Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Promoters and responsibilities

It wouldn’t be an Irish summer without some choice news stories involving live music and festival promoters

Tue, Jun 30, 2015, 12:23


Three stories from the newswires about promoters and responsibilities. Friday morning saw the Hollow Sounds festival announce a change of venue for their event next weekend. Originally slated for the outdoor Ballykeeffe Amphitheatre in Co Kilkenny, the event from Homebeat and KPB will now instead take place in the Set Theatre in Kilkenny on Saturday night.

The reason for the switch? “The Saturday of our 2 day event hasn’t sold as we had projected. It is a very busy time of year for music lovers and this has affected sales.” Straight up, no codology about “unforeseen circumstances” or anything like that, no attempt to spin or spoof: the gig didn’t sell enough tickets and they’re moving it indoors. It’s a good example of a promoter getting in front of a story, telling the truth and moving on.

But it’s not just gigs which don’t sell which see a promoter get out in front of a story and be completely upfront about what is happening. One of the biggest gigs on the summer calendar this year is Avicii at Marlay Park on Friday night next. The Swedish DJ’s show has been sold out for months and, given the young target audience, it’s the kind of event which would always feature increased security scrutiny. We actually know this is going to be the case because the organisers have been very upfront about telling under 18s that they won’t get in, informing punters that there will be a zero tolerance policy regarding alcohol consumption in public areas around the venue and highlughting a “rigorous” check-in process.

Here’s Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn who is involved in organising the show. “I will tell you, the check-in will be rigorous, and we will not be allowing under 18s in…even if they are attending the concert with their guardians or parents. We are offering refunds for anyone under the age of 18 who may have accidentally bought a ticket. It’s a very clear commitment from myself as the producer of the show, it’s a very clear commitment from MCD as the promoter of the show, it’s a very clear commitment from the gardaí…We have more security at the event with 30 to 50 per cent more stewards than last year.”

These are clear examples of promoters behaving responsibly. There’s a third story from last week involving promoters and responsibilites and I think you all know about this one already. I covered the rise and fall of the Killarney Festival of Music and Food in the paper on Saturday, outlining the narrative which took it from Westport, Co Mayo to Killarney, Co Kerry and the various problems encountered by promoter Darryl Downey along the way.

You might think that there was little to add to the story after that, but you’d be wrong. The Irish Mail on Sunday reported that Downey faces a High Court action from the Revenue Commissioners over unpaid taxes, while The Sunday Times found that one of the acts scheduled to play the festival, Texas, found out about the cancellation not from the promoter but from their tour manager reading about it on social media.

And there’s more because this story is far from over. There are a myriad of unanswered questions here, including how the promoter got access to a national park in the first place, the fee agreed, the deposit arrangements, the decision by Kerry County Council to restrict capacity at the park to 10,000 per day (44 per cent less than the capacity the promoters were talking about in advance), the reasons for such a capacity curtailment, the number of tickets sold, the deposit arrangements with acts and a whole load of other issues.

But we’re unlikely to get answers to this as the organisers have gone to ground. In the run-up to a show, you’re usually swamped with PRs looking for coverage or interviews or features or mentions or anything at all which might help to shift tickets. Even when it was clear that there was trouble at the mill after the venue change from the national park to the racecourse, the organisers persisted in spinning and spoofing on social media about a new “fab” venue and telling folks that tickets for the Sunday were nearly sold out.

When things go really wrong, though, the PRs and the organisers run for the hills (at least, there has been no accusation of “incorrect reporting” on this one). There’s been no response to our phone calls or emails, though the festival’s PR spokeswoman Nicola Watkins did tell Siobhán Maguire in The Sunday Times that Downey would not be doing interviews.

I’ve seen this ostrich-in-the-sand behaviour far too often. The summer season with its glut of gigs and festivals brings tales of gigs gone wrong and promoters acting the eejit nearly every year, so I’ve become used to covering these stories. I’ve learned stuff about the planning laws, Ticketmaster refund policies and how to measure the capacity of a big field that I never thought I’d need to know.

But the overall narrative never changes: when things go wrong, the organisers run a mile from the media asking valid questions and hope that the story will go away in the next news cycle. With the exception of yer man in the hat last summer (and it must be stated that promoter Peter Aiken went above and beyond the call of duty in addressing all those issues), this usually happens, leaving only those of us with a bizarre interest in what goes on behind the scenes of a live music show nosing around. Well, one of us anyway.

Surely, though, punters who’ve been caught up in those stories deserve an explanation? In the case of Killarney, there’s obviously not that many punters caught up in the mess because they didn’t sell enough tickets. But there will be other incidents this summer where punters who’ve paid good money for their tickets find that their big night in cancelled. While they may get a refund on the tickets, who’s going to pay for the inconvenience suffered? Likewise, there are many bands affected by the failure of the Killarney festival. Have they got paid? Are their agents on the case? Did they get deposits or fees upfront?

There’s also the bigger issue of how a fiasco like the Killarney festival impacts on the whole sector. As I’ve pointed out above, there are many promoters who’ve done the decent thing and got out ahead of a story or gave the information required. But when something like the Killarney Festival of Music and Food goes bad and the promoter refuses to be a man about it and answer some questions, it has a knock-on effect on the whole sector. It’s the one rotten apple theory.

But we’re unlikely to find out. The organisers have skedaddled, they’ve deleted their Twitter account, they’ve pulled the plug on their Facebook page and they clearly have no intention of coming back until they’ve something new to sell to us. Let’s hope the media, music industry and punters remember what happened down in Killarney last week the next time someone crosses our path trying to flog us tickets for some dubious event. And, seeing as it’s still June, this is unlikely to be the only story of this ilk to be covered here this summer. Better have those planning acts to hand.