Death Threat Over Hultsfred Bailout

The local municipality’s decision to bail out the cash-strapped Hultsfred Festival to the tune of 24 million Swedish kronor ($3.49 million) has caused uproar in the region.

Hultsfred Kommun announced the move Nov. 30, after debating the matter for several hours.

Technically, it’s a sale rather than a handout, as the council now owns much of the festival’s equipment assets and has use of one of its office buildings.

Many feel the council would have been better to have spent the money on hospitals or social services. Swedish media reports say that Kira Berg, a councilor with 26 years of experience and one of those who voted in favour of rescuing the festival, has already received a death threat.

Berg has said it’s important to the locality that Hultsfred survives and that the council has also protected local jobs.

Expect more changes at the festival, apart from Janne Kleman returning as in-house booker, now that the municipality has a major stake in the event.

Until four years ago, Hultsfred was Sweden’s biggest festival, but it’s since taken heavy losses twice and seemingly got itself embroiled in a turf war between Live Nation and AEG.

It began in September 2007 when David Maloney, who booked the Hultsfred bill for Live Nation, jumped ship and moved across Stockholm to help set up and run AEG Live Sweden.

He managed to keep the booking of the festival as – two months later – AEG bought Supreme Royal Deluxe, Hultsfred’s in-house booking agency, which was co-owned by Kleman and Gothenburg-based artist manager Petri Lunden. Kleman moved to AEG as part of the deal.

There was a shake-up in 2007 when Per Alexanderson, one of Hultsfred’s founders, returned from running Malmo Festival to replace JP Bordahl as festival chief. Bordahl left by what was described as “mutual consent” after the 2006 edition dropped $1 million.

With careful stewardship and the minimum of staff cuts, Alexanderson seemed to have steadied the ship until Live Nation, which had lost Maloney and then been outbid for Supreme Royal Deluxe, started Where The Action Is Festival in Stockholm on the same June weekend as Hultsfred.

Alexanderson said he was “disappointed” and felt Live Nation’s was just reacting to losing staff and the booking of Hultsfred to AEG.

“I suppose they have to react because they’re a huge American company that has had a monopoly here for many years, and now they’re faced with another global competitor,” he told Pollstar at the time.

This year Hultsfred was on its financial knees again, prompting Alexanderson to quit on the grounds that he no longer believed he was the man who could turn things around. He hasn’t been replaced.

Unconfirmed reports say Hultsfred has also decided it wasn’t benefiting from being locked into working exclusively through AEG and opted to bring the booking back in-house. AEG has booked the event for two years. It was not disclosed how much it paid for Supreme Royal Deluxe.

“I can’t speak for AEG and I can’t speak for Hultsfred. I just want to be the man who books the bands,” Kleman told Pollstar Dec. 2, two days after he left AEG and moved back to the festival – the same day as the council announced its funding decision.

Kleman said it was his only way of continuing to book the event but declined to go into any further detail.

Since Alexanderson’s departure, the festival has dumped its staff and acting festival chief Putte Svensson is overseeing a skeleton crew working out their notices.

Among those not currently on board is former press chief Håkan Durmer, but some of those who’ve already left may be re-hired.

Any selective trimming of the numbers would have contravened Sweden’s “last in – first out” employment law. It may have been expedient for Rock Party, which owns and runs the event, to let everyone go and then re-hire to whatever level it can afford.

Hultsfred Kommun leader Sven Carlsson told Nyheterna Lokaltidningen that 17.3 million of the 24 million kronor was to settle outstanding matters and 6.7 million was for working capital. The festival dates for 2010 are July 7-9.