Pollstar’s 2017 In Review: Festivals – Fyre, Pemberton, Route 91 Harvest & More

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– Outside Lands
A general view of the crowd during the 2017 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on August 13, 2017 in San Francisco.
There are three music festivals from 2017 that will stick in almost everyone’s minds – two that never happened and one that ended in tragedy.
Fyre Festival, co-organized by Ju Rule and Fyre Media’s Billy McFarland, was to debut as a luxurious “once-in-a-lifetime” two-weekend event but was canceled at the last minute after festivalgoers had already started arriving in the Bahamas. Fyre became a nightmare for guests who were stuck on the island with bare-bones food and accommodations and now McFarland faces more than a dozen civil lawsuits in connection to the festival. Fyre Media was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July and the 25-year-old McFarland pleaded not guilty to wire fraud and making false statements in October. 
Just a little over a month later, the organizers of the annual Pemberton Music Festival shocked many in the live music business when they announced the July 13-16 festival near Vancouver, B.C., was canceled and filing for bankruptcy. Pemberton Music Festival Limited Partnership and 1115666 B.C. LTD were accused of fraud after announcing that automatic ticket refunds would not be issued.
The news was especially surprising because of the involvement of established players in the business – Huka Entertainment and Ticketfly.

2017’s Pemberton – with a lineup boasting dozens of artists, including Chance The Rapper, Muse, A Tribe Called Quest, Major Lazer, Haim, and Run The Jewels – would have marked the fifth edition of Pemberton Music Festival, after debuting in 2008 then returning under different ownership in 2014. The 2016 festival grossed more than $11.5 million and sold 178,925 tickets (99% capacity).
Festival directors blamed the money problems on decreased ticket sales, increased operating losses, and the impact of a weakening Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. dollar, in addition to accusing Huka of mishandling its role as promoter by misrepresenting the event’s financial projections.
Saying it was heartbroken by the cancelation, Huka Entertainment defended itself against accusations by releasing its own financial report and saying the decision to call off the festival was made by Pemberton Music Festival, LP. Nonetheless, the impact of Pemberton had serious consequences for Huka, which laid off members of its staff shortly after the festival’s cancellation and CEO Evan Harrison left the company in June.
By October Pollstar had learned that the company may not be promoting concerts for the near future. Huka is no longer involved with New Orleans’ BUKU Music + Art Project or Fort Lauderdale, Fla’s Tortuga MusicFestival, which Huka co-founded in 2013 and produced/promoted the fest from 2013-2017. 
Pollstar spoke to WME Head Of Music Marc Geiger and High Road Touring’s Frank Riley, who both work with a number of artists who were supposed to play Pemberton, in May about the impact of Pemberton and Fyre. 

