So, you want to start a festival…
So, you want to start a festival? I’m sure you’ve got a dream line-up scribbled in a diary somewhere, a friend’s farm that would make for a dream location and maybe a spare grand or so floating around in your savings account.
Over the last decade there has been at least one new event pop up on Australia’s festival calendar every year. In fact, looking ahead to 2011 it is hard to find a month where there isn’t a large-scale live music event taking place. Festivals have become so commonplace you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that holding your dream event was as easy as roping off a paddock and ringing a couple of bands.
A few years ago a pair of (now notorious) brothers Tristan and Aaron Gray seemingly had this exact thought when they launched the Blueprint Festival in regional Victoria. Upon announcing the first line-up the brothers made a point of saying: “We’re just a group of young guys who love music and don’t care about the money,” a comment that would prove far more telling than anyone could have imagined.
Less than 24 hours after Blueprint took place the brothers went into hiding when it became clear they had incurred massive debts and were unable to pay a great number of the performers and suppliers. Speaking with triple j’s current affairs program Hack while still in hiding a few weeks after the festival, the brothers made no secret of their naivety: “We expected the ticket revenue to pay for everything, and then the money we made from the food and beverage sales to go into the bank …We knew it was going to be a bit tight. We didn’t think far enough to go: sound, lighting, stage, toilets, water, electricity, security, staff, food, marquees, the list keeps going. We didn’t really think about any of that stuff. It just blows your mind the sort of costs involved.”
Blueprint was a rare occurrence in that the event actually took place before the losses were made public. However other festivals in the last two years, such as Bam! and Lost Weekend, have folded before event day. As Splendour In The Grass’ founder Jessica Decrou told the SMH last year, there are thousands of hidden costs in running a large scale event ‘’People just don’t understand [all the costs involved]…Splendour is a particularly expensive show; we spend a lot of money giving people the best experience possible with all the bells and whistles.’’ And even before you get to those bells and whistles there are those essential costs like public liability insurance, staging and infrastructure, catering, toilets, the list goes on.
There is a cacophony of things that can go wrong for a festival in its first year (not to mention its tenth), so why would you get into the game in the first place and, more importantly, once you’re in what makes an event successful enough to ensure its longevity. Rather than start our own festival (which may well have become Blueprint Mark Two) we decided to talk to a few of Australia’s well-known festival promoters, including Danny Rogers who runs the ever-expanding St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, Angus Cameron who started Phillip Island’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza Pyramid Rock Festival and the Big Day Out’s Viv Lees and Ken West, to find out why and how they do what they do.