Festival Outlook

The question has been asked for some time now, but perhaps it really is the moment to face the future of our festivals. The Summer of 2008 produced more festivals than the British public could handle, and a grand shift in profit and sponsorship that hit some hard.
Michael Eavis recently disclosed to BBC 6Music that 2008’s Glastonbury had made no profit for the first time in its 39-year history. The onset of the credit crunch, recession and all manner of other woes to go alongside was imminent at the time of the festival, and Eavis cited growing costs of fuel, staging, staff and numerous other aspects of the event as being part of the issue. With the economic crisis now bearing into our lives much more prominently and on a day-to-day basis, the problem is almost certain to continue into next year’s festival schedule - for the UK and, quite probably, beyond our shores as well.

It is arguable, of course, that huge profit is not and should not be on the agenda for Glastonbury: it simply doesn’t fit in with the spirit and ideology of the weekend. Over £1 million was still raised for charity in 2008, a pretty admirable total by any standard. But this, however selfish it may seem, is not the issue at hand. The organisers have nothing left to invest in 2009’s event, which is estimated to cost around £22 million to put on. It’s a shocking figure. Did anyone think about that kind of thing when refusing to buy a ticket this year for the simple fact that Jay Z was playing?

Poor ticket sales played a part in this lack of profit too, of course. Thank goodness, then, that 2008’s Glastonbury Festival received rave reviews and restored our faith in it continuing to be one of the best and most prestigious festivals, not just in the country, but in the world.

Despite this renewed faith in Glastonbury, however, the event in 2009 still has to sell out if it is to be financially viable for it to go ahead. Inevitably and obviously this is down to the music fans and the approach they take to the changing climate that is the Festival Summer. Glastonbury’s veritable well of die-hard followers may seem bottomless, but even this factor was criticised last year for making the atmosphere somewhat stale by not connecting enough with a younger demographic. Emily Eavis commented that 2008 “saw the most diverse audience for ten years”, so we can perhaps hope for a new injection of youthful spirit to return to another successful weekend in 2009.
The system for purchasing tickets for next year’s festival is in fact already proving triumphant and agreeable with our ongoing money concerns. The opportunity for placing a £50 deposit and waiting until next year to complete the payment has appealed to many festival-goers who now have the time to save up (or at least wait until Christmas) for the £175 total needed. For most the price is a fair one, being the same as last year’s and, in relation to many other live events, amazing value for money. The complaints last year that the youth of today have no means to afford such a cost can also be, in part, silenced by this new system, and the evident benefits of it have been proven by the fact that around 100,000 tickets for 2009’s event have already been sold.
Perhaps these facts alone say enough to reassure the live industry that music fans are still willing to pay large amounts to attend festivals. “The Industry” has hardly made it easy for us, though. 2008 saw notably more festivals than ever before, making for major lapses in judgement in some cases and a lack of satisfactory ticket sales in many.

Surrey’s Redfest, despite having a wealth of largely excellent bookings, was subject to the latter and unfortunately cancelled, while the increase in festivals saw an increase in corresponding line-ups, and therefore arguably somewhat of a depletion in both variety and quality of music on offer. Fair enough, the growing DIY nature of the live industry (and otherwise) has empowered people to develop their own dream weekends, but the past Summer is surely proof enough that the idea cannot fit the reality, and certainly is confined to limits within the British festival schedule. A fine example of this realisation was Z008 in Kent, an apparent shambles from unjustified start to welcome finish. Acts weren’t paid and headliners pulled out, the co-operation of staff was inefficient and there were even questions concerning health and safety. Amazingly, tickets for Z009 are now on sale, but 2008’s attendees can surely only be waiting with baited breath for the announcement of a cancellation.
There was, however, some success in the rally of anti-corporate-gain festival promotion, as the Reading and Leeds weekends were as good as ever despite Carling pulling out of sponsorship after nine years with the festival. Fine, those two are hardly against major profit margins or shameless advertising, but it shows that large festival organisers can still rely on music fans to buy tickets and can hold on to this belief throughout setbacks; Reading and Leeds are another pair that will seemingly always deliver an outstanding line-up and a brilliant weekend.
Comparatively much more independent and yet perhaps just as critically acclaimed this year were the more small scale and humble events – selective and unique, they catered for fans of actual alternative music and captured a quaint British Summer atmosphere for all involved. These could spell the end for larger festivals, given their appeal to music fans on numerous levels, or they could arguably be their own downfall in the not quite so distant future. These events are cool for being small, popular for being so hushed up: the secret surely cannot last too long before masses of promoters jump on board yet again.All that is left to debate is whether the bizarre occurrences of the Summer of 2008 are an anomaly in the face of a change in live promotion and, indeed, in our economy, or whether they are an insight into the future of our Festival Summer. It’s worrying to see that the latter is probably the likely outcome.

RP For 3E News with Research by MH

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