Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Festival republic

In terms of sheer volume alone, the August bank holiday weekend is the busiest weekend of the year if you’re in the business of putting on shows in the open-air. There’s Castle Palooza in Tullamore, Indiependence in Mitchelstown, Le Cheile …

Thu, Jul 30, 2009, 08:50


In terms of sheer volume alone, the August bank holiday weekend is the busiest weekend of the year if you’re in the business of putting on shows in the open-air. There’s Castle Palooza in Tullamore, Indiependence in Mitchelstown, Le Cheile in Oldcastle, Cork X Southwest in Skibbereen and various Spraoi gigs in Waterford. Then, there are the one-day bills led by Metallica and Fatboy Slim bills at Marlay Park in Dublin.

But very few will be surprised if the only sell-out in a field this weekend will be the clash of Dublin and Kerry in Croke Park on Monday afternoon. As we have seen again and again this summer – Oxegen and U2 being the most obvious examples – the salad days when an open-air show would sell out at the drop of a straw hat are over for now.

Sure, you’d shows like Oasis, AC/DC and Take That selling out, but these were shows which went on sale last year before the recession really kicked in and the Revenue Commissioners began to take a greater interest in emptying your wallet. If you’re putting on a big bash this summer, you’re spending a hell of a lot more on advertising, promotion and novenas than you did in previous summers.

A striking example of this is the forthcoming Coldplay gig in the Phoenix Park. Remember this is an act who did four Irish shows last December without any fuss whatsoever, playing twice in Dublin’s O2 and twice in Belfast’s Odyssey to well over 40,000 people in total. Now, as predicted by OTR two months ago, a couple of serious support acts (Elbow and White Lies) have been added to the bill to see Chris Martin prancing in the park where the capacity is 40,000. Are Coldplay fans too chi-chi and wimpy to stand in a field for a few hours? Who knows, we might even see Jay-Z added to the poster yet – after all, he’s supporting Coldplay a few nights before Dublin in Manchester and a few nights after in Glasgow. Hot damn, I’d go to the park to see Jigga.

Promoters tend to get vexed when hacks zone in on the lack of sell-out shows. It’s not about the show selling out, they whinge between counting large wads of notes, so why do you keep harping on about it? Well, they have only themselves to blame. For the last couple of years, promoters used to try to vie with each other when it came to trumpeting the rapid sell-out. “Sold out in two minutes!” “Sold out in 14 seconds!” “Sold out before the tickets even went on sale!”. The press releases were beginning to get a mite ludicrous when it came to these claims about the fastest selling shows all time. The poor Ticketmaster staff must have been in a blind panic every Friday morning trying to get the tickets sold faster than the previous Friday. It couldn’t last – and it hasn’t.

Now, the promoters have to do a bit more work, add a stronger support bill and not take the punters for granted. There’s still plenty of gigging euro to go round, but customers have become far more selective in terms of what they’re buying. They’ll look at Fatboy Slim, for instance, and try to work out if it’s worth €69.50 of their hard earned money to relive the hey-days of 1996/7, even with the bold Dizzee on the bill. Or they’ll ask themselves if they really need to see Metallica this year when they seem to be here as often as the Red Hot Chili Peppers used to be. Then again, metallers are a law onto themselves in this regard.

There’s certainly more buzz about the fests in Tullamore, Mitchelstown, Oldcastle, Skibbereen and Waterford than the weekend shows in Dublin 14. It seems punters really are taking the boutique options into account this summer, especially where the homegrown elements are high on the bill and the ticket price is fair and decent. As a couple of people have pointed out to me in the last few weeks, prices are coming down all over the place, but ticket prices for the big shows have remained remarkably recession-resistent. It remains to be seen if this will continue in 2010.

Of course, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and hats off to promoters MCD for brilliantly solving one empty venue conundrum. After a seven month run for Bodies (which we hear did very good business in terms of skulls through the door), the next show which will packing them in at Dublin’s Ambassador is CSI: The Experience, which opens in August and will run for a couple of months at least. Probably more money and less hassle for the promoter than three nights of U2 at Croker.

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