’m not going to compete against what they’re already doing. I’m not going to even think about it, but there are lots of cities and lots of connections that aren’t over saturated - Los Angeles and New York, Atlanta, and Miami. I have some investors interested, the productions and the video are so over the top…everything, everything is generated by that one autograph, that one signature.


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