End Of An Era For New Zealand’s Raggamuffin

The 2017 instalment of New Zealand’s Raggamuffin Music Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary, will be the last, announced founder Andrew McManus.

“All good things come to an end,” he said. “It’s been an amazing ten year journey.” The final event happens Feb. 18 at The Trusts Arena in Auckland. The bill includes Shaggy, Diana King, Marvin Priest, Rik-E-Ragga, The Wailers with Julian Marley playing a tribute to Bob Marley, Ky-Mani Marley, Morgan Heritage and NZ acts Six60, The Black Seeds, and House of Shem.

McManus was inspired to start Raggamuffin after discussions with the original members of UB40.

“We all thought it would be a great idea to start a purpose-built reggae festival and the result was the birth of Raggamuffin,” he said, according to the NZ Herald. “The culture and peaceful vibes of the Kiwi people ensured New Zealand was the obvious place to start and home Raggamuffin.”

The first festival, staged in the Rotorua region, also included Maxi Priest, The Wailers and Arrested Development, and drew 32,000. It subsequently brought out Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, Billy Ocean, Damian, Stephen and Ziggy Marley, Eddy Grant, Jimmy Cliff, Wu-Tang Clan, Mary J. Blige and Ali Campbell to the region.

Between 2008 and 2012 it was also staged in Australia. Audiences came from all over the world to New Zealand, McManus said.

At its peak, it was injecting between NZ$3 million ($2.1 million) and NZ$5 million ($3.6 million) to the Rotorua economy. But attendance dropped, with the 2014 two-day edition down 30 percent from the year before to 6,000 on the Friday and 13,000 on the Saturday and creating a loss of NZ$3 million ($2.1 million). 

As the percentage of Rotorua locals dipped from 35 percent of the audience to 7 percent, McManus cut short his five-year deal with the Rotorua District Council by a year and moved the festival to Auckland where 70 percent of the audience journeyed from.

The Auckland events drew between 14,000 to 18,000 but McManus felt it was “an error of my judgment” to have moved the event. Six months ago, he approached the Rotorua council about staging the 10th anniversary there, but council told him it had allocated its funds elsewhere.

The exit of Raggamuffin comes in the wake of a number of New Zealand festivals going belly up since 2015. Low ticket sales saw the axing of the R&B-themed Soulfest in its second year, and of Echo Fest, which wanted to bring the vibe of Glastonbury and Coachella to the southern hemisphere.

The punk, rock and metal festival WestFest ended in 2016 after the collapse of Australia’s Soundwave, with which it shared acts.

Auckland City Limits, which drew 25,000 in its first year in 2016 with headliners Kendrick Lamar and The National, opted for a gap year in 2017, with a return in 2018 with a stronger bill.