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Snow ball? Not for the Academy of Music

Jaimi Blackburn was more excited than Cinderella. The hotel public relations executive had been to all the big events in the city, but not this one, not the Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball.

Jaimi Blackburn was more excited than Cinderella.

The hotel public relations executive had been to all the big events in the city, but not this one, not the Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball.

"I got the shoes, a dress, manicure, pedicure, my husband got a tux, we booked a hotel in the city," said Blackburn, 47, of Villanova. "I gave up junk food for a week to make sure the dress would fit."

Then, she saw the message on Facebook.

The Academy Ball, the swankiest white-tie concert and party in the city, had been canceled for the first time in the event's 59-year history.

The party had been wiped out by a whiteout.

The snowstorm that became a near-blizzard had forced the Academy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which owns the venue, to cancel the concert hall's annual birthday bash.

"It's historic, that we had to cancel it," said Matthew Loden, chief restoration fund officer for the Academy. "But as I look out my window, it was the right decision."

That decision came after a Thursday night conference call when officials mulled over the forecast, information from city officials, and possible scenarios to save this year's ball, perhaps even postpone it.

But by Friday afternoon, Academy and orchestra officials believed they had no choice but to cancel an event expected to draw 1,600.

The crippling weather made a brief postponement an impossibility, and the Academy's packed schedule made rescheduling unlikely.

The cancellation propelled organizers into a rush of activity. Attendees, sponsors, caterers, and event participants had to be notified.

And what would happen to all that food?

The annual Academy Ball, which this year was to celebrate the venue's 159th birthday, is the kind of soiree that includes top-shelf everything. More than 150 volunteers, along with several orchestra and Academy staffers spend a year organizing it.

Patrons pay a range of $75 for concert-only tickets to $2,075 per person for a preshow reception, concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra (with this year's special guest, comedian/actor Martin Short), dinner, and dancing.

Scores of sponsors include Independence Blue Cross, PNC Bank, and Philadelphia Media Network.

Attendees begin the evening at the Academy of Music for the reception and concert, then walk down Broad Street in their tuxedos and ball gowns to the Hyatt at the Bellevue for dinner and dancing.

'Everything goes back'

News of the cancellation was distributed via traditional news outlets, over social media, and through word of mouth.

Garces Events planned a preshow reception that included 1,000 kobe beef and chicken brochettes; and 50 pounds of radishes, asparagus, carrots, and roasted peppers for a crudité display.

They started setting up the venue on Friday.

"We did the linens, the furniture, brought in the liquor and beer," said Adam DeLosso, culinary director for the Garces Events.

When they got the call, he said, "We turned around and put everything back."

The food was donated to the nearby Broad Street Ministry, which offers meals and social services to the needy and also is located on South Broad Street.

"We were super excited and so grateful that the Garces Group and the Academy thought of us," said Theresa Malandra, the ministry's director of development. "We do get some donations, but everything helps."

The food donation was used to create a "warm medley salad" for lunch on Saturday when the ministry was providing shelter and food for about 100 guests.

As for the ball's dinner food, arrangements still were being worked out on Saturday, Loden said.

The three-course menu included baby romaine salad, filet of beef tenderloin, Chilean sea bass, and a chocolate "mousse bomb."

"It's a surprisingly complex undertaking," Loden said of the food donations. "The food comes in different ways: some frozen, some perishable, and how do we get it where it needs to be in a snowstorm?"

Financial impact?

Loden said the financial impact of the cancellation is not yet known. Proceeds from the ball are used to maintain the Academy building, which hosts concerts, Broadway shows, high school graduations, and mayoral inaugurations. The venue now is undergoing a $3 million multiyear renovation of its HVAC system.

Loden declined to reveal the Academy Ball's budget, but said organizers were hoping to raise $2 million. Last year's event raised close to $2 million before expenses, Loden said.

Organizers hope ball patrons and sponsors will elect to donate their ticket prices and contributions to the event. Many have already said they will do that, Loden said, adding that refunds will be granted if requested.

David Alexander Jenkins, of Rittenhouse Square, has attended the ball since the mid-2000s. The musician and former model, along with a group of friends, had planned to attend this year's event.

The cancellation was "understandable," but still "a letdown," Jenkins said. But snow or no snow, Jenkins and his friends were determined to have a ball.

On Saturday evening, he and about 20 others dressed in their Academy Ball finest and gathered at the Hyatt at the Bellevue's XIX (Nineteen) restaurant.

"We'll have dinner, cocktails, laugh, and have a merry old time, just as we have had before," Jenkins said. "The show must go on."