Sweetwaters Promoter Daniel Keighley Dies

Daniel Keighley, promoter of New Zealand’s Sweetwaters Music Festival, died Sept. 18 from cancer. He was 63. 

The first Sweetwaters Music, in January 1980, drew 45,000. Four more were held until 1984. Its bills boasted A-listers like Elvis Costello, Simple Minds, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, INXS, Split Enz and Cold Chisel.

Folklore was that Keighley would turn up uninvited at the acts’ hotels in the U.S. and Europe and harangue them into performing. But his attempt to revive the event in 1999 after a stay in London when managing The Mutton Birds was a financial disaster. Australia’s Big Day Out, which extended to New Zealand in 1994, was held the same month and split the audience. Rumours backstage of financial problems, acerbated with NZ$200,000 ($128,650) of gate takings suddenly going missing, saw Run DMC refuse to play and headliner Elvis Costello having to be coaxed on.

None of the local acts were paid. The festival was left with debts of NZ$2.7 million ($1.7 million). Keighley was left bankrupt and jailed for 18 months for fraud in 2000.

In his 2005 book, “Sweetwaters: The Untold Story,” Keighley recalled how an unnamed Auckland gang had been hired as festival security without his knowledge. He later needed armed guards at his house for protection as gang members took retribution for their NZ$10,000 ($6,332) check bouncing.

He was assaulted in prison and lost his front teeth. Radio New Zealand music producer Trevor Reekie called Keighley “a good man with a heart of gold,” citing his involvement in the Parihaka International Peace Festival, women’s refuge centres and the college radio network to expand airplay for uncommercial NZ music.