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UPDATED x2: theEvent that wasn't

Posted 12:37am on Saturday, Feb. 05, 2011

As I stepped off the escalator at Addison's Hotel Inter-Continental Friday night, I was greeted by a man in a tuxedo.

Clasping my hand, he said simply, "I'm so sorry; I'm so sorry."

After a moment of confusion, it became clear: theEvent, the highly hyped, eagerly anticipated Super Bowl party meant to showcase Prince and Erykah Badu, as well as raise money for the Goss-Michael Foundation, really truly would not be happening.

It was simply the latest twist in a day-long saga that confounded attendees, not to mention the latest bruise suffered by a region thoroughly battered by national criticism over the way Super Bowl XLV's pre-game week has unfolded. Most of all, the sudden, inexplicable cancellation left the man in the tuxedo -- Chris Arnold, the Dallas Mavericks game night MC, who was serving as theEvent's MC as well as one of its organizers -- apologizing profusely.

Around 1 p.m. Friday, a terse statement landed in the media's in-boxes from the Goss-Michael Foundation's Joyce Goss: "We are extremely disappointed that theEvent featuring Prince, scheduled for Friday ... at the Intercontinental Hotel, has been canceled. It is our understanding that River Alexander Group, the event organizer, was unable to fund and produce the evening. The organizer came to The Goss-Michael Foundation, invited us to be the beneficiary and receive some of the proceeds which would have gone to our high school scholarship program."

Scarcely an hour later, a second, even more succinct statement arrived from the event's publicist: "Circumstances have changed and TheEvent featuring Prince WILL take place this evening. The previous statement is rescinded. Prince has arrived in Dallas and will perform this evening." On the heels of that second press release came the news that tickets, which started at $1,500 and topped out at $25,000 for a table seating 10, were now two-for-one. Quite the bargain for an evening originally touted as "an all-inclusive soiree that includes music, art, food, spirits, and more" with a "rare performance by Prince," along with music from Erykah Badu, DJs and appearances by Goss-Michael Foundation scholarship winners.

But, by 8:30 p.m. Friday, with the tables and stage set-up in the sprawling Crystal Ballroom being dismantled around him, Chris Arnold -- appearing deflated and exhausted -- had yet another take on the failed endeavor.

"If this were a football game, we were on the one-yard line," he said. "We just ran out of time."

However, when I arrived at the hotel around 7:30 p.m., it appeared that workers were busily putting finishing touches on the Inter-Continental's Crystal Ballroom. (theEvent was originally set to unfold in a specially constructed tent on the site where Reunion Arena once stood, but last week, was moved indoors to the Inter-Continental.) A bar station was being set up, the tables were arrayed with silverware and black tablecloths, while a silent auction table with several pieces of sports memorabilia was being set up.

Yet, theEvent was canceled just moments before its scheduled 8 p.m. start time. There was no advance notice given to anyone who had purchased a ticket or a table; instead, guests were greeted by Arnold -- the up side of the escalator was even shut off and security personnel milled about, discouraging anyone from going upstairs -- who informed them on the spot.

Most guests, although disappointed, seemed to take the news in stride -- although some attendees, like National Golden Gloves Light middleweight champion and Dallas native Sugar Ray Phillips, who flew in specifically for the show from Las Vegas, were a little put out.

"The guy's from Minnesota, man; this weather's a walk in the park," said Phillips, who purchased two tables at a cost of $50,000. "We deserve some kind of respect, spending our money. There were several other events all around town tonight -- we chose this one 'cause [Prince] is a legend like Michael Jackson."

"What happened was simply this: we came that close to having a wonderful event," Arnold said during an initial, brief conversation in the hotel's lobby, which had a steady, if small, stream of surprised attendees over the course of an hour. "Prince definitely wanted to be here; we thought he was going to be here and unfortunately, he did not make it here. It's not his fault; he truly wanted to be here. His band had already made it. There were rumors all day that maybe it was canceled, maybe it wasn't -- that's because we thought he could make it, then all of a sudden, he didn't make it."

