Fyre debacle shows festivals should be left to the pros

Opinion: Unpaid acts, absent tickets. Fyre promoters were completely out of their depth

It’s the season for delinquent promoters to shine. As soon as people start to talk about festivals and outdoor soirées, these feckless promoters arrive to hawk their wares. We’ve seen it again and again: promoters with absolutely no regard for the acts they book, the crews they hire or the punters they get to hand over hard-earned money.

Every summer throws up these experiences. In Ireland, we’ve seen the ill-fated Killarney Festival in 2015 and the amateur-hour shenanigans at Light Colour Sound in Co Kilkenny in 2014. It’s also a common occurrence in the UK, where there are always festivals that don’t go to plan.

They even have delinquent promoters in the Bahamas. For most of us, the Fyre Festival arrived on our radars only at the weekend as the event spectacularly fell apart.

Reports about the festival featured a catalogue of disasters, from acts who hadn’t been paid deposits to fans who did not receive what they were promised for their pricey tickets. The promoters, rapper Ja Rule and tech bro Billy McFarland, probably hoped that the festival would become high profile. Unfortunately for them, it was for all the wrong reasons.

News reports hammered home the fact that the promoters were completely out of their depth. They had never put on a venture of this sort before and had no idea how to deal with the problems an event such as this would inevitably face. They over-promised and under-delivered at every turn, leaving them with no option but to cancel the festival, apologise profusely and probably stay off social media for a while.

Jumping through hoops

There’s a reason why certain festivals and events return year after year and that’s because they are run by people who don’t muck up. These promoters ensure that punters have a good time, acts get paid and their crew and suppliers are properly looked after. They jump through all the required hoops, take care of an ever lengthening to-do list and don’t cut corners when it comes to safety, security or facilities. They deliver what they’ve promised.

The problem with disasters such as Light Colour Sound or Fyre is that they give everyone a bad name. They make it harder for new entrants to become established, as agents who’ve been burned by a new festival are reluctant to be burned a second time. They significantly increase the costs of doing business for everyone else and they also contribute to the growing hegemony in the sector in the shape of Live Nation, AEG and their offshoots.

Of course, the Fyre Festival crew won’t be the only promoters to give it a lash this summer and end up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There’s always a steady supply of people who believe that putting on a festival is easy. They believe that any eejit can do it, so off they go.

You don’t want to clip the wings of enthusiasts who want to have a go, but putting on a festival is not the same as putting together a piece of Ikea furniture.It would better for all concerned if the likes of Ja Rule and Billy McFarland stuck to what they’re good at rather than try their hands at being the new Festival Republic.