Stormy Weather: When Mother Nature Crashes The Party

Panorama Festival
Angela Weiss / AFP / Getty Images
– Panorama Festival
Attendees trudge out of the first day of Panorama Music Festival on Randall’s Island in New York City after a weather cancellation meant sets from The Weeknd, Migos and The War On Drugs were all nixed.
Some wild weather we’ve been having, eh?” Weather, the most inoffensive topic of conversation, has also historically been one of the biggest disruptors to the live music business, as demonstrated by a recent string of high-profile cancellations. The first day of Goldenvoice’s Panorama Festival in New York City on July 27; Phish’s Curveball Festival in Watkins Glenn, N.Y., Aug. 17-19; and a Backstreet Boys concert in Thackerville, Okla., on Aug. 18 were all called off because of inclement weather.
Beyond the obvious economic loss and personal inconvenience of canceling a concert or festival, natural disasters like hurricanes and fires raise serious public safety concerns in North America and beyond, devastating huge populations and causing billions of dollars in damage. In Houston, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Nepal natural disasters have disrupted entire economies. 
Still, the concert business relies heavily on Mother Nature’s cooperation for almost any outdoor show, and even sometimes indoor events. Talking Stick Resort in Phoenix had to cancel a number of shows because of monsoon damage and, at press time, Honolulu was facing potentially catastrophic losses from Hurricane Lane.
Cancellations can be major inconveniences, but things got serious last week with the injury of 14 at a Backstreet Boys concert at The Colosseum At WinStar in Thackerville Aug. 18. The injuries occurred when a heavy rainstorm and winds collapsed trusses holding up the entrance to the venue. Organizers said the resort was evacuated at 5 p.m. after lightning struck within four miles of the venue, but 150 people did not evacuate. 
“Safety first” is the industry’s default mantra when it comes to weather cancellation, as anything else would be irresponsible, but sometimes the audience isn’t on board.
Concert insurance veteran Peter Tempkins of HUB International has lots of experience in cancellations and said he has observed fans trusting their weather apps more than the promoters’ decisions. 
“When a festival makes a decision to evacuate due to weather, they don’t make that decision lightly,” Tempkins said. “I’ve been in those ‘war rooms’ and nobody wants to make that decision. People need to pay attention to that.”

“If you went to any promoter and said, ‘You have a choice of making a bad decision by evacuating or having three people injured due to lightning and falling debris,’ my gut is they would all choose the bad press of [cancellation]. … I think [the industry] is very conscious of the importance of keeping people safe.”
Bad buzz was the upshot when Sunset Music Festival in Tampa, Fla., was forced to cancel on what was ultimately a perfectly sunny day.
Promoters Disco Donnie Presents and Sunset Events scrambled to get performances from artists like Excision, Illenium, and Joyryde into local venues after authorities ordered the cancellation of day two of the EDM festival because of the warning for a tropical storm that never actually adversely affected conditions.
While authorities made the call with Sunset, when the local water supply for
Houston Theater District
Thomas B. Shea / AFP / Getty Images
– Houston Theater District
The theatre district of Houston was totally flooded by tropical storm Harvey in this photo from Aug. 27, 2017. The district includes Revention Music Center and Hard Rock Café.

Tempkins, who represents the festival, couldn’t  reveal further details about Curveball, but said cancellation was absolutely the last option. 
“I will tell you, nobody in that room or on those phone calls wanted this to cancel,” Tempkins said. “I can honestly say every possible option – and then some – was considered.”
New York is seeing a particularly stormy summer with the cancellation of Curveball and the first day of Panorama Festival, which was to feature performances from The Weeknd, Migos, The War On Drugs and others. 
“I am constantly thinking about different perils that can cause an event to cancel,” Paul Bassman, CEO of Ascend Insurance Brokerage, told Pollstar. “Other than the obvious ones like severe weather and terrorism there are things like a zika outbreak, an avian flu outbreak, wildfires, earthquakes, a meteor explodes over the festival site, a tsunami hits and washes away the site … you name it. But contamination of the water supply? I gotta make the box a little bigger because that’s a first for me.”
Bassman said typical cancellation insurance covers just about any kind of force majeure that would prevent an event from taking place, and almost always includes weather when you have an outdoor event. If the conditions causing cancellation are covered within the policy, the insurance company makes the insured party whole for their loss.
Smaller festivals and concerts might feel like insurance is too much of an expense, but Bassman, who has also worked as a promoter, manager and record label owner, said not having cancellation insurance for a ticketed event is unsound business and unsafe. 
“I understand that it eats into the budgets of events and it’s a tough spend, but my recommendation is book one less mid-level band and use that money to protect your revenue,” Bassman said. “The biggest problem with not having cancellation insurance is it creates a moral hazard. If you are sitting at the precipice of total, complete bankruptcy and ruin because the event is unsafe, and you are doubting whether to evacuate or cancel the event because of financial ruin, that’s a big problem. No one should ever be in the position to have to weigh public safety and putting lives at risk against catastrophic financial loss.” 
The long-traveling Vans Warped Tour saw plenty of cancellations because of weather and founder Kevin Lyman said he had to develop a special relationship with Mother Nature. 
“Where a lot of people would sit on the computers looking at radar, I’m out there feeling the air and could feel the air change,” Lyman told Pollstar in a recent interview. The weather was an especially large obstacle in Warped’s penultimate year, Lyman said, as more than two-thirds of the tour was rained out. 
Tempkins said the recent slew of weather-related cancellations could affect insurance rates. 
“I think the market is going to have to adapt to certain changes,” Tempkins said. “There have been conversations about festivals and how [underwriters] are going to deal with them. I think the market will react in the near future and festival managers are going to have to come up with proactive risk mitigation plans.”