Apache Lake Music Festival’s Promoter Claims Former Venue Is Planning to Co-Opt Its Name | Phoenix New Times

The Future of the Apache Lake Music Festival Is Uncertain After Fight Over Rights to the Name

The situation, which has been playing out over social media this week, is getting heated and may wind up in court.
The stage at the Apache Lake Music Festival in 2019.
The stage at the Apache Lake Music Festival in 2019. ALMF's Facebook
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A battle is brewing between the promoters of the Apache Lake Music Festival and its former venue over rights to the event’s name – and the situation, which has been playing out over social media this week, is getting heated and may wind up in court.

ALMF co-founder Brannon Kleinlein tells Phoenix New Times the new owners of the Apache Lake Marina and Resort in Roosevelt, Arizona, which hosted the multiday fall music festival for 10 years, are planning to hold their own version in October. He says the business is also attempting to co-opt the festival and trademark its name.

The venue where ALMF has previously been held was purchased by Mesa-based Augeo Group LLC early this year, and the relationship between the fest and the venue ended in April after talks between the two sides concerning the festival’s future were broken off due to a dispute about sharing revenue from the event.

On June 15, ALMF promoters announced the cancellation of this year’s festival in a lengthy statement on social media. ALMF's promoters also recounted their history with the resort and marina, detailing their issues with the Augeo Group over event revenues and the company’s decision to go forward with its own fall music event using the Apache Lake Music Festival name.

“My main thing was to make sure we informed our fans what was going on," Kleinlein says of the June 15 announcement. "People kept asking if we're planning one this year and we needed to let them know the reasons why and what the details were, so I wanted to put the word out. Our fans deserved to know what was going on, plus we needed to protect our name and legacy.”

The statement stirred outrage in many ALMF fans after it was posted. Some expressed sadness and anger at the situation. Others suggested swarming the marina and resort’s social media, which has been bombarded with negative comments regarding the matter. While he discouraged making any threats against the business or its owners, Kleinlein says that “people were pissed about what happened” and chalked it up to their passion for ALMF.

ALMF launched in October 2010 at the marina and resort, which is located 60 miles northeast of Phoenix alongside the shore of Apache Lake, and featured a who’s-who of local indie bands performing amid a picturesque backdrop of high desert terrain and camping for attendees. (The marina and resort lease the land from the United States Forest Service, as the lake is located within the Tonto National Forest.)

Kleinlein originally worked with the Schuster family, which owned the venue from 1974 until this past January, in putting on the event under what he calls a “standard deal between promoters and venue owners.”

"Somewhere in the mid-2000s, I would go to the lake and talk to [the family] about how this would be a great place for a music festival. And they agreed," Kleinlein says. “We never had any formal contracts, just the usual agreement where the promoter brings the event, books and takes care of the bands, and controls the ticket sales. The venue makes money off [rental fees and] what they sell, which with their situation is hotel rooms, the bar/restaurant, and boat rentals.”

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The crowd at a previous ALMF.
Narrio Wright

Over the last decade, ALMF became a popular event with Phoenix bands and music fans, building a following Kleinlein describes as a "tight-knit group of loyal people who feel like it's their event, too.” He estimates around 1,000 people attended each year and claims it was the marina's biggest event of the year. (He declined to say how much money ALMF made each year.)

Kleinlein says he never formally trademarked Apache Lake Music Festival since he believes their documented use of the name over the span of a decade protected it under a common-law trademark.

Augeo Group LLC purchased the marina and resort from the Schuster family in January. A month later, Kleinlein met with Augeo Group’s Brandon Tackett and Tylor More regarding the festival.

“They’d heard a bunch of great things about the festival," he says. "That's all people keep asking them about, and how they’d love you to bring us back. I talked about what the festival’s structure was like over the last 10 years. They seemed open to everything and were excited about doing the festival again. We even talked about doing some things differently, like with additional camping areas and such. It was a nice, exciting prospect. At that point, I left thinking it was going to happen [this year].”

At a follow-up meeting on March 25, Kleinlein says they raised the issue of getting a cut of ticket revenue.

“They threw out different ideas about wanting things structured financially between the two parties, like getting a joint bank account and having [the revenue] go through that,” Kleinlein says. “I was open to new ideas, but, at the end of the day, I'd never worked with these guys before and wanted to do things like we’d done the past decade. After one year, we'd evaluate how things went, sit down, and make any necessary changes. But I wasn’t going to agree to do a first-time event with people I didn’t know, giving up control of our ticketing.”

