Jun. 17, 2009 at 9:42am

Hotel Murano spearheads successful effort to chase Wintergrass out of Tacoma

We're too good for bluegrass

The Hotel Murano has won a number of local awards, and I'm sure they deserve every one of them. Here's one I know they deserve:

Most Successful Effort in Ridding Tacoma of Lowbrow Musical Events

Yes, they've gotten rid of Wintrgrass and sent it to Bellevue. Congratulations! Who needs tourists and their money, especially at the end of February, when occupancy rates are, I'm sure, at their highest. And don't forget: many of these tourists play banjos. Who needs that at a classy hotel like the Murano and a classy city like Tacoma? Cellos maybe ... but banjos?

For 15 years, the Sheraton hosted Wintergrass with no unresolvable issues. Then, the Murano came along and decided it was too good for bluegrass. They bought and installed new, expensive, fragile furniture that was unable to withstand the rigors of being used by the public in a hotel lobby. When the furniture broke down, they blamed festival-goers for being hooligans.

They added a charge of vandalism, claiming that festival-goers had thrown beer bottles into one of the glass sculptures. It turned out to be Travis Tritt fans from a Tacoma Dome show who had done this particular deed, but hotel management continued to blame Wintergrass for this, long after they knew better.

This led to the hotel demanding numerous changes to the way the festival was run this past year. Hearing about these changes, many people from out of town decided not to attend, and attendance was down precipitously.

The festival is losing money, the staff is not being paid, and one or two more years is likely all we would get under the current terms. The hotel's attitude apparently was along the lines of "where else will they go? We're the only game in town, so we'll continue to gouge and make demands."

It turns out there was somewhere else to go: Bellevue. The Hyatt offered everything the Murano wouldn't. The head of the chain that owns the Murano then accused Wintergrass of holding the city and the hotel hostage, that the festival should consider it an honor and a privilege to be gouged by such a high-class hotel.

I'm sure the Hotel Murano is quite well-versed in all the ways a business can blackmail and squeeze a city for concessions. In fact, I'm betting they're experts at the process. I think it may be time for the city to look into any and all concessions it has made for the Murano and consider taking a few of them back.

It's always easy to blame city government when something like this happens, but this time, it won't wash. The hotel sweeps this award category pretty much single-handedly. They claim they would lose money if they made concessions to the festival. I'm sure there's a waiting list of groups that want to fill the hotel the last weekend of February.

For myself, I'm a member of a couple of organizations that use Murano facilities for some of their events. I'm going to do whatever I can to convince those organizations to look elsewhere for future events.

So, congratulations to the Murano for ridding the city of Tacoma of bluegrass music. If we're ever going to be a truly high-class city, what we really need is a snooty hotel and no banjoes.

You can read Ernest Jasmine's piece about this in the TNT. By the time this gets posted, others will probably already written about this. This is my take, as a long-time festival volunteer.

comments [11]  |  posted under Hotel Murano, Music, Tacoma, Wintergrass


by NineInchNachos on 6/17/2009 @ 9:52am

let the banjos ring

by Dave_L on 6/17/2009 @ 10:37am
Wintergrass filled not only the Murano, but surrounding hotels in the slowest time of the year. That's was one of the main reasons Wintergrass was designed to be WINTERgrass. An insular Bellevue Wintergrass, one-stop shopping all under one roof, is not a Wintergrass I will attend, not matter what city it is in. Despite what are surely huge rental, volunteer, and logistical expenses of scattered venues, part of the charm of Wintergrass is the way it integrated and energized the downtown neighborhood and businesses. I can't claim to be enough of an expert to armchair this, but it's a shame the City and business groups couldn't get their sheet together to do something as simple as keep this international event. A worldwide event that, thanks to the vision of Rob Folsom, was invented in Tacoma, and through the passion of musicians and music lovers, grew and matured in Tacoma . And for countless thousands, put Tacoma on the worldwide map. This once again proves Tacoma will always be second-string. And maybe it can be said that for some people who are lamenting the departure of Wintergrass but have never even shown their support by attending even onceā€¦ But shame on the upper management of the Murano for just not getting it.

by morgan on 6/17/2009 @ 11:21am
You would think they could have tapped into the 100 grand the city gave them for that glass safety pin.

by Matt Driscoll on 6/17/2009 @ 11:24am
Honestly - when a hotel from Bellevue can offer cheaper room rates than an otherwise empty hotel in Tacoma, something is fishy.

Excellent take, Dmitri. You nailed it.

by NineInchNachos on 6/17/2009 @ 11:31am
diaper pin

safety diaper pin

by wildcelticrose on 6/17/2009 @ 1:55pm
I gave the jerks at Hotel Murano this weeks "Cheeto" award.

