The fall-out from the Sonisphere festival cancellation continues . . . – Emma Webster

Following on from last week’s post about the demise of Sonisphere, a couple of new points have arisen:-

1) As posited by John Muir in response to my post last week, it seems that the reason for the cancellation of Sonisphere was as a result of poor ticket sales, claimed by The Independent to be because rock and metal fans ‘appear to have opted instead for Sonisphere’s rival, the Download Festival, held at Donington Park in June and featuring Metallica and the return of Ozzy Osbourne’s Black Sabbath’. Although I for one would have loved to have seen Kiss and Queen, the loyalty of even the most ardent of Sonisphere fans to their festival of choice would certainly have been tested by Download’s impressive line-up.

2) The same article mentions that ‘Live Nation UK, the promoter of Download, revelled in the collapse of its rival. John Probyn, its chief operating officer, tweeted: “Another one bites the dust”’, suggesting that there is no love lost between the two festivals. It should be pointed out that Sonisphere is jointly promoted with AEG Live, the second biggest live music and entertainment promoter in the world, and owner of venues such as the O2 in London, whereas Download is owned by Live Nation, the largest live music and entertainment promoter in the world.

Much of the large-scale festival circuit in the UK is currently linked in some way to Live Nation: to T in the Park, for example, via LN-Gaiety Holdings, and to Reading and Leeds via Live Nation-owned Festival Republic. AEG Live, on the other hand, are not yet major players in the UK festival market, although they are linked to RockNess, Sonisphere, LED, and Wakestock. This could all change, however, if the rumours that AEG Live are to buy the Mama Group from HMV are verified, thereby allowing AEG Live to immediately gain control of festivals such as The Great Escape and Lovebox, and therefore a much larger proportion of the UK festival market.

3) The third issue that The Independent article raises is that the fall-out from the cancellation of Sonisphere may be much wider than simply a loss of face or money for the promoters – the owners of Knebworth, it seems, were relying on the income from the festival to pay for essential repairs. Knebworth has been a very important space for live music since the second half of the 20th-century – let us hope that this set-back does not seriously affect the venue’s ability to continue. How about someone in the live music industries (Kilimanjaro, perhaps . . ?) organise a ‘Save Knebworth’ benefit show?

Emma Webster

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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