Tickets go on sale Saturday in Daytona Beach for the so-called American Music Festival, which promises to bring Janet Jackson, Usher, the Jonas Brothers, Christina Aguilera, Carrie Underwood, Rihanna and Justin Bieber to the city’s 7,000-seat Bandshell for concerts on the weekends of June 25-27 and Sept. 3-5.
And a big supposedly it is. Before you fork over the $39 to $99 for each ticket (if that’s what the prices are: you never know, because they were originally advertised as $39 to $69), there are a few things—no, a lot of things, you should know about Manuel Bornia, whose tongue could be a Formula 1 prototype and whose recent history in West Palm Beach, and now Daytona Beach, is shadowed by exaggerations, lies, bankruptcies, and an affinity for writing musicals that invent more than characters. They invent admirers. Daytona Beach has itself its very own Harold Hill.
Here’s the very latest: Christina Aguilera? Not coming. Carrie Underwood? Not coming. The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Rick de Yampert checked after Bornia’s wild claims, and found them to be somewhere in the range of Maurice Sendak provenance (with apologies to Maurice). The two singers’ publicists said their stars have no such thing as a booking at anything called the International Festival. Aguilera subsequently cancelled an entire summer tour that had been scheduled, though the closest thing that tour brought her to Florida was an August 8 date in Tampa.
Tour dates are another warning over Bornia’s claims. Justin Bieber is performing in a 10,000-seat arena in Trenton, N.J., on June 24, a Thursday, in a 17,500-seat arena in Cincinnati on June 26, and a 20,000-seat arena in Minneapolis on the 29th. On the September dates slated for the International Festival, Bieber is playing the 10,000-seat Champlain Valley Expo in Vermont on Sept. 3, and the similar-size Allentown Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania the following day. Bornia would have you believe that Bieber is coming to play the 5,000-seat Bandshell somewhere between those dates, even though no such commitment appears on Bieber’s schedule.
And Bieber is among the lesser acts. Usher is playing Wembley Stadium in London on June 6. Wembley seats 90,000. Bornia would have you believe that, even though no such date appears on Usher’s schedule, the man is coming to Daytona Beach. Janet Jackson has no tour dates this summer, but we’re led to believe that she’ll take time out of her busy rest to come down, way down, and entertain a miserable little beach crowd of beach bums in Daytona for 45 minutes. Bornia’s explanation: those concerts here are 45-minute deals, so the singers are able to fit them in if they have busy schedules, or even if they don’t. That may be true. More likely, it’s what many singers would describe as bullshit: an artist’s exertion isn’t dictated by the number of minutes clocked in.
Two issues stand out in Bornia’s involvement in the festival. First, it is standard practice in the arts and entertainment industry for organizations planning festivals to secure signed agreements by agents or managers of performers before performance dates are announced. Those dates are not fluid. It appears Bornia secured neither the paperwork nor the dates.
Second, when Bornia was hired in Daytona, he was originally hired for his marketing skills, which are good, not for his management skills. Yet he was soon appointed president of the Community Cultural Foundation, which puts on the International Festival and the American Music Festival. Those who’ve worked with him don’t dispute Bornia’s marketing abilities, but they say he requires strict supervision. That supervision is absent.
There’s more about Bornia you should know, especially if you’re a taxpayer in Volusia County, where your dollars are now on the hook for $1.2 million in subsidies to the festival (which used to be underwritten by the News-Journal’s Tippen Davidson before the paper’s legal immolation ended it all).
When he was applying for the job in Daytona, after resigning from a similar job in south Florida, he claimed this about the International Festival: “They sought me out.” They, meaning the festival folks, “thought I would make an asset to the team.” Bornia wasn’t telling the truth. Eric Lariviere, head of the festival in 2008, said Bornia merely applied for the position. He was one of many. When a Palm Beach Post reporter asked Bornia to explain the discrepancy, Bornia back-pedaled: “What I meant is they sought me out from how many other applicants they had from all over the country.” Translation: the man, who’s his own marquee event, inflated his importance, hoping no one would call him out. Good reporters generally do.
Another story for the libretto: In 2003 Bornia formed the Palm Beach festival of the Arts to stage all sorts of events. The biggest showpiece was to be his own—a musical he said he’d sent to Marvin Hamlisch, who wanted to mentor him as a result. Hamlisch felt obliged to deny the relationship on his own letterhead, saying he’d never seen the musical and :”cannot recommend it.” Bornia denies that he’d ever told the Hamlisch story.
Bornia’s local claim to legitimacy is his ticket sales for the 2009 edition of the International Festival, said to have brought in record ticket sales. Oddly, the festival hadn’t paid some of its bills several months after the end of the event, including a payment to the London Symphony Orchestra.
Oh, and by the way: if you try to click on the International Festival’s website, good luck. For all of Bornia’s hype, no one’s got around to putting up that website. “Check back soon” is what you get on the parent organization’s website—about the International Festival, the American Festival and Halifax Uncorked, whatever that is. The parent website itself is equally scant with information: Season schedule? Nothing. Press releases? Events highlights? Photo and video galleries? Same answer: “We are preparing a dynamic news room for the official launch of this site on February 1, 2010. If you would like more information about our news room please contact Manuel Bornia at [email protected].”