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Volcanogate 2010: the disruption after NAB and more

Tours, festivals and NAB visitors were affected by the severe disruption to international air travel caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland, writes David Davies.

Tours, festivals and trade show visitors were affected by the severe disruption to international air travel caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland, writes David Davies. Spelling serious headaches for airline companies and newsreaders alike, ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj√∂kull volcano arguably heralded the most sustained disruption to international aviation since 9/11.

The Coachella Festival – held last week in the US – was among the events to fall victim to the extended closure of European airspace. The Cribs and Bad Lieutenant (the latest venture from New Order’s Bernard Sumner) had to scrap their sets at the festival having exhausted all travel options, while Gorillaz was among the acts to face a very delayed return to the UK after playing Coachella.

Status Quo was stranded in Moscow for the best part of a week after playing a show there, whilst Metallica exchanged the ‘plane for lengthy bus and boat journeys in order to ensure that its latest European tour remained on schedule: in particular, the epic 28-hour run from Oslo to Riga will doubtless linger in the memory. Meanwhile, new rock band Batusis, co-formed by New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain, delayed their entire UK tour as a result of the volcanic ash situation.

A quick survey of leading sound rental companies revealed a mix picture. Concert Sound’s Tim Boyle reported on April 20 that there had been “minimal impact so far…although there could be if it went on for too much longer.” Capital Sound’s Richard Hannan (who recently collected the Music Week Award for Live Production Team of the Year) reported that “a few technicians had come in a bit late; it has affected some of the engineers flying around, but fortunately we have found ways around it and nothing has had to be cancelled.” Brit Row’s Bryan Grant highlighted an “incredible journey” by two team members, Jono and Pav, who travelled from the UK to Norway by train, ferry and hire car, and said that Dave Poynter had been trapped in Denver after completing a tour with Them Crooked Vultures. “But,” he added, “it’s lovely and quiet in my garden in Fulham!”

NAB 2010 visitors seeking to return to Europe were also severely hampered. Riedel’s Andrea Hilmer, industry PR Sue Sillitoe, Richard Kelley and Niels Frederiksen from DK-Technologies, Simon Woollard and Mark Evans from Prism Sound/SADiE, and PSNE’s very own Nick Beck were among the many who faced an unexpected stay in the US after NAB closed its doors on 15 April. Most appeared relatively sanguine about the delay, with Orban VP/GM Peter Lee admitting that staying in Las Vegas was “no punishment. I actually got to see some shows.” HHB’s sales director texted: “In San Francisco having a great time.”

Seeking a further positive from all this disruption, many stranded NAB-ers took the opportunity to follow up on new leads and arrange additional meetings and site visits. Having travelled to Chicago, San Francisco and LA in (unsuccessful) search of flights to the UK, this was exactly the scenario that faced Digital Vision. Martin Bennett, ex-Digidesign and now VP worldwide marketing, told PSNE on April 20 that, despite the obvious inconvenience, “Digital Vision is running through show leads more effectively. As the majority of the team is in LA we are able to follow up with a lot of potential West Coast business. […] Meetings in the sun are a definite plus!”

While certain limited restrictions remain in place at the time of writing, UK/European air movements recommenced in earnest late on the evening of 20 April – although with planes and staff dotted around the globe, it is likely to be several weeks before normal service is completely restored. With the criteria that informed the closure of European airspace now the subject of considerable controversy, this is one episode that is bound to be the subject of a lengthy post-mortem at government and business level.