Sonisphere 2012: why festivals get cancelled – Emma Webster

In the light of yesterday’s announcement that Kilimanjaro Live’s Sonisphere festival has been cancelled, today’s blog examines some of the factors that have caused the cancellation of festivals over the past few years. Sonisphere is not the only ‘big’ festival to cancel in 2012, of course – The Big Chill’s organisers, Festival Republic, announced in January that 2012 would be a ‘fallow’ year for the festival.  Unlike Sonisphere, however, the Big Chill was able to cancel before it had advertised any acts or put any tickets on sale.

In my doctoral thesis, I identified a number of elements that can cause a live music event to fail and/or to be cancelled, based on Simon Frith’s five essential elements for a live music event (an artist, a venue, an audience, appropriate technology, and a catalyst – or promoter – whose role is that of bringing all these elements together).  Cancellation factors, then, divide into three categories: human (for example, the artist pulls out of the gig, or the audience gets out of control); physical (the venue gets double booked, for instance, or the technology packs in); and external crises (for example, bad weather or global economic recession).  Unlike an ‘ordinary’ gig, however, a festival is unlikely to be cancelled if the headliner(s) cancel(s).  The often multi-focus nature of a festival also means that if one element goes awry, another can pick up the slack.  So, for instance, if a second stage or dance tent has problems, this may cause displacement of the audience or cancellation of some artists, but would not necessarily lead to the cancellation of the entire event.

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