FARM Institute Pulls the Plug on Huge Summer Concert Plan

By MAX HART

A budding plan to stage a huge summer concert at Katama Farm evaporated when the FARM Institute abruptly withdrew its application for the event before a special meeting of the Edgartown conservation commission on Wednesday night.

FARM Institute executive director John Curelli surprised the crowded meeting with the announcement after he spent over an hour defending his plan for the one-day concert. The nonprofit institute, whose mission is agriculture education, just moved into the town-owned Katama Farm as a tenant last week.

The conservation commission, which is the landlord for the farm, held a special meeting last week to hear the request from the institute for a summer concert for 10,000 people, with parking more than 2,000 cars. Katama neighbors were quickly up in arms over the concert proposal, and at the meeting this week the conservation commission expressed reservations about town liability, security and costs.

But Mr. Curelli pulled the plug on his own application.

"This is very difficult for me," he said before a long pause. "But I am going to withdraw our request for this concert. I don't want to fight, I don't want discord. We want to prove ourselves to you, and we want your trust. We want you to be proud of the farm and what we're doing there."

Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin described the concert as a potential security nightmare, and said he was not sure whether the land was considered private or public. If the farm is considered public, since the town owns it, the town would be responsible for security. If the property is considered private, based on a lease to a private entity, the FARM Institute could hire its own security, Mr. Condlin said.

"But even then, the police department would have to be involved," the chief said. "There would still be a lot of security issues to sort out."

Early in the meeting FARM Institute supporters spoke out in favor of the concert. Parents spoke about the importance of teaching farming to Island kids.

But soon the Katama neighbors began to speak out against the plan - as they had at a meeting last week.

"I think you need to look at the financial outlook, and I think you need to look at the liability policy first," said Thomas Burke, an abutter to the farm. "I feel like decisions are being made with a lack of discussion of these issues."

Mr. Burke also said he feared the FARM Institute was in danger of alienating its neighbors and potential donors.

"You want to reach out and embrace your neighbors, but you risk the opposite," he said. "You're cutting your own throat with these people."

"The land cannot handle this amount of people, and Edgartown does not need this," said Bailey Norton, just before Mr. Curelli withdrew the application.

The high cost of running the institute means it needs significant resources, Mr. Curelli said. The concert was expected to bring in roughly $160,000 in profit.

Although Mr. Curelli had no official projections for how much the event would bring in, he and Ted Cammann, a hired concert producer, estimated the event would gross approximately $500,000. Mr. Cammann, who organized the 1995 Livestock concert featuring James Taylor and Carly Simon, estimated total production expenses at about $340,000.

After the meeting, a visibly dejected Mr. Curelli said he made a snap decision to withdraw the concert plan because he wants to build a positive image of the FARM Institute's work.

"I don't want to start with a fight," he said, echoing his sentiments from the meeting. "The project shouldn't happen if people are polarized. It takes time to develop trust, and right now it's not there. I don't want an uphill battle - I don't want any battles. That's why I withdrew the application."