Another Fine Mess

Some can and should organize festivals, others shouldn’t, said a note on Therion‘s Web site after the Swedish rockers had become the victims of Croatia’s latest live music fiasco.

Even in a country that has a seemingly infinite capacity for producing shows that end in disaster, the July 16th Metal Melting Summit Festival at Zadar still manages to stand out. It had it all: Stages didn’t get built, bands and suppliers didn’t get paid, equipment turned up late and most of the known international acts gave up and went home.

The company supplying the generators cut the power and refused to switch it back on until it got paid what it was owed or, at least, someone else started forking out for the diesel.

Faced with a promoter who falls into the category that shouldn’t be organising festivals, a production that had collapsed into chaos, little chance of playing and even less of getting paid for it, the members of Therion realised the situation had spiraled way beyond their control. According to their site, they decided the calmest course of action was to sit down and enjoy an ice cream.

When Therion arrived at Zadar, on the Adriatic coast, it was obvious the main stage was a long way from being ready and the second stage was still being built. Rage had pulled out a couple of days earlier because its travel arrangements hadn’t been confirmed, while Soulfly reportedly took one look at the setup, canceled its show and disappeared to the beach.

Therion decided to go to the hotel and wait for news from the site, but the first news it got was that the promoter hadn’t paid the hotel bills. The hotel staff was happy the band wasn’t responsible for the bill and was prepared to hand back its passports – which have to be left at reception in these parts – when the Swedes decided enough was enough and began the 17-hour journey home.

The problem, which isn’t a new one in the Croatian market, appears to be that local promoter Stipe Juras was trying to recoup the money he’d lost on last year’s festival, when only 1,500 turned up to see a bill topped by Iron Maiden.

Juras, who also works as a freelance journalist for Slobodna Dalmatia, admitted to being more of a fan than a professional promoter, and said some of the blame should go to his partner (Vanja Primorac of VP Concerts) for not bringing enough big-name acts.

Had he done so, it’s difficult to see how Juras would have paid for them as this year’s advertised lineup only sold a little more than 1,000 advance tickets. To pay the bands and the suppliers and cashflow the event, he was depending on good walk-up. The day of the show, he sold a further 19 tickets.

At least half of the international acts scheduled for Croatia in the last year have been canceled because of poor ticket sales. The market became overcrowded, causing acts including Metallica and Pink to cancel. Lenny Kravitz pulled out through illness and Santana downsized its show from a 25,000-capacity venue to 9,000.

The market is also suffering from a total lack of consumer confidence as Marijan Crnaric, who sold a few thousand tickets for the canceled Metallica show, has still not refunded those who bought them.

— John Gammon