What a bunch of pretentious asshats.

by Maria on 6/17/2009 @ 11:46pm
Hold on a second here.

A music festival is started, nurtured and supported for 16 years in Tacoma. Attendance is down. A renovated hotel isn't quite as friendly. Getting around is somewhat difficult.

The festival takes stock, gets a better financial offer, and after some negotiation...that's it. They'll turn their backs to 16 years of history, partnership, sacrifice, memories...leave behind a city that grew alongside exchange for cheaper rooms and centralized performance spaces, in a chain hotel.

As part of the package, they spurn Tacoma's "grit," history, blue collar atmosphere and diversity...and get instead a modern, glittery, upscale, tech-centered environment that resonates so much less with the heart of roots and bluegrass music.

I don't think the Murano handled this graciously at all.

But--I hardly see them as a scapegoat for the loss of Wintergrass.

Competing on price as a business is a risky move. A larger chain like the Hyatt (around 340 hotels) has more leeway than a small group like Provenance (5 hotels). Reducing the fees for your services is not always in the best interest of a business. Imagine any downtown boutique shop being pitted against Bartell's and asked to discount a product to keep a customer.

In any case, it seems like financial and logistical considerations trumped shared history and a sense of place.

Certainly Wintergrass has a right (and obligation) to do what's best to keep their beautiful non-profit group alive in a difficult climate for arts groups. Are Bellevue and the Hyatt going to provide a better venue for them? Time will tell. Best wishes to them, I'd hate to see this damage their attendance further.

The Murano now faces significant PR damage and some tarnish on their supposedly gracious, welcoming public face. Hmm.

I think this was a tough situation for all the parties involved, and sadly, Tacoma is the one that'll feel the greatest loss.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 6/18/2009 @ 12:23am
Me, I prefer to scapegoat the Murano. I suspect Wintergrass will do better without the Murano than the Murano will do without Wintergrass. Personally I have been less than impressed with the Murano even before this.

by L.S.Erhardt on 6/18/2009 @ 12:27am
While it sucks that Wintergrass gave us a cold shoulder and hopped in bed with arrogant Bellevue, I can't moan and weep too much as I'm really not into bluegrass music and never attended.

Now if the Murano could get a Classic Rock festival or an Electronica festival, all their sins could be pardoned. If they got both, well... wow. I'd gladly give them RR's left arm for that.

by NineInchNachos on 6/18/2009 @ 11:58am
How bout a pretentious eternal-flaming lawn-ornament feature convention? Oh wait there is one already everyday at hotel murano.

by Dave_L on 6/18/2009 @ 12:13pm
Especially with the role Tacoma has played in music history (even much of it that is credited to Seattle) I wish we could have those and more music festivals. I guess Tacoma does not rank among the music-friendly cities of the country. Though this isn't as evident to the non-festival-goers, one of the many good things about Wintergrass is that it makes no apologies for the way it constantly pushes the boundaries of bluegrass (much to the chagrin of traditionalists), and many of the groups featured cross-over into jazz, rock, etc. I'm not into trad. bluegrass very much, but I appreciate experience all the same, and the the Paperboys doing All Along the Watchtower to a standing, cheering crowd at the Varsity (as well as thehe group Hot Buttered Rum) was as good as any club rock concert I've been to. If I may speculate, I think it is fair to say there were many challenges to running the Tacoma Wintergrass - many are things that wouldn't immediately come to mind. Although it's what I like most about Wintergrass, a huge amount of time and expense goes into the costs and logistics of organizing several independently-owned and managed venues. Heck, one person I know wore many hats, but one of which was simply the grueling task of hauling drinking water to the different venues. In days of declining ticket sales, extra competition, ho-hum support from City and business groups, an out-of-touch hotel ownership... when you get another hotel that really, really wants the festival, and is bending over backwards to get it, one can't blame Wintergrass for making the painful decision to keep the festival alive. When the other hotel dashes each difficulty one by one, it makes a tough bargain. Affordable room rates? Of course. Available space? No problem. Parking? Whatever you need. Stages? Plenty. Transportation? Easy. Jamming? Wherever you want whenever you want for as long as you want. How about next year? We will want you then, too. While I hate to see it go, I hope Wintergass continues to flourish. And I hope they can maintain the volunteer base that makes so much of it happen.


Don Izenman ... retired mailman ... occasional musician ... proud father ... happily married (this time for sure!) ... contented non-driver ... interested in all things local and all things Tacoma. Oh yeah ... food, beer, and wine!

Recent Posts