Kleinlein says he had the impression the company “wanted to still go forward with the festival,” but was told they’d discuss the matter with Augeo Group’s other owners and get back to him.

Weeks went by with no contact. On April 12, Augeo Group and More applied to the Arizona Corporation Commission for a name reservation for “Apache Lake Music Festival,” one of the first steps in trademarking it as a brand name with state officials. Eight days later, Kleinlein says he got an email from the company stating they were moving forward with the festival without ALMF’s promoters.

“After that second meeting, they met and they decided they wanted to go a different direction. That's why I never heard back, and I'm pretty sure they were delaying getting back to me and went ahead and thought they'd try to reserve a trade name.”

On May 31, Kleinlein applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to trademark “Apache Lake Music Festival,” including submitting documentation of how the fest had used the name over the last decade.

"When you apply for a federal trademark, they want you to submit proof of how long you've used it, which, for us, goes back in October 2010,” he says. “And I was able to provide a ton of documents showing we were the producers: posters, merch, all that kind of stuff."

The approval process could take 12 to 18 months.

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Las Chollas Peligrosas perform during a past ALMF.
Dave Cottle
“I talked to my legal team and we have a strong case based on how we’ve got 10 years of history of using the name,” Kleinlein says. “It's easy for us to show, which is one of the reasons we feel confident because of our history with it and we have a pending trademark going on.”

Tackett with Augeo Group tells New Times they “don’t dispute” a majority of the claims Kleinlein made in ALMF’s recent social media post regarding their negotiations with Augeo Group regarding the festival.

“Most of what he's posting is accurate. The revenue numbers didn’t make sense to us, so we made him a counter offer and he respectfully declined,” Tackett says.

That said, he disputes Kleinlein’s rights to the festival’s name.

“The name 'Apache Lake Music Festival' is so generic that I don't think anyone can exclusively trademark it,” Tackett says.

He also claims their lease with the U.S. Forest Service gives the marina and resort the rights to use “Apache Lake” with any event or business. (New Times was unable to confirm this with the USFS.)

“Through our business entity and through the the federal lease we have with the forest service, we have the rights to the name ‘Apache Lake,’” Tackett says.

Tackett says the marina and resort have been deluged with comments regarding the issue in recent days from angry ALMF fans, including a number of threatening phone calls to the business.

“This has gotten way out of control,” he says.

Things escalated further on June 16 when the marina and resort reused graphics and hashtags from Kleinlein’s announcement in a social media post touting their fall music event, which resulted in even more negative comments online.

Tackett told New Times on Thursday it “was just a social media repost” that was blown out of proportion and not an attempt by the business to co-opt ALMF’s graphics or hashtags.

He also says since the post, Augeo Group decided to call off plans for a fall music festival at the marina and resort this year but doesn’t rule it out holding it 2022 and beyond or calling the event “Apache Lake Music Festival.”

As such, Tackett says Augeo Group won’t be abandoning its name reservation with the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“It’s ultimately going to be up to to the court to decide,” he says.

When the marina and resort does put on a festival, he says it will be completely different from what ALMF’s done in the past, including not using the name.

"Our plan is not to duplicate what [Kleinlein] has done in the past and to do something completely new,” Tackett says. “It will have a different focus in terms of music or bands or whatever. Obviously, none of those [previous] bands from the festival will want to work with us. I would say that we will be going after a more mainstream audience, maybe a little bit more country-western thing. Or since it's in October, maybe a little Oktoberfest thing to it. We haven't made up our minds on any of that.”

As for the future of ALMF, Kleinlein says it will “obviously never happen at the marina again,” given the soured relationship. He also rules out staging it at other areas at the lake due to a lack of electricity, facilities, and infrastructure to put on a large music festival.

Kleinlein says with future editions it may just be known as just “ALMF” and take place at another spot in the Valley, similar to how the McDowell Mountain Music Festival became M3F after moving from north Scottsdale to downtown Phoenix in 2014.

“We have an established brand with ALMF, so it's possible to do something elsewhere in Phoenix or even Arizona. We aren’t limited [geographically],” he says. “We've already been looking at some potential locations."

At moment, he’s focused on protecting the ownership of the festival’s name.

“I think we have a future as an event because we've built up something people like and appreciate. Nothing's going to happen this year, it's just too late, but we'd like to see something continue. I think the fans would support it. Something at a new location with the same ALMF branding. I think we could make a good run at it.”
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