Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Time for some summer festival 2012 speculation

Right now, there are just a handful of people who actually know what’s really going on with next year’s Irish summer festivals and they are, as is their wont, holding the cards very close to their chests. Promoters don’t become …

Tue, Nov 8, 2011, 09:54


Right now, there are just a handful of people who actually know what’s really going on with next year’s Irish summer festivals and they are, as is their wont, holding the cards very close to their chests. Promoters don’t become promoters by blabbing to all and sundry about their plans before those plans are in place. But promoters need to book bands, hold venues and liase with the local authorities and there are many loose lips on those ships. What follows, then, is some (slightly informed) speculation about what might well happen in 2012 in Irish fields and parks.

Let’s start with the big one because the fact that Oxegen has yet to list the dates for a 2012 festival is a rum one which has had many scratching their heads and speculating wildly (like this). Since the get-go, Oxegen has taken place on the same weekend as T In the Park in Scotland which helps with bookings and logistics. But while the Scottish festival is gearing up for July 6 to 8 in Balado with early bird tickets already sold out and The Stone Roses now booked, Oxegen’s website is still talking about 2011. Even their twitter account is in retro mode, urging the festival’s 14,343 followers to buy tickets for the 2011 event (there’s obviously still some left unsold). Per email correspondance between a colleague and a contact in the MCD press office about Oxegen, staff there haven’t heard yet about dates for next year (and we know press officers don’t tell fibs). Sadly, neither MCD nor Oxegen responded to my enquiry last week about Oxegen 2012 – or else they have other uses for social media.

There was speculation in the Daily Mirror last week about a move to the Phoenix Park for Oxegen, which was quickly dismissed by the organisers. There may be plans afoot for something in the Phoenix Park as dates are believed to be on hold for July – it would be ideal for an event along similar lines to the Wireless festival in London’s Hyde Park, especially given the huge success enjoyed by POD’s Forbidden Fruit in nearby Kilmainham last summer and the growing populatity of urban fests – but it won’t be the post-Leaving Cert camping bacchanalia that is Oxegen as we know and (maybe) love it.

While it’s clear that Oxegen is a brand with many negative connotations, it is still an event which has a dedicated fanbase (though that fanbase is nowhere near the “over 80,000″ claimed by the promoters last summer) and I can’t see MCD abandoning them just because media commentators and older music fans turn up their nose at what happens in Punchestown. That said, there has been a lot of local talk about Oxegen not returning to the Co Kildare site in 2012 and there has been a ton of speculation about new venues. To date, I’ve heard Fairyhouse Racecourse, the field in Athy where they hold the ploughing championships, a site in Co Wexford and a site “near the border” mentioned as possibilities. Again, it’s speculation, pure and simple.

Sources at Oxegen’s main sponsor Heineken indicated last week that they are due to be briefed “shortly” about plans for next year. There is also word from various agents about MCD bookers enquiring about acts for Oxegen next summer, with holds already next to some names so we can take it that Oxegen or an Oxegen-like event will be held next year featuring the Stone Roses, Lady Gaga and the gang.

If such an event was going ahead, though, you’d expect early bird tickets to be on sale before December to avail of the Christmas present market so it is slightly strange that no announcement has been forthcoming so far. Maybe the PR machine was hyped up to sell those thousands of tickets required to take the dirty look off Croke Park when the Red Hot Chili Peppers play there next June? The machine may need some more oil as that gig is going to be a tough sell, even with entry level tickets pitched at a fairly reasonable €59.50 (plus the Ticketmaster gravy and trimmings).

And there’s the rub for 2012. We’re still in an economic situation where punters are reluctant to jump onboard for a gig months out. We saw this again and again and again last summer and you can see it in the number of shows which are getting switched to smaller venues (look at Deus moving from the Olympia to Academy, for instance). On the promoter side, there is also a reluctance to commit to booking acts and paying deposits – look at the huge number of available nights in the O2 for the rest of the year, for example. and acts touring the UK and Europe who are not coming here this time around. Promoters don’t want to lose the shirts they still have in their wardrobe after a tough summer in the fields.

But as we saw from the huge incresase in summer fests in 2011, there is a definite appetite for outdoor events. The problem for the big, established players is that the demand seems to be for smaller, more niche events, which are not going to make huge sums of cash for the promoter and the big boys became used to large pay-days during the noughties as the Irish went rocking and raving in fields with great gusto. Their business plans are predicated on large capacity events which need to sell close to capacity to make financial sense so they’re in a bit of a bind unless they can sell all the tickets to the big outdoor shows. What the smaller 5,000-capacity events have meant is that we’re seeing more and more would-be promoters come on and have a go. Yes, some of these new players mess things up and never re-appear again, but we’ve also seen the likes of Castlepalooza, Indiependence and Sea Sessions become established dates on the calender with a core audience who now favour these events over any of the bigger festivals.

It’s also worth noting that Oxegen is not the only event shy about revealing its 2012 plans. Usually by now, we’ve had a raft of announcements about 2012 gigs and early bird tickets on sale for events like the Electric Picnic but, bar the Chili Peppers and Westlife, it’s been remarkably quiet on that front (though we are hearing “Madonna” in the same sentence as “the Aviva” and “summer 2012″ a lot). Perhaps promoters have learned that it’s not really worth the effort to do the hard sell months out when people are leaving it to the last minute to buy their tickets because they don’t have the cash. Perhaps too promoters are getting jittery about confirming acts and paying deposits when the economy is so shakey. There’s a very interesting summer to come on the Irish festival scene. Strap yourselves in.