Music News & Reviews

Sorry, kids: No Jiggle Jam this year

Jim Cosgrove (aka Mr. Stinky Feet, left) and Kevin Dolan (“Dino O’Dell”) performed at Jiggle Jam every year since it started in 2008.
Jim Cosgrove (aka Mr. Stinky Feet, left) and Kevin Dolan (“Dino O’Dell”) performed at Jiggle Jam every year since it started in 2008. Special to The Star

If you’re planning to take the kids to Jiggle Jam again this year, time to come up with a Plan B.

The Memorial Day weekend children’s music festival at Crown Center Square is taking the year off to figure out how it can be more successful. As the event’s website puts it, “Jiggle Jam has decided to take an (extended) nap in 2015.”

If the festival returns, it could have a new name, a broader focus and a different date on the calendar.

“We all know that it can be something cooler and something even better,” says Jim Cosgrove, aka children’s musician Mr. Stinky Feet and president of the nonprofit Jiggle Jam board.

In its first year in 2008, Jiggle Jam reported attendance of about 20,000. More recently, the Saturday-Sunday festival was averaging between 10,000 and 15,000 people, just breaking even and providing no financial cushion, says Jiggle Jam executive director Keli O’Neill Wenzel.

Organizers point to these challenges:

▪ The festival, which featured national and local children’s music acts, “really niched itself into smaller kids, younger kids, and that wasn’t really our intent,” says Wenzel, whose company, O’Neill Marketing & Event Management, produced and promoted it.

Cosgrove says the original idea was to put on a “broad family festival appealing to a wide range of ages, from grandmas to preschoolers.” The first two years, alternative rockers They Might Be Giants helped in that regard, but in subsequent years finding a band with that wide an appeal — that the festival could afford — proved difficult.

“I agree there should be more for older kids,” wrote mom Karen Barker Crowley on The Star’s Facebook page. “My daughter loved Jiggle Jam when she was little, but by the time she turned 7, she just wasn’t interested anymore.”

▪ Because Jiggle Jam ended up targeting kids 3 to 8, it continually had to re-market itself as children “aged out,” says Wenzel, who co-founded the festival in 2008 with Cosgrove and his wife, Jeni Cosgrove, in partnership with Crown Center.

▪ The struggling economy didn’t help, either. Around 2010-11, it became harder for the festival to attract sponsors, Wenzel says. Meanwhile, organizers didn’t want to raise the price of admission, which last year was $15 per person at the gate (kids younger than 2 free) or $18 for a two-day pass purchased online.

Ideally, Wenzel says, she’d like to find $100,000 from a corporate sponsor that might make it possible to offer free admission.

▪ It needed more volunteers. “The event was being put on by a few when it needed to be put on by a lot,” Wenzel says.

▪ Weather — whether too hot or too cold or rainy — would play havoc with attendance, more so for a children’s event than for other outdoor festivals, Wenzel says.

The festival was “squeaking by this last year when the rain hit” on opening day, she adds.

Organizers shared their concerns about Jiggle Jam’s sustainability with Crown Center officials. Everything was on the table at a meeting last fall, including ending the festival for good, Wenzel says.

Crown Center, “a wonderful partner this whole time,” suggested taking a break to regroup, Wenzel says.

The Jiggle Jam board later agreed.

“Hopefully we will be able to have it back next year,” Crown Center spokeswoman Jo Brown says.

Children’s musician Kevin Dolan, better known as Dino O’Dell, performed at the festival all seven years.

“I have fans in Tulsa and St. Louis and Wichita that come to Jiggle Jam every year as part of their family vacation,” Dolan says. “I know they’re upset that it’s not happening this year.”

But Wenzel says she’d rather hear about sad fans than have the narrative become “Jiggle Jam didn’t pay their bills and we don’t understand why because it was a great event.”

Mr. Stinky Feet, for one, says not to worry.

“I’m very confident that we’re gonna come back with something,” Cosgrove says.

“Will it be on Memorial Day weekend? I don’t know. But I’m confident we will have another family-focused, family-oriented music festival at Crown Center in 2016.”

To reach Tim Engle, send email to tengle@kcstar.com or find him on Twitter @tim_engle.

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