There were conflicting reports at the hotel as to why theEvent failed to go on as planned; Arnold said that Prince's band members had arrived in Dallas, but that he had not. He declined to blame the weather, saying it was "too easy," even though several events, particularly those associated with the NFL, were postponed or scrapped altogether because of the horrendous winter storms this week. Other sources, including the Dallas Observer, said they had reports of Prince landing at DFW at 5 p.m. Friday and possibly even having reached the hotel itself. According to Arnold, Badu was in the building Friday night before theEvent was canceled and offered to perform, but that it couldn't be worked out.

"Erykah did offer that [to perform] and by the time we tried to get it all together, we couldn't make a quality decision in time for the doors to open," Arnold said. "We couldn't make the quality decision how it was going to happen that way."

Indeed, the Observer's music editor Pete Freedman, who was also on the scene, followed up with Badu's camp and has more here. [UPDATE: Pegasus News reporter Teresa Gubbins also filed a piece today focused on the River Alexander Group, the entity responsible for tonight's program. In her article, Gubbins reveals that River Alexander Group is, in fact, tied directly to Arnold.]

There's also the matter of the phrase "unable to fund" in that initial press release, which Arnold, in a subsequent conversation with myself and Freedman, insisted was not a problem.

"We thought we'd overcome that; we thought we had everything resolved," he said. Reportedly, according to a volunteer on the scene who declined to give a name, there was an anonymous donor who, at the last minute (around 7:30 p.m.), tried to provide a way for Badu, at least, to take the stage and salvage some of the evening. Although Arnold said the event was "selling well," it's unclear whether theEvent was anywhere close to being a sell-out.

"I believe this event was selling better than some of the other events, even though it was a high-dollar event, because we had performances," Arnold said.

All tickets, according to Arnold, will be fully refunded at the point of purchase.

"We totally apologize to everyone who wanted this thing to happen; there's a lot of people who wanted this thing to happen," Arnold said. "No one wanted this to happen more than us."

I'll continue to follow the story; I've reached out to theEvent's publicist, to see if I can get any more information than Arnold provided and will update as necessary.

UPDATE: Early Saturday afternoon, I received this statement from the Goss-Michael Foundation's executive director Joyce Goss: "Last night, we faced a disappointment that is immeasurable for us, our scholarship recipients and our supporters. Both Kenny Goss and I are extremely disappointed that theEvent featuring Prince was cancelled. It continues to be our understanding that River Alexander Group, the event organizer, was unable to fund and produce the evening. Up to the very last minute they assured us the ‘show would go on.’ We are deeply saddened that our Foundation scholarship winners would have had the opportunity of a lifetime to be on the same stage as Prince and Erykah Badu. I have personally reached out to each one of them and assured them that their expenses related to this situation will be fully reimbursed.”

As with the original statement that was retracted, there is a note saying that this will be the only statement made on the foundation's behalf about the situation.

UPDATE x2: According to this New York Post article, Prince never made it to Dallas, per an unnamed representative.

"We are extremely disappointed that the organizers, the Meridian Entertainment Group and the River Alexander Group . . . were unable to bring Prince and his band to Dallas on Feb. 4," Prince's manager, Kiran Sharma, said in a statement Friday. "Our understanding is that they lost their investors and were not able to adequately fund and produce the event. Prince was looking forward to performing in support of the Goss-Michael Foundation."

The Post piece goes on to say that, according to their sources, "the problems started when the River Alexander Group didn't cover Prince or his band's travel costs or the rental of concert equipment. 'They kept saying they'd cover the costs after they had the money from ticket sales, but they never could come up with the cash,' said one source." The Post cites an anonymous source at the failed benefit concert's publicity firm, BlackBook, as saying "the show might have been initially canceled because Prince and his group's flight was delayed by bad weather, but that they made it in time for a sound check." According to the Post, which cites Prince's representation: "He never made it to Dallas at all."

The Post's story is corroborated by a separate Associated Press report, which cites a "source close to Prince, who spoke on condition of anonymity," and says Prince never came to Dallas, because he was concerned that the disorganization (the organizer's alleged failure to cover travel costs or equipment rental) meant that the venue would not meet his technical requirements.

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