Reports from the festivals’ frontline
If it’s July, the event gigs are in full swing. Over the last week, there have been plenty to choose from, with Bruce Springsteen attracting punters and politicians to Dublin’s RDS, Chic opening the Big Top for business down in …
If it’s July, the event gigs are in full swing. Over the last week, there have been plenty to choose from, with Bruce Springsteen attracting punters and politicians to Dublin’s RDS, Chic opening the Big Top for business down in Galway, the small but massive charms of Glasgowbury drawing hardy souls to the Sperrin Mountains and a few reminders of the attractions of the capital’s Iveagh Gardens as a gig venue. We’ve also had plenty of evidence that it’s possible to go to a couple of live gigs in the open-air without any class of apocalypse breaking out. And there’s much more ahead: the August Bank Holiday weekend features more music festivals than anyone has the time to experience.
What we’ve learned from the last few nights is that there’s still appears to be enough of an audience out there (or audiences – there was very little overlap between any of the shows I saw over the last few nights) to make these shows viable, provided they’re the kind of shows people want to see. The second Springsteen show, for instance, sold out in the end, thanks most likely to positive word-of-mouth about his first Dublin performance and the bouhaha over the London curfew thing. Chic’s Galway debut will be the stuff of legend in due course and they’ll probably need a bigger tent for the return visit. Both Lisa Hannigan and The Waterboys pulled good crowds to Harcourt Street for their respective appearances in the Iveagh Gardens, with Hannigan and a strong support bill (Other Lives were fantastic, for example) and the first open-air event show for Mike Scott and co in the capital in ages ensuring healthy turnouts. It all added up in the end for those shows.
But it’s not all plain sailing for promoters this summer. There were plenty of tickets available when the Red Hot Chili Peppers took to the stage at Croke Park last month, while there won’t be any sold-out signs to be found in Dublin 4 when Madonna arrives at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow for her soundcheck (she does soundcheck, doesn’t she?). Some gigs are just too damn ambitious and the promoters and acts still seem to be living in cloudcuckoo land when it comes to their pulling power. It’s better to scale down a bit than scale up in this economic climate because the punters will have the final say. No-one really desparately needs to see Madonna in 2012 and that disposable income which was usually earmarked for tickets five or 10 years ago has been slowly chipped away by other more pressing demands.
You also have the advance planning demands on that spend. Whether it’s the Electric Picnic at the end of the summer or the plethora of shows over the August bank holiday weekend (Castlepalooza vs Indiependence vs Liss Ard vs Le Cheile), there is choice in the market which never previously existed. Add in other festivals like next weekend’s Knockanstockan in Blessington or Belsonic and Sunflowerfest up north next month and you begin to wonder if everyone really can come out of this summer without losing their shirts. Surely not all of these gigs are going to sell?
There was already a concentration of established festivals over the August bank holiday weekend but that’s been further added to by the arrival of the revitalised Liss Ard festival with a pretty sweet selection of acts. It’s on a much different scale and pitch to its predecessor CorkXSW and it will be interesting to see if it pulls punters who might have been looking at Castlepalooza or Indiependence and decided to head to west Cork instead. But that latter brace of well regarded small festivals have already earned their stripes and audiences, and you can be sure the promoters are not going to yield space to the newcomer without a fight. While the numbers needed to make a decent return from a big show are much smaller when you’re dealing with 5,000 rather than 50,000, despatches from Tullamore, Mitchelstown, Skibbereen and Oldcastle over that weekend will be watched with interest nontheless.
The absence of Oxegen from the calendar has been much commented on this summer, especially in light of the shows at the Phoenix Park where that trio of shows pulled the audience who would normally go to Punchestown. There’s strong speculation from a number of sources that Oxegen or an Oxegen-like event will return in some shape or other 2013 with sponsorship pitches currently being discussed at several agencies and brands around town. All involved will be hoping that the Irish fondness for paying good money for gigs in the open air and then talking to their mates through the show will continue on in 2013.