With news headlines such as “Rick Springfield’s butt is not guilty” (The Journal News) and “Exclusive: Rick Springfield talks infamous ‘butt injury’ lawsuit” (Yahoo Music), it hasn’t been the proudest moment in Syracuse music.
The widely reported case featured Vicki Calcagno, 45, of Liverpool, who said in a 2007 lawsuit that Springfield’s buttocks had caused “serious, disabling and permanent injuries” during a 2004 performance at the New York State Fair’s Chevy Court.
To the average reader, the trial might have seemed ridiculous, embarrassing or humorous. For Salt City promoters, however, the concerns and implications of the case were much more grave.
“The eyes of the nation were clearly on Syracuse,” says Frank Malfitano, Syracuse M&T Jazz Fest producer and founder. “People in the industry contacted me from New Orleans, Detroit. They were aware of the situation and monitoring it very closely. They were basically saying, ‘What’s going on up there in Syracuse?’”
There were greater issues involved. “The real concern was what precedent would this case set?” Malfitano says. “What major implications would it have for every concert, fair and festival promoter and presenter in the country?’”
Concert security has always been a major concern for promoters and producers. There have also been high-stakes lawsuits, like the one against Ultra Music Festival 2014, where a security guard sustained a skull fracture and broken leg and the suit is more than $10 million.
But the Springfield trial grabbed attention for different reasons. “It was a high-profile case with a well-known artist,” Malfitano explains. “And he showed up. A lot of trials like this, they send a lawyer or representative. It was evident that he felt very strongly about this and was prepared to accept his fate. It was clearly a little different than the average celebrity trial.”
Beyond that, the trial itself was full of moments that made onlookers squirm, like Calcagno walking into trial unassisted, her admission that the case was tough to pitch to a lawyer and that she attended another show the following week. The questions of this case only made the stakes of the outcome higher.
“It was frightening,” Malfitano says. “If you’re a presenter, to think of any audience-goer bringing a claim against you, one lawsuit or claim can be big money. For a small outfit, that means you’re out of business. That’s it. It’s a very precarious position for us to be in. It really gives you pause. It was magnified in this case that you’re very vulnerable.”
Malfitano also notes that potential artists and booking agents watching the case might have also started looking at Syracuse differently. “I know how hard we work to bring big-name artists in,” Malfitano says. “The last thing we need is something to make it more challenging. As it is now, there are a lot of artists who don’t want to play fairs and festivals. This would have been a huge obstacle had it gone the other way.”
The spotlight indeed shone brightly on Syracuse from all corners of the media. CBS News, Ultimate Classic Rock, Newsday and more took the time to monitor the case. Luckily, the “Jessie’s Girl” superstar came out on top.
“Syracuse is part of our (Jazz Fest) brand,” Malfitano says. “It’s part of our name. It’s how we promote the region. We’re very proud of our track record, city and community. At first I was more than a little embarrassed and kind of hoped it would go away. When I saw it wasn’t going away, I had a lot of new found admiration for Rick Springfield. It was very brave of him to take a stand, to put himself in the front lines of that controversy.”
Malfitano concludes, “It was an important decision. I feel very good about the outcome. I’m glad and relieved.”