Music News & Reviews

Definition of 'rent' is at issue in 'WoodSongs' debate

WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour producer and host Michael Johnathon and the Kentucky Theatre have different interpretations of what constitutes "rent."

The semantic discrepancy arose Wednesday, after a Herald-Leader report about an issue between WoodSongs and the city-owned theater, where the roots-music show is staged, regarding the use of the city's mechanical lifts. The lift is an issue that Johnathon says threatens the viability of the show in the Kentucky Theatre.

But Johnathon took issue with the theater management's statement that WoodSongs previously had not paid rent to use the theater.

"WoodSongs has always paid rent on the theater," Johnathon wrote in an e-mail to people subscribed to the the show's listserv. "We never got it for free."

Indeed, WoodSongs has paid the city a percentage of ticket sales and merchandise it has sold at WoodSongs, as required by the city's standing contract with the Kentucky. But the show has never paid a flat-rate rental fee to the Kentucky Theatre Management Group, which usually charges presenters a usage fee on top of the sales fee paid to the city.

"Woodsongs has paid no rental fee for that space," Kentucky Theatre manager Fred Mills said Thursday.

Referring to the sales fee, Johnathon said Thursday morning, "In our world, that was a rent. That was our cost of using the theater. We have always paid what we were asked to pay for use of the theater."

Shaye Rabold, chief of staff for Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry said, "Michael might consider that rent, but in our minds it is not rent."

Under the current arrangement, the sales fee goes only to the city; the Kentucky Theatre Management Group receives no compensation for WoodSongs other than what it makes off concessions. The amount the city receives, Mills said, is entirely dependent on ticket and merchandise sales from a performance.

Johnathon said that until late last year, he was not aware that the theater did not receive a portion of the sales fee and that a rental fee was customary. He said that when he was made aware the theater was not covering its costs of presenting WoodSongs, he wanted to remedy the situation.

After July 1, according to all parties, WoodSongs will pay the theater a $150-a-show rental fee. Johnathon says that in the new contract, which he has not signed, all fees — including that $150 — are referred to as fees, not rent.

Mills and Kentucky Theatre secretary-treasurer Howard Stovall said that rent is necessary because revenue generated from concession stand sales did not make up for what the theater could generate in tickets and concessions if it showed a movie instead of hosting WoodSongs.

WoodSongs is usually presented Monday evenings in the State Theatre, part of the Kentucky complex, and is later broadcast to a worldwide radio, television and online audience.

Johnathon and the Kentucky Theatre Management Group say the $150 rental was never in dispute. The issue is the lift.

The theater recently informed Johnathon that the show would no longer be able to use a city lift for free as it had been doing, because of liability issues. The only way to change the bulbs, which are on a rigging about 40 feet off the floor, is with a lift; Johnathon said changing the bulbs is necessary so the stage is properly lit for television.

The cost of renting a lift combined with the rental charge is what has the potential to force the show out of the theater, Johnathon said.

"Removing access to the lift exposes us to another $4,000 to $5,000," said Johnathon, who had declined to comment for the first article. "I can't change the math."

Johnathon has sent a proposal to the city that is currently being reviewed, Rabold said.

"We want to make sure he stays there," she said. "Right now, we're just trying to gather the facts. Is this something that under the contract Kentucky Theatre management should be absorbing, or is there a way we can partner with him, like he's requesting?

"All of that's on the table for consideration. No decisions have been made."

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