The Symphony in the Flint Hills on Saturday canceled its signature event — an outdoor performance by the Kansas City Symphony — for the first time in the organization's 14-year history. Early morning storms caused severe damage, including flattening four tents slated for ticketing, patrons, food and art.
On Wednesday, leaders of the organization, which hires the Symphony to perform, responded to criticism that the 5,242 people who bought tickets would not receive refunds. Tickets for adults cost $95, plus tax, and $50 for kids age 12 and under.
"Our policy is clear. It's the same policy, too, that we've had from the beginning in 2006," said outgoing Executive Director Christy Davis during a media update in Cottonwood Falls. "It's clear on the website ... it's on the tickets, as well."
Still, some patrons were surprised that tickets to the event were non-refundable.
The event was scheduled for Saturday, and pushed to a rain date on Sunday. But with more storms predicted overnight, the board decided on Saturday afternoon to cancel the event. Patrons started to receive notice around 4:30 p.m. via email, text and phone calls.
Workers were about a day ahead of schedule when she left the concert site in Bazaar, Kansas, on the Thursday before the event, Davis said. And, "everything was ready to roll" on Friday.
"We knew we might have some weather. We knew we might have some wind. We plan for inclement weather, but a microburst is just a rare freak thing ... they can produce winds up to 100 miles an hour."
"They had been ripped to shreds," the organization's board chairman, Mike Stout, said about the tents in a news release. "It was the worst the tent company had seen in twenty years — and another major storm was on the horizon."
More rain, according to Stout, whose family owns the land, would also have prevented guests from parking in the saturated pasture.
The organization is still in the process of assessing financial costs and settling up with vendors.
Symphony in the Flint Hills does carry liability insurance, which covers patron and volunteer safety and personal property on-site. But, Davis said, the event doesn't carry "conventional event insurance" due to an extended 10-day set-up period and clean-up.
"The cost for traditional event insurance exceeds what our losses would be, the premium for that," she said, so the insurance does not cover the loss of ticket revenue.
The non-profit organization works year-round to raise awareness about the tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills. In fiscal year 2018, out of an annual budget of nearly $1.6 million, $485,000 came from ticket sales.
Davis suggests ticket holders consult with tax advisors to determine if the ticket can be considered a donation. They will be offered "first exclusive access" to purchase tickets on July 1 for the June 13, 2020 event.
And Flint Hills experiences will also be provided throughout the year.
"We're sorry, but we will straighten it out," said Stout.
"We will get our bills paid. We will continue with our programming activities for the next year. And we will be back for a signature event in June 2020."
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.