Arts & Culture

When a performer drops a gig, who foots the bill?

A young fan gets a hug after giving Maddie Poppe flowers during the concert at the Butler County Fairgrounds Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Alison, Iowa. (Matthew Putney/Waterloo Courier)
A young fan gets a hug after giving Maddie Poppe flowers during the concert at the Butler County Fairgrounds Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Alison, Iowa. (Matthew Putney/Waterloo Courier)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Maddie Poppe was just another regional act when she signed a contract to perform at Market After Dark on Saturday, August 25 in downtown Cedar Rapids.

But thanks to an escape clause in her contract, the Clarksville native won’t be there after winning the 16th season of the “American Idol” talent-hunt TV show.

“We were made aware that she was attempting to go on a show,” Melissa McCarville, communications manager for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, wrote in an email. “We did not know which show at that time.

“There was a clause in the contract that if she were to make it to a certain level of this show, it could render our contract void.”

They’re fairly rare, but cancellations come with the territory when booking performers, say those in the business.

”Cancellations can happen for a lot of different reasons, and the artist has the leverage,” said Jeff Johnson, a Cedar Rapids-based promoter, booking agent and talent manager. “I’ve literally had someone say their dog died.”

“If they cancel for almost any reason, we don’t have a lot of teeth,” said Dan Franz, general manager of Riverside Casino & Golf Resort. “That’s just the way the contract’s written.”

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“It’s just part of the business, and things happen,” noted Andre Perry, executive director the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.

 

Economic Alliance organizers of the Downtown Farmers’ Markets hoped Poppe could perform there even after she won the “American Idol” competition May 21.

“After reaching out to the tour management team and discussing logistics, it was agreed upon that she would be able to honor the performance at Market After Dark,” McCarville wrote.

But Poppe canceled July 24.

“This unfortunate change was out of the control of Maddie’s management team and they deeply regretted the inconvenience,” according to McCarville.

Johnson, who’d tried to sign Poppe before her TV stint but couldn’t locate her agent — she didn’t yet have one — doesn’t blame her for signing an appearance contract while pursuing the “American Idol” prize.

“If she doesn’t win, she needs to work,” he said. “You book them a year out, and they get big.”

“It’s their lives, and this is the way they survive,” Perry said.

In his experience at the Englert, comedians are more likely to cancel than musicians.

“Not because they’re bad people, but because they are typically involved in a lot of media,” he said. “They’re writing for TV or movies, and if something comes up, they have to take it.”

Cancellations, he said, “are guaranteed to happen a couple times a year. Sometimes family issues or a personal issue comes up. Those things are totally understood, and 99 percent of them will find a way to get back to your town.”

‘We’ve been very fortunate’

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But some performers push their advantage. The 1970s Midwest rockers REO Speedwagon quickly sold out a show set for February at Prairie Meadows in Altoona. That show was rescheduled for October when a band member required surgery, but that date was canceled, too.

“Two of the band’s members’ kids were going to the same college, and they had some parents’ day event,” Johnson said. “So they canceled again.”

“We’ve been very fortunate” at Riverside, Franz said.

Of the nearly 200 performances booked at the casino since 2006, he could count only three cancellations — two of them by 1980s teen heartthrob Rick Springfield.

“So he’ll never come back again,” Franz said.

Booking talent for free shows such as the farmers market is especially risky.

Promoters “give someone money, knowing they’re going to have to make it back on the beer and food (sales),” said Johnson, who founded Penguins Comedy Club in 1989 and ran it through 2008.

He then licensed the Penguin’s name to the club’s current owners and launched USA Entertainment Agency, which promotes events and books and manages talent.

Contracts for free events typically include a provision raising the artist’s take once the organizers recoup their costs.

“There’s no limit on how much you lose, but there is a limit on how much you can make,” Johnson said. “It’s a high-risk deal.”

As are outdoor shows. The “talent” gets paid even if the event is rained out, so promoters carry cancellation insurance typically based on measurable rainfall near the venue, Johnson said.

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The clause written into Poppe’s contract and executed after she won the “American Idol” competition allowed the performer the rare circumstance of canceling for a better offer.

Contracts typically include “radius clauses” banning performances within a set distance — of, say, 150 miles — within a set period of time, according to Franz.

“I’m sure the money (Poppe would have been) paid for that free show was next to nothing,” said Johnson. “I’m sure she’s getting paid 10 times what she was getting for that.”

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