Festival Award For
Big Bad Wolf

Live Nation COO John Probyn took the UK Festivals’ lifetime achievement award at London Roundhouse Dec. 3, the same day The Guardian quoted him describing his company as “the big bad wolf.”

“All promoters are seen as the big bad wolf and we are the biggest and it is really simple to aim at the largest target,” he said, denying that LN has any “stranglehold” on the market.

He also dismissed the suggestion that Live Nation had become too big, adding that larger market share allows the company to reduce ticket prices, artist fees and the cost of a beer and give a better deal for its customers.

“I’d like to be bigger, I’d like to have more control,” he said.

Whatever the UK Festival Awards judges think of his career, which now spans 25 years, some feel Probyn deserves a gong for what he had to put up with in London’s Hyde Park during the course of last summer.

He had pressure from local residents who regard the park as their back yard and don’t want pop and rock concerts staged there, which led to his widely reported pulling the plug on Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen, who were about to play beyond curfew.

Apart from that, the English summer suffered downpours of biblical proportions and he had to spread 8,000 cubic meters of wood chips across the park to avoid it turning into something resembling The Somme.

Having lost only one gig, a Hit Factory show that would have featured Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan reunited on stage for the first time in more than 20 years, LN finished the season by losing the contract to run Hyde Park shows after being outbid by rival AEG.

He also told the Guardian that “picky” customers made 2012 a tough year. Some complained because it rained, including a group of girls unhappy about standing the on grass because they were wearing high heels that sunk into the ground.

“Fans now expect spectacular shows, with good quality sound and great entertainment – they are looking for that wow factor. If they feel that is missing, they are more than prepared to moan,” he said.

He seemed to have mixed feelings about winning an award that suggests his best days are behind him.
“It makes me feel old. Don’t they usually give these things to people who are dead?” was his only comment on his lifetime achievement award, which had been announced a few days before the awards bash.

The daytime conference that preceded the awards provided some conflicting views on the state of the UK festival market.

The conference guidebook suggested that the weather affecting attendance, the recession, a saturated market and festivals being for the under-25s are all “myths,” while the last panel of the day – “The Festival Emergency Board Meeting” – made them sound more like harsh realities.

In an earlier panel, Paul Twomey from insurance broker Robertson Taylor said, “Everybody knows everybody has had a bad year.” His company would have handled a lot of the claims.                  
Tony Scott from Guilfest, which sold so few tickets that it went bust, said competition from sporting events such as the European soccer championship and the Olympics may have had a lot to do with it.

When a festival is having a rough time, at what point do the organisers pull the plug and make the decision to cancel?
Bestival chief Rob da Bank said that point comes if he realizes his event is only going to sell four tickets. Bestival was voted best major UK festival.

Other festival award winners included Bloodstock Open Air Festival (best medium-sized fest), Y Not Festival (small fest), Festival No. 6 (new fest) and Download (best lineup).

Lodestar, a small festival in rural Cambridgeshire, had the “Best Toilets.”

The full list of winners is at festivalawards.com.