We have been told, at least for the past couple of years, that the real money to be made in the music business is now from performing live. This has been epitomised by the huge swathes of festivals that seem to have sprung up on every spare piece of sun parched grass across Europe and the UK during the summer months. The 2011 season looks likely to be going into the record books but not for the number of festivals pitching a tent and calling it a stage but for the number packing up and going home. In 2010, 34 festivals fell by the wayside while this year 31 have already bitten the dust. In July alone Kent’s First Days of Freedom and Aberdeen’s Northern Lights Festival have both been called off, while August looks even worse seeing Chalgrove, Devon Rox and the Bideford Festival all closing their doors. More established festivals include Vintage at Goodwood, which was also the winner of the Best New Festival at 2010’s Festival Awards.
Of course, it’s not just the punters that end up disappointed or out of pocket, suppliers have in the past been left in a similar situation. However, Spencer Beard, operations director at SSE Hire told PSNE: “These cancellations have not affected us in the slightest. We haven’t had a single one of our festivals cancelled and to be honest with you I couldn’t name one festival that has been.” SSE have been extremely busy up to this point with Download, High Voltage, Lovebox, T In the Park, Reading and Leeds all under their belt.
Capital Sound was also upbeat: “It’s been mad! We’ve been very very busy, which is good because the start of the year wasn’t! These cancellations haven’t affected us at all,” said general manager, Paul Timmins. “I would say that this summer we have possibly done even more festivals and outdoor events. The only festivals we haven’t done are ones that we pulled out of because we hadn’t been paid. There was one client this summer that had a track record of moving business around and not paying people which we cancelled on and in general have made an effort to move away from the more ‘flakey’ festivals,” he concluded.
Skan PA’s Abby Llewellyn is positive too: “The ones we’ve done - Glastonbury, Download, Eden, Isle of Wight etc - have all gone ahead. We just don’t tend to do any small ones these days. I was aware of some being cancelled last year but wasn’t aware that so many had been cancelled this year already. It doesn’t affect us, but someone somewhere must be holding gear for them so they must be affected,” she said.
In fact, after following around 20 lines of approach, via email and phone calls to festival organisers (if they had not gone bankrupt), and PA companies, PSNE failed to find any real hardship stories from the current cancellation climate. What appears to be the general consensus is that the festivals that are being cancelled are the smaller, less well-established events, those which may have used a smaller local PA company, or in the case of Bideford, had their own. Yet, there is an underlying concern that the festival season has become saturated and that so many people are jumping on the bandwagon that there will undoubtedly be natural wastage.
LeeFest promotor Lee Denny, who has been running the event for six years, said in an interview with Music Week: “I am amazed when I see the acts that are booked for some new events, because you are talking about big money for big names. If you don’t have a track record, that’s a massive risk.”
Yet, the current economic climate may also be starting to taking its toll, with increasingly cash-strapped festival goers deciding where best to pitch their tent. At this year’s Great Escape conference in Brighton (held as part of the Great Escape Festival), economist for PRS told the attendees that in general audience numbers at live music events in Europe were slowly declining, but optimistically stated that it was probably just ‘a blip’.
Not so optimistic was Michael Eavis in a recent interview with /The Times/ in which he stated: “Partly it’s the economics, but there is a feeling that people have seen it all before. We’ve probably got another three or four years.”
So, is there cause for concern? Well, in the grand scheme of things probably not, especially not from the perspective of the vast majority of PSNE readers. If the trend continues and does start to affect larger festivals such as Glastonbury then of course, that is an entirely different situation. Until such time, chuck your sunscreen and your Pot Noodles in your rucksack and get your mud on.