Festivals Squeezed Out

The cancellation of high-profile outdoors like Wild In The Country and the shambolic failure of Zoo8 shows how an overcrowded market is making things tough for the festivals business, according to Virtual Festivals managing director Steve Jenner.

"The harsh reality is that the festival business is an extremely tough one, with very high risk at the best of times," he told Pollstar the day after Wild In The Country promoter Stately Events scrapped its July 5 bash at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire.

Stately blamed "lower than expected ticket sales and a key investor withdrawing at the last minute" and promised it will "make every effort" to refund ticketholders.

Four days before the event and two days before it was canceled, headliner Bjork pulled out and a statement was issued citing staging problems as the reason for her withdrawal.

A Bjork representative said she was disappointed to miss what would have been her only U.K. performance this year, but organizers "have been unable to secure any staging, sound and lighting for this festival, making it impossible for the headline artists to perform." Stately responded by saying it had "diligently provided all production requirements" for all the acts on the bill but two days later ditched the event.

David Levy from William Morris Agency’s London office, who is Bjork’s agent, declined to comment on the grounds that the matter is now with the artist’s lawyer.

Elsewhere, a festival held in a zoo to raise money for a charity that protects rare breeds of animal looks to have become extinct.

Angry fans complained when a succession of acts including Dizzee Rascal, Athlete, The Rascals and Wiley pulled out amid reports that artist deposits hadn’t been paid.

Although Zoo8 wasn’t organized by Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, it soon found itself shelling out money to keep the event from collapsing. Park managing director Bob O’Connor told BBC Radio Kent the zoo had to step in to pay Ash to ensure the group got its fee and guarantee its performance.

The second stage was closed for much of the festival after its tent became unstable.

Other complaints included lack of security, overflowing toilets, no running water and long lines for food and drink.

"Everything’s running fine, people are just starting to come on to the site," promoter Matt Dice told Pollstar in response to questions prompted by reports that the event was on the verge of collapse. At press time it wasn’t possible to get further comment on what happened later.

The other acts that played included The Delays, Mark Ronson, The Cribs, The Hives and Funeral For A Friend.

Jenner says this year’s failures haven’t been restricted to new festivals trying to take off on a wing and a prayer. As examples of the surprising casualties among the more established smaller events, he cited Blissfields, which won "best small festival" in last year’s Virtual Awards; Escot Sounds, which is run by the same team as the phenomenally successful Beautiful Days; Tapestry Goes West and Redfest.

"Market saturation is certainly a prime factor," Jenner said. "Festivals as a booming, high-profile industry have attracted a lot of players. Many of these tend to be creative, passionate individuals with holistic rather than cold profit-maximising motivations.

"Although the market is still growing fast with more tickets purchased this year than last, the supply of tickets is outgrowing the demand, resulting in increased competition for fans and artists, who have raised their prices accordingly, creating a fierce environment where only the most financially savvy or innovative survive."

He also believes the economic pinch is taking effect and sponsor brands are tending to spread their budgets with smaller campaigns across several festivals rather than big lump sums at one event.

He says the result of this process is that the festival scene will become more commercially streamlined.