Dion Tour Impacts Industry

The aftermath of Celine Dion’s somewhat chaotic South African tour may impact the local live market and beyond, as one national paper is already reporting that at least a couple of Josh Groban’s upcoming dates are threatened.

The current leg of Dion’s Taking Chances tour, promoted by Duncan Heafield of Kusasa and believed to be worth US$11.2 million to the artist, was due to end at Dubai Rugby Club March 5.

But the ripple effect of the South African promoter’s efforts are likely to be felt throughout the live music business if they result in Groban’s dates, which are due to start in a week, being scrapped at the proverbial last minute.

While national daily tabloid The Citizen was claiming that Heafield is suing fellow SA promoters Hazel and Tony Feldman of Showtime Management for defamation and breach of contract, the Cape Argus was reporting that the Kusasa chief’s upcoming Josh Groban shows at Cape Town’s Vergelegen Wine Estate (March 20-21) might be in jeopardy.

The Cape paper says the vineyard and Kfm 94.5 radio station, the local media partner, are threatening to pull the plug on the shows if they aren’t reassured the headline-grabbing chaos that marred the first of Dion’s two recent shows at the venue won’t be repeated.

It resulted in national papers and consumer sites being "inundated" with phone calls, e-mails and texts from angry fans. News 24 listed the problems complained about most: No signage, no info centre, no lighting in the parking areas, limited security, hay bales used to mark the line between the cheap and expensive seats, no toilets outside (some people waited for hours because the gates were late opening) and products that suppliers had sold being marked up by 200 percent and resold to the public.

The Vergelegen Estate was so appalled by what the Argus described as the "Dion fiasco" that it posted a note on celinedion.co.za saying, "Vergelegen provided the venue, but did not organise the concert" and that "concert organiser Kusasa has taken full responsibility for the problems."

Despite the potential problems with next week’s Vergelegen shows, Heafield has managed to settle a legal dispute with another venue on the Groban tour.

Alistair Roper from hotel chain Sun International told Pollstar that his company has resolved its legal action for the recovery of a deposit paid for a Heafield-promoted Nickelback gig that was later canceled. Roper got the promoter to agree that the money can now be used as its deposit for its March 29 Groban show at Sun City Superbowl.

Apart from the public reaction to the Dion shows and the press reports of the problems facing the Groban tour, the lid’s also been lifted on a whole raft of litigation going on behind the South African live music scene.

Hazel Feldman has spent months chasing Heafield for about US$2 million he has owed her since an agreement dissolved for them to do the Dion shows together.

On February 26, a week into Dion’s South African run, Feldman launched urgent proceedings in the Pretoria High Court to liquidate Heafield’s company, Kusasa Commodities, but withdrew the application when Ticketconnection – which was selling the tickets – was told to pay the money out of the box office.

Feldman received the full amount in 24 hours but, three days later, the issue turned into a very public row when Heafield told The Citizen that Feldman made "totally defamatory" allegations against him and that she was guilty of a "massive" breach of contract. He said he intended to sue her on both counts.

He said it was "purely sour grapes" on the part of Feldman, because the Celine Dion tour had, despite problems, been one of the most successful box office tours ever held in South Africa. He didn’t make it clear where or when Feldman made the so-called defamatory remarks.

The other litigation that’s come to light includes two ongoing suits totaling rand 16 million (US$2 million) that telecommunications equipment and IT giant Altech has against Heafield and his associates, including his 3CAfrica, relating to a Christina Aguilera show and a Grand Prix Masters motor racing extravaganza at Johannesburg’s Kyalami Racetrack.

Gerry Hayes from Computicket, the country’s major ticket-seller, said his company has outstanding legal action against Heafield because he reneged on an exclusive ticketing deal for his shows by setting up a company [Ticket Connection] and using it to sell his tickets.

Two years ago, Attie van Wyk of Big Concerts used his lawyers to get US$250,000 out of Heafield and 3CAfrica. He approached van Wyk and offered his services as a sponsorship broker. He arranged some commercial funding for a couple of Big Concerts’ dance events, principally through telecom provider Vodacom, but passed on only half of the sponsorship money.

There are at least another half-dozen current or recently settled suits from local suppliers, including MainEvent Catering, Executive Bodyguards and South African singer Warren Gray, who’s trying to get his fees for doing support slots on Heafield’s shows.