By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
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Concerts get called off all the time, for a variety of reasons: illness, poor ticket sales, freaks of nature like the blizzard that hit the region this fall. But the circumstances surrounding the postponing of a bash starring Puff Daddy & the Family that was to have taken place on December 22 at McNichols Arena are more complicated than that--and considerably more suspicious. You see, Puff Daddy (given name: Sean Combs) was set to appear at the Edmonton Coliseum in Edmonton, Alberta, on the same evening that Coloradans expected to see him here--a difficult commute, to put it mildly. Moreover, tickets for both dates were on sale simultaneously for at least a week.
The Denver event wasn't setting any popularity records: After more than a month, a little more than half the seats at McNichols remained available. But the total was not so low that cancellation was expected. Hence, music-business insiders were surprised when they heard that the presentation wouldn't go forward, and they were even more startled when Ticketmaster-Colorado kept selling tickets for it and participating media outlet KQKS-FM, aka KS-107.5, continued a Puff Daddy hype barrage. In fact, the ticketing service and the radio station didn't change their tunes until just five days prior to showtime.
How did this happen? Most fingers of blame are being jabbed at Al Haymon, the Baltimore-based promoter supervising the Puff Daddy jaunt. Haymon makes an easy target; he's been involved in other problematic Denver dates, including one earlier this year in which co-headliner Keith Sweat simply failed to appear. But because he has been notably quiet about the most recent debacle (at press time, he hadn't returned Westword's calls), locals are left to speculate about a situation that's more extreme than any in recent memory.
In retrospect, there were plenty of warning signs. The Puff Daddy bill, which includes Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim, Usher and many other R&B chart-toppers, was originally to have hit McNichols on November 19 before being switched to December 22. But people wired into the hip-hop community began to ascertain that the rescheduled booking was on shaky ground, too. Francois Baptiste, head of Denver's 3 Deep Productions, says, "I started hearing about them not coming here when I was at the Billboard Video Music Conference in Los Angeles on November 20." Baptiste, who's also the overseer of Rhythm Visions, a video program on KBDI-TV/Channel 12 and a principal in the new hip-hop magazine State of the Union (see "United They Stand," November 6), had hoped to put on after-parties following the concert, but he says that when he approached representatives of various record companies in an attempt to line up special guests, "they told me, 'I don't think they're going to be making it through Denver at all.' It wasn't a definite 'no'; it was more like, 'I don't think so.' But then, about a week later, I talked to somebody I know who was doing security for the tour, and he said, 'We're not coming to Denver.'"
As if this wasn't confirmation enough, Baptiste received what would be considered irrefutable proof from one of the stars of the show. The week of December 8, Busta Rhymes was stranded for a time at Denver International Airport; he was trying to fly to Kansas, but bad weather there forced a delay. While he was hanging out, he was spotted by Tina Soledad Taylor, an assistant producer on Rhythm Visions, who asked him if he would do an interview with her when he returned to the state in a couple of weeks. As Baptiste tells it, "Busta said, 'Nah, I can't, because we're not coming back.' He didn't know anything about a show in Denver at all." Neither did practically anyone else outside of Colorado. The Web site for Pollstar, an important concert-industry publication, listed Edmonton as the sole December 22 stop on the Puff Daddy itinerary for most of December.
Rick Stacy, program director and morning-show co-host for KS-107.5, heard plenty of scuttlebutt about a cancellation as well. "There were a lot of rumors," he concedes. "The record company, Arista, told us that it was off two or three weeks before it all came down."
Donna Torrence, assistant director of publicity for Arista, the parent company of Combs's imprint, Bad Boy, disputes Stacy's math; she says she learned of the double booking about a week before Ticketmaster-Colorado pulled the plug. But she understands why confusion reigned: "I think basically what went on was that the show was canceled, but whoever canceled it and booked the other show didn't let everyone know properly."
That jibes with Stacy's experience. After Arista announced that Puff Daddy wasn't coming to town, he reveals, KS-107.5 staffers contacted Haymon's company and Pepsi, the journey's corporate sponsor, and were told categorically that Arista was wrong. "They all said that it was still going to happen. And since Pepsi, through the promoter, was spending literally thousands of dollars on our station running spots for it and they weren't showing any signs of stopping, we didn't question it. We figured, if they're still doing this, then Arista must have its wires crossed."