The co-founder of the West Sacramento three-day electronic/indie music festival known as TBD Fest is being sued for non-payment and breach of contract.
Katrina Arnaud, a Sacramento CPA, says she agreed to lend Clay Nutting $200,000 for TBD Fest because she believed in his vision. Arnaud met Nutting through a business associate and says she has never made an investment like this before. She admits to not really enjoying rock music or festivals.
“I never met him before, he had a very likable personality,“ she says. “He just reeks of credibility and honesty and integrity. He has a vision of not only his own success but moving forward for the city of Sacramento, that’s something I believed in.”
According to court papers, Arnaud was to be paid in full plus 15 percent interest on the loan by Aug. 10, 2015, about a month prior to the event date. So far, Arnaud says she has not been paid.
She received an email message from Nutting prior to the Dec. 21 publication of a Sacramento Bee article about the festival’s financial troubles, it said in part:
“I completely understand why you filed. I am sorry it has taken so long. I just want you to know that I am going to do whatever it takes to take care of my obligations, and I apologize that payments have not been timely.”
Arnaud says she considered Nutting a friend and feels a personal loss.
“Everybody likes Clay, he’s a likable guy - but there are more and more reports of people from prior year’s festivals that never got paid - and that’s not a friend,” says Arnaud. “If he’s incurring debt for small vendors that’s leaving a wake of dead bodies behind him. Is that vision of his success inclusive of the loss of his integrity and his word?”
CapRadio contacted ten vendors and artists involved with TBD Fest and it’s precursor festival, LAUNCH. None of whom wanted to speak on the record about whether they’d been paid or not. Some said they didn’t want their work associated with the controversy, most just wanted to get back to work.
LAUNCH started as a one-day, art-party set in a hotel in Del Paso Heights in 2007 by Michael Hargis. A few years later Clay Nutting joined hargis as the festival's co-organizer. The event quickly grew into a multi-day music festival in Cesar Chavez park and in 2014 organizers change the name and moved the festival to West Sacramento.
Slideshow of scenes from TBD Fest 2015 by Andrew Nixon.
Some vendors have vented their frustrations on social media.
Jason Malmberg provided graphic design services for the festival. He shared the Bee article publically on his Facebook page with this comment: “Sigh. Yup. Well, at least I got a massive portfolio piece out of it.”
Malmberg declined to speak in detail on record.
Betsy Hite, a caterer, reported not receiving full payment for her services for the 2014 TBD fest.
Hite posted this on Facebook after news of the current lawsuit broke.
“After I got screwed in 2014, I strongly urged the city of West Sacramento to make the organizers get performance bonds or insurance so that other vendors would get paid. I think the city has some culpability here since they issued permits and licenses for TBD to operate again even though they left a field of unpaid vendors after the first year.”
2014 was the first year that the festival was held in West Sacramento. The city of West Sacramento allowed them free use of a field.
West Sacramento Communications Officer Paul Hosley says the city doesn’t want to be associated with an organization that doesn’t pay its bills.
“We’re just becoming aware of this. It’s just too soon to see if it’s going to have any impact,” Hosley says. “There’s been no action since that article came out. We just provide the venue. We’re not running the festival. It’s really their thing.”
Tre Borden, an artist manager and self-described “placemaker,” has experience in developing large scale installations and events. He was recently named Sacramento Metro Chamber’s Young Person of the Year. He’s been involved in TBD Fest two years running and LAUNCH before that. Last year, he worked on a large mirrored rectangular tunnel called “Portal.” He spoke to the questionable sustainability of large-scale music and arts events in Sacramento.
“TBD is definitely an important event - and I think that’s why so many people are willing to bend over backwards and take a leap of faith to be involved. It really showed the best of what we can offer. It was a vision so bold that no one would have attempted it besides Clay and Michael,” says Borden. “The reason, we’ve now learned, people don’t attempt it is because it’s so difficult to pull off and make manageable. Now we need a community to investigate this and see how we can make this feasible.”
Borden says events like TBD Fest need the investment of local businesses to make the region more attractive to both residents and tourists.
“If you want more customers and you want this region to thrive you have to be willing to invest in it. The reason Clay and Michael have had such a hard time, besides not knowing how to manage a festival that well, they’ve been banking on support that’s not been there,” says Borden. “Obviously, Michael and Clay need to handle their business, but at the same time, we need to step up and be willing to support cool things - or else they won’t happen.”
Matt Brown is the artist in residence at TBD Fest. He created an eight-foot robot in 2015. Brown has a measured response about the financial issues surrounding TBD Fest. He says it’s a common experience for artists not to get paid or to be underpaid for his work.
“I really really like making art, it’s like the only thing I’m good at”, says Brown. He says he fronted the money for materials to build a large colorful cube for the 2014 Fest. It was a risky strategy, but he was reimbursed.
“I did that to basically get my name in the game. I saw the power of that opportunity. They did pay me back for that,” says Brown. “Anything that allows me to do what I want to do - even if I’m not getting paid as much as I should be. I’m just down to create an art scene.”
Tre Borden is afraid the negative press surrounding the festival and Arnaud’s lawsuit will dampen enthusiasm for such ambitious projects in Sacramento.
“But really it shouldn’t be the most ambitious thing in the world for Sacramento, the Capital of California, to have a cool festival - and if it is there’s something wrong with a lot of people, not just Clay and Michael.”
CapRadio reached out to Hargis and Nutting for comment, but they did not respond by deadline.
After the Bee article Nutting posted this on Facebook: “And the post is gone. I am an open book, reach out if you have any questions.” That post was followed by more than 70 comments, most of them supportive.