Thursday 11 August 2011

It Wasn't Meant To Be-acons

Can't help but feel I jinxed this a bit...

Like many others, today I was informed mere hours before I was due to hop on a train to Skipton that the first ever Beacons music festival in Yorkshire has been cancelled. Crap.

Needless to say, I'm pretty disappointed - this was to be my one festival of this summer, and though there weren't any massive names on the lineup, it was set to showcase a strong range of top-notch smaller bands and up-and-coming talents including Quiff Pro 'Fro favourites Dananananaykroyd, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Jamie Woon to name but a few. At first, I thought, the claims of a flooded festival site seemed a bit of a wishy-washy excuse (no pun intended) to call the whole thing a day. Though heavy rain had apparently battered Skipton over the last day or so, surely music festivals are usually prepared and equipped to combat such adverse weather conditions? After all, the likelihood of it raining in Yorkshire can hardly have come to a surprise to the organisers...

Aw, crap.
Alas, once I'd returned home from work and saw the photos posted on the Beacons Facebook and Twitter pages, I understood the severity of the flooding. Just see to the left - it looks less like a festival site, more like someone's tried pitching a teepee in the middle of a lake. Obviously there was nothing that could be done to get rid of that much water at such short notice. As let down as all my fellow ticket holders surely feel, my thoughts also go to those who've spent the past year organising the festival only to have it fall rather spectacularly at the final hurdle. If any of you read this - thanks for going to so much effort to put together such a great line-up, it's a real shame it hasn't gone ahead and I really do hope that you're able to try again next year.

All of this got me thinking about the current music festival situation this year - Leeds festival is still yet to sell out, ticket prices in general have risen to dispiritingly high levels, and it seems like more new events are ending in last-minute cancellations than ever. Just last week, Newcastle's first camping music festival Ignition was forced to cancel the day before it was set to kick off due to the venue pulling out. My suspicions lead me to think that poor ticket sales might have been the cause for that - why else would the venue withdraw from the event other than if they were likely to make a substantial loss?

With so many smaller festivals cropping up every year (every city seems to have their own now), it's not particuarly surprising to see that not all end up being successes. Within every tier of festival size - from big hitters like Glasto and Reading/Leeds, fairly large ones like Bestival and the Big Chill and smaller ones à la Y-Not - more new events seem to spring up year upon year. This summer, I found myself put off by the high prices of the large and even medium-sized festivals, especially when most of the acts doing the rounds this year have appeared on previous line-ups. I saw Beacons as an alternative where I could pay much less and discover a load of new music instead of paying big bucks to go and see a few stadium-filling bands.

"If you book them, they will come" - still true?
Whilst I believe that Beacons would have been a success had it gone ahead (Friday day tickets had apparently sold out, and there was a strong buzz about it on the whole) due to its diverse and alternative bill, the festival market has become dangerously overcrowded - there are only so many willing festival-goers, who only have so much disposable income, and if your new little festival isn't offering anything different to other well-established ones of a similar size, you're not offering an incentive to pull the punters in. Devon Rox, Amplitude, Northern Lights and First Days Of Freedom festivals have all been unlucky enough to have to withdraw their events this year, all due to either being financially inviable or venue troubles. Whilst it's great seeing so many places trying to host their own festivals, it's no longer enough to assume the Wayne's World 2 mantra of "If you book them, they will come".

The danger here is the effect that this will have on future festivals. Yes, what happened to Beacons is extremely unfortunate and unavoidable (there's no stopping the weather), but had it been a on a larger scale with more money available then a solution along the lines of a water pump and bark chippings may have been an option. Of course, the line-up and independent style of Beacons wouldn't have suited a large budget and a Bramham Park-esque site - my point is, rather, that there is increasingly a risk when choosing to invest your money as an attendee in smaller festivals. Year after year, Glastonbury has coped with ridiculous weather and mud precisely because: it's Glastonbury! What happened here shows that smaller festivals can be less well-equipped to deal with the many problems that these sort of events can come up against. With so much money involved in larger festivals, they carry a much lower risk of being cancelled.

That's not to say the 'anyone can do a festival' spirit doesn't work - just see LeeFest, also taking place this weekend, which has retained its intimate, independent spirit whilst growing every year from its origins of literally being in someone's back garden. In fact, I think it's brilliant that there are so many options available to festival-goers in the UK when it comes to choosing a size, price and line-up that suits you. My worry is that with the instability of smaller festivals becoming more apparent, the safer option for audiences will be to cough up a bit more cash to go to Glasto or Reading and avoid the independent festivals safe in the knowledge that what you've booked will at least be going ahead. If that becomes the case those wonderful, charming little enterprises, just like Beacons could have been, will be in even more danger of becoming financially inviable through poor ticket sales.

I'm not pretending to know any sort of solution to all of this. However, it does seem clear that if smaller festivals are to survive, there needs to be a serious re-think as to what approach organisers should take, with an emphasis on fewer events and more diverse line-ups to ensure that corporate giants don't become the only options and, crucially, more paying customers aren't left in the lurch with last-minute cancellations and festival dreams dashed.

02. Dananananaykroyd - Good Time by Republic of Music
Tom Vek - Aroused by modularpeople

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