Could new owners hamper Electric Picnic?

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

Q Has Electric Picnic sold its soul?

This week’s confirmation by Electric Picnic co-promoter Melvin Benn that this year’s event will go ahead should assuage the fears of many people about the festival. As there had been no official word about the 2013 event, there had been much speculation that it had been cancelled or postponed.

The festival may not be one of the calendar’s big crowd-pullers – its 32,500 maximum capacity is small compared with the numbers who attend outdoor shows at Slane Castle, Croke Park or the RDS – but the Picnic has built a fervent, dedicated fan base since its debut in 2004.

But that fan base may well be wondering if recent changes in ownership will have any bearing on what happens in Stradbally, Co Laois, at the festival’s 10th anniversary this summer.

Out goes Festival Republic, which came into the event in 2009 to replace Aiken Promotions. In comes LN-Gaiety Holdings, a joint enterprise between multinational live music company Live Nation and MCD Concerts boss Denis Desmond’s Gaiety Investments.

While Live Nation and Gaiety own a share of Festival Republic, the move to bolster their ownership at this time is intriguing. Will these new names on the hamper spell trouble and strife for the Electric Picnic?

Mr Benn was at pains to insist, when he spoke to The Irish Times, this would not be the case. He pointed to the continued presence of Picnic founder and creative fulcrum John Reynolds.

Even in the midst of the convoluted web of holding companies and operating companies behind the Electric Picnic, Mr Reynolds still controls 29 per cent of the festival, compared with the new arrivals’ 71 per cent.

However, it will be interesting to see how the festival will be pitched when tickets go on sale in March.

Mr Desmond’s MCD is behind the Oxegen festival and it has yet to confirm if that event will go ahead in 2013.

It is understood MCD is planning a festival called Longitude to take place in July along similar lines to the Electric Picnic.

While Mr Benn and Mr Reynolds are still involved in the Electric Picnic, the increased presence of both Live Nation and Mr Desmond will bring changes, especially as the event ran up losses of €2.1 million in 2010 and 2011.

Yet, despite the need to move to a stronger financial footing, even the new arrivals should recognise the Electric Picnic’s special appeal.

How the dedicated fan base will respond to any changes will determine if the festival gets to enjoy its teenage years.