Geiger warned that the damage to consumer confidence from the cancellations could have repercussions across the concert business, equating it to “the housing bubble.” He said that moving forward, WME and other agencies are most likely going to tighten up financial requirements and deposit requirements.
“Vendors will do the same – they’ll want deposits,” Geiger told Pollstar. “So overall what really ends up happening is when events like this happen and the financing tightens up, really only AEG, Live Nation and other big, big companies are trusted. That hurts the marketplace because it starts to box out independents. A healthy Live Nation and AEG are necessary but independents are necessary too. That’s what comprises the ecosystem. A lot of innovation comes from independents. So it hurts consumers, it hurts the industry, it hurts everyone.”
“It really does destabilize the independent festival promoter,” Riley said. “These two events [Pemberton and Fyre] make everybody more wary and it may result in further consolidation of the live music touring business, which would be a shame and, on a lot of levels, a disaster. Keeping the independent promoters alive and viable and productive is a way of keeping music alive and viable and productive. The corporate world is a little bit less about music and a little bit more about money and that’s what’s really upsetting here.”
It’s impossible to talk about festivals in 2017 without mentioning Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, which tragically ended with a gunman firing at festival-goers from his room at Mandalay Bay hotel-casino during Jason Aldean’s Oct. 1 closing set at the Las Vegas Village concert grounds. More than 500 people were injured and 58 died.
Unlike the tragedy at Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert, where a protected Live Nation event kept people inside the venue safe, Route 91 Harvest was a protected event that had no roof and no concrete concourses. No matter how protected the perimeter, and no matter how many security meetings take place, it showed that an outdoor event can still be vulnerable to terror launched from three football fields away.
That, alone, began shifting thought processes about security for outdoor events and inspired Austin City Limits Festival, at Zilker Park with skyscrapers behind it, to offer refunds (see Pollstar’s Year in Security story for more).
Other festival cancellations and postponements made headlines in 2017, such as the inaugural Spaceland Block Party in Southern California being pushed back to 2018 and Tall Tree Music Festival in Port Renfrew, British Columbia, taking a one-year hiatus in 2017. Vans Warped Tour founder and producer Kevin Lyman also announced that after 24 years, the punk-rock festival extravaganza will put on its final full-fledged run in 2018.
Michael Berg, promoter/talent buyer at Silver Wrapper (which produces outdoor festivals including North Coast Music Festival and Suwannee Hulaween) is one promoter who remains optimistic.   
“With the cancellation of established events like Pemberton, and the complete failure of a new event such as Fyre Fest, some people say the festival bubble has burst, and in many ways they’re right,” Berg told Pollstar. “However, there’s still room for markets and festival sites to take on new events that are not yet represented in that geographic region, or dedicated musical space. To survive and/or thrive in the current festival ecosystem, whether as an upstart indie or major player, it’s all about experiential at the fan level.” 
“Brand loyalty is hard earned and more valuable than anything to a festival’s lifeline,” Berg continued. “Operating within your event’s means in regard to budget, while patiently trusting the process of development, will help existing festival brands be profitable, sustain positive growth, or at the very least maintain their existence.”
In that vein, plenty of established festivals continued to put on fantastic, highly profitable events, with one success story being
A number of festivals also debuted in 2017, including Great Eastern Music Festival at New York’s Montauk Lighthouse, Flambeau Fest at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., and Mempho Music Festival at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis. Following 2016’s Desert Trip extravaganza from Goldenvoice/AEG Live, Live Nation seemingly responded in 2017 with Classic West and Classic East, featuring a lineup boasting Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Steely Dan and more. 
Classic West – which took place at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium – ranked at No. 4 on Pollstar’s Year End Top 20 Worldwide Festival Grosses chart with a gross of $17,057,842 and Classic East – held at New York’s Citi Field – came in at No. 6 with a gross of $16,036,664.
Coachella once again topped the Worldwide Festival Grosses chart, with a record-setting gross of $114,593,000. The 2017 edition (headlined by Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar) grossed $20,375,000 more than 2016’s event (topped by LCD Soundsystem, Guns N’ Roses and Calvin Harris) – an increase of 21.63 percent. The Goldenvoice/AEG Live-promoted event has held the No. 1 spot since Pollstar began releasing a festival grosses chart in 2012 as part of our Year End special features – with the exception of 2016, when the festival fell to second place behind Goldenvoice President Paul Tollett’s very own Desert Trip.  
San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival (featuring performances by Gorillaz, The Who, Lorde and Metallica) ranked No. 2 on the chart with a gross of $27,940,275. In 2016 the festival ranked No. 4 on the Worldwide Festival Grosses chart, with a gross of $25,838,610.
Looking at what’s to come in 2018, Londoners will be treated to a brand-new festival from Goldenvoice/AEG to launch in May at Victoria Park. All Points East is headlined by LCD Soundsystem, The xx and Bjork
Stay tuned for Pollstar Live! in Los Angeles next month for further discussion about festivals with the panel “ARMS RACE: Can The Indie Festivals Compete With Global Bookers.”  Moderated by Tim Sweetwood, President-Talent Buyer, C3 Presents, the panel includes Michael Berg, Promoter/Talent Buyer, Silver Wrapper, Inc.; Eric Mayers, Manager, Red Light Management; Michael Petryshyn, Owner, Riot Fest; Jay Sweet, Newport Folk Festival/Newport Jazz Festival; and Jill Wheeler, Promoter, Red Mountain Entertainment.