music festival safety

Even for those who don’t closely follow music festival news, the disastrous Fyre Festival was hard to miss. The dramatic photographs from the site of the failed festival and the subsequent fallout made national headlines. The festival is now the subject of several lawsuits and its main organizer, Billy McFarland, is facing federal wire fraud charges.

While the logistics of holding a festival on a Bahamian island and the high-profile and misleading way it was marketed made Fyre Festival a particularly exceptional case, its effects are unfortunately being felt by all major music festivals, even the far less ambitious ones.

Site of cancelled Sound On Sound Fest
Site of cancelled Sound On Sound Fest

In recent days, Texas festival Sound On Sound Fest announced that it was cancelling this year’s festival only a month before it was set to happen. According to The Austin Chronicle, the reason was a major investor backing out and the festival’s inability to secure another financial backer in time. Allegedly what scared off the investor was numerous artists asking for more money upfront, citing the situation many artists booked to play Fyre Festival found themselves in. Sound On Sound at this time does not plan on trying to organize a festival for 2018.

WayHome Fest near Toronto also recently announced they were “pausing” the festival and not attempting to hold the event until 2019.  The festival organizers cited safety concerns about the location in Burl’s Creek, an issue that mirrors the subject of the pending lawsuits against Fyre Festival. What The Festival in Oregon is another event that is taking a similar path to WayHome for similar reasons.

While Fyre Festival is not solely to blame, there have been other festivals with recent high-profile issues, it does highlight what is going wrong for festivals: they’re becoming more expensive to put on.

The reason why costs are skyrocketing is because festivals are being perceived as riskier investments, and that perception only grows with every high-profile incident. Not only do festivals feel that risk with skittish investors, associated costs like insurance goes up for festivals the more underwriters feel there is a large risk potential in these events. That combined with the concentrated nature of the event’s timeframe means it’s tougher and tougher for festival organizers to make their margins work.

These are all long-simmering trends for music festivals that are all coming to a head now, but their effect are particularly acute as well because all the previous stated risks are associated risks of music festivals, but recent events like the shooting in Las Vegas have highlighted the associated physical safety risks that music festivals present just as an event that is a a large gathering of people. It’s a risk that’s not necessarily unique to music festivals in the same way Fyre Festival highlighted particular faults in music festival organization, but it’s something that festivals have to take seriously and it is involved with the risk profile of the events.

There’s not really a solution to this other than for the festivals that continue to happen to avoid disasters and put on successful festivals, thus reducing perceived risks. That likely means festivals with established major backers and organizers stepping up and increasing the safety of festivals. Unfortunately this also means that for smaller festival organizers and those starting new festivals without a long track record will likely find it is nearly impossible at the moment to make it work financially.

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