CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Three little-known businesses inside a nondescript office on Carmel Road in south Charlotte collected more than $14 million in federal pandemic aid, according to Small Business Administration records.
That money, awarded through the SBA's Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG), is supposed to provide emergency assistance for eligible venues affected by COVID-19. Record show those Charlotte businesses could use the money to support some of the country's largest country music festivals.
Federal data lists the LLCs at 6300 Carmel Road, Suite 110 as BCMF, CCMF and WWCF. The records show BCMF, better known as Barefoot Country Music Fest in New Jersey, received the maximum award of $10 million. CCMF, the Carolina Country Music Fest in Myrtle Beach, collected $4 million, and West Virginia's Wild and Wonderful Country Fest (WWCF) qualified for $344,000.
The SVOG is a federal program aimed at helping live venue operators and promoters that were in operations as of Feb. 29, 2020. Those that qualified could receive grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue. Any money awarded by the SBA can be used to help with payroll, rent, utilities and more.
Joe Kuhlmann, founder and co-owner of the Evening Muse, can't help but wonder about the identities of the key players behind these ventures.
"It just really doesn't look like a business that's generating that kind of money," Kuhlmann said. "I know a lot of the movers and shakers in this town and I'm just like, 'Who are you? Who are these people?'"
The Evening Muse, a NoDa mainstay, received a grant from the same federal program for almost $240,000, according to SBA records.
"It's needed to keep the business going," Kuhlmann said of the grant he received. "It's like a safety net, but we don't take it for granted."
A WCNC Charlotte analysis of federal data shows the three Carmel Road businesses received the equivalent of roughly 7% of all SVOG money awarded to festivals across the country.
"That's a lot of money," Kuhlmann said. "That doesn't really add up to me."
A WCNC Charlotte review shows Carolina Country Music Fest and Barefoot Country Music Fest were revived in 2021 after the pandemic shut them down in 2020. Each brought in an estimated 30,000 country music fans to listen to the likes of Luke Combs, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, Dan + Shay, Zac Brown Band and Carrie Underwood. Wild and Wonderful Country Fest's website continues to promise "2021 info coming soon."
Festival websites show entertainment entrepreneur Bob Durkin is linked to each one.
After multiple phone calls and emails went unreturned, WCNC Charlotte stopped by the festivals' office building twice and left contact information with two different women. During the most recent visit, a woman said they were in the process of moving. When asked where, she replied, "No."
North Carolina Secretary of State filings show Durkin, then a manager for Southern Entertainment LLC, created a separate LLC, CCtryMC, in North Carolina in July 2019. Carolina Country Music Cruise's website shows that venture is also linked to Durkin and lists 6300 Carmel Road as its address, too.
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According to one of the festival websites, Southern Entertainment "is a full-service event and production company" specializing in planning, marketing and executing "a wide range of concerts, festivals and other live music events." In addition to being listed as the official production company for CCMF, the LLC touts its role in helping produce hundreds of events, including Kissmas, Gravedigger's Ball and more. State records show the registered agent for the cruise business is Charlotte attorney Tim Gavigan. Gavigan is also listed as the authorized person for the formation of BCMF, CCMF, WWCF and CCtryMC in Delaware within the last decade, according to filings with the Delaware Secretary of State's Office. When contacted, Gavigan said he would share WCNC Charlotte's information with this client.
A fourth business with 6300 Carmel Road, Suite 110 listed as its address and R. Durkin listed as its registered agent received $1.1 million from the SBA's SVOG program, according to federal data. Secretary of State filings list Pavilion, LLC's address as 210 E. Trade Street, which is the Epicentre. In that filing, Durkin lists himself as the manager of ROOFNC, LLC, a "nightclub."
Records show 51 Charlotte businesses qualified for these SBA grants, but Tim Stretton, an oversight director for the Congressional Oversight Initiative, said most will never see the government step in and check their receipts. Stretton said the SBA has pledged to audit every company that received a maximum $10 million award. Of the 51 local businesses, only Barefoot Country Music Fest is among that group.
"That means the vast majority of the $9.5 billion expended in this program is not going to be audited and that's a huge red flag," he told WCNC Charlotte. “That just opens the door for waste, fraud and abuse.”
While Kuhlmann has questions, he said he's mostly trying to figure out how the local music scene can build relationships with these companies.
"I'm not accusing these people of doing something wrong," he said. "I would just like to know."
Kuhlmann says with that much cash flowing through Charlotte, there's an opportunity for others to benefit, especially in an industry still struggling to recover.
"We need to make sure that money is spent and staying here," Kuhlmann said. "If there are people in town that are doing that kind of festival work, all of the venue operators should know these people, we should be working in tandem to help lift all of these venues, all the music and art that's going on."
Paycheck Protection Program data show Pavilion LLC received a forgivable SBA loan of $151,146. Meanwhile, CCMF also received a PPP loan of $119,500, according to the data.
Carolina Country Music Fest's website lists the festival as "A Charlotte Jaycee Event." The Charlotte Junior Chamber did not respond to WCNC Charlotte's request for comment.
State records show Durkin is also affiliated with Bar Management Group, LLC. The company's most recent annual report filed in North Carolina listed its address as 6300 Carmel Road, Suite 110.