As rumors swirl that escrow negotiations are drawing to a close for a huge swath of land up for sale in Ventura’s hills, an organization dedicated to placing some of that land into a public trust to use as a system of parkways celebrated its growth with a concert that has become an institution.

For only the second time in its five-year history, the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy sold out its annual Ventura Hillsides Music Festival. Held at Arroyo Verde Park in a canyon off the aptly named Foothill Road, the festival featured Chris Pierce, the Robert Cray Band, Jack Johnson (who returned for his second visit to the festival) and Toots and the Maytals.

“It had to be one of our, if not the most, financially successful events,” said Stephen Svete, the conservancy’s president.

Svete confirmed that all 3,200 tickets sold within 15 minutes of going on sale to the public. He also said that the event had a record number of advanced sponsorships.

“The artists were very favorably impressed and happy to be there,” Svete said.

It appeared that the public was also happy to be there, at least through Jack Johnson’s set, after which hundreds of people left before Toots and the Maytals even took the stage.

Although there was a limited advance sales time for Hillsides Conservancy members, Svete said it was unusual that tickets sold out so fast when they were sold publicly and that the organization felt bad that some of its supporters couldn’t buy tickets to the show.

“We did our best to get our own members and take care of them because we knew the bill was going to sell fast,” Svete said.

In fact, during the weeks preceding the show, tickets were selling for hundreds of dollars on Craigslist and eBay. At one point, auctions on eBay reached nearly $1,000, none of which was going to the conservancy. Staff began devoting some time to monitoring eBay and did have some success getting the company to de-list some auctions, but Svete said he didn’t know what more could be done to prevent scalping.

“There were people within the conservancy who were quite offended by [scalping],” he said. “I didn’t like it either, but that’s the nature of Internet commerce.”

At press time, Svete said the organization was still processing its returns from the event, but the organization’s Web site reported that the group raised over $100,000. It also added more than 175 new members.

“The importance of membership is that it essentially strengthens our lobbying base,” Svete said. “For five years in a row we’ve used this festival more effectively of keeping this issue in the mindset of the public.”

Indeed, the hills may enter the public mindset soon. As reported in the May 17 edition of the Reporter, the Lloyd Corporation was in talks to sell two hillside ranches that together total more than 3,800 acres (another 11 acre parcel near Ventura’s beachside is also for sale). Svete would not comment on whether his organization has been consulted about any pending deal and neither the Lloyd Corporation nor its representatives have said anything about the status of the property since offering it for sale in March.