After another Summer of festival failures and touring fiascos, Getintothis’ Chris Flack offers his thoughts on turbulent travel, stamina, and industrious tour managers; there’s even a Top 10.
As another Summer (?) comes to an end we are reminded of how fickle festival season is. Field Day was the first, beset by problems with stages running hours behind, acts shelved and upset punters abound.
Augusts tempestuous weather saw off Boardmasters in Cornwall (high winds), and Houghton Festival in Norfolk (fears of flooding). Blackpool Air Show lost its first day over high winds, and Boomtown Fair organisers spent a few days on the edge of a nervous precipice watching the winds come in.
De Montfort Hall is in the process of refunding £30,000 worth of tickets after taking the tough decision to cancel the first of its Gigs in the Garden events due to the stormy weather.
That’s a lot of money.
Not long ago, Fontaines D.C. announced that due to exhaustion and external pressures, they had to cancel several festival dates, it’s unsurprising given they’ve been on the move constantly for eighteen odd months.
It feels like only last week in the Getintothis local that we discussed how punishing their schedule seemed to be, starting last year on the Idles US tour, they don’t seem to finish until Christmas. Or sometime after.
That’s a long time on the road.
Now, if you are AC/DC, Garth Brooks or Pink, a megastar on a mega tour, the scale of the machine that makes you move, that makes you a success, that makes each event work, is eye-watering to behold.
Eye-watering in sense of its scale, cost and the requirements needed to move all that crap at the same time, to make sure it all gets to the same place at the same time with enough time to spare to set up, make everything work, put on a show and get out before you miss the next one.
It is, for most, a relentless process, and one few take on lightly.
Consider if you will the number of people required to keep a mega tour moving, you can have some or all of the following; tour managers, production manager, sound techs, monitors techs, guitar techs, drum techs, lighting techs, visuals team, camera operators, photographers, wardrobe, make up, personal assistant(s), drivers, a rigging team to hurl your star across stadiums, and a props team if there are loads of the things to manage.
Have you seen Beyonce on the road?
That’s a lot of balls in the air, in anyone’s money, even if you’ve had time to prep, worked with these people before and if you trust them. Monolithic movements of music such as this or a festival are built on trust.
If you’re touring you are going to be spending a lot of time with these people, days stuck in sweaty and all too cramped tour buses, hours lined up in interminable queues at airports. If you’re unlucky it’ll be behind crying babies, where you’ll be stepping over spilt coffee and sleeping Spaniards, and fearing delayed flights.
Making a tour or a festival work takes months of pencil-pushing; sorting bookings, sorting freight and flights, forward advancing, planning routes, gathering gear, picking your personnel, checking bridge heights between here and Hamburg, devising great riders, the list is almost endless. And that’s before you get to infrastructure.
Then you get something like what has happened with Fontaines D.C.
They have experienced an unexpected, near stratospheric rise, while on tour with Idles. It’s easy to suggest that much of their planning up to this point could be a bit fly by night, back of a napkin, they look like they’ve planned this lot while driving across the US, the list of shows and festivals is a daunting, terrifying thing to consider.
And like many in their position, it looks like they may have just overreached.
Tours are a weird slice of an insane version of life. In an average week you can bet the house on experiencing excessive drinking, drug habits, affairs, fallouts, falling foul of the local constabulary, lost gear, lost luggage, lost love, fistfights, ‘artistic differences’, terrible shows and some spectacular successes.
Relentless touring will do one of two things.
Break your band up or kill one of you on the road.
I remember watching with a growing sense of foreboding as the 1995 REM Monster tour started falling apart as it worked its way across Europe. Between burst appendices’, transport tribulations and exploding aneurysms, their list of gigs that summer was gouged in spectacular fashion, very quickly.
They were in good hands, near good doctors (hashtag aneurysms) and were able to continue after a brief sojourn. REM said they weren’t expecting the tour to kick off in the way it did and weren’t ready enough. They struggled to recover from leaving festivals devoid of headliners and upset ticket holders in their wake.
Snow Patrol have been away for years dealing with any amount of internal demons, a return to the road has seen different demons attack. Illness has taken two of the band out. Nathan Connolly, their guitarist, lost the power of his hand, the one he works with. Johnny McDaid needed emergency neurosurgery on his neck and dates were pulled left right and centre, dates including Glastonbury. It’s been a punishing return and one that has delivered its fair share of reality checks, their tour home comforts have been at home, in their flats.
There’s much to be said for riders that state there must be a spotless white room overflowing with white lilies and lavender, fitted out with two fridges, one for red the other for white, a full bar, the finest French Fromage, fresh fruit, a flock of doves, 100 freshly laundered Egyptian towels, or a partridge in a Peartree.
If you live in a constant state of motion, finding solace for an hour backstage that makes you feel like you can be arsed going onstage is hugely underrated. It is in many cases the difference between a perfect performance or a meltdown replete with public displays of lunacy.
People think that touring, playing 250 odd shows a year, is a glamorous, gilded life. And for many it can be, it can be all chauffeur-driven limos and private jets if you’ve made bazillions. But for most, it’s a bunk in a tour bus that’s seen way too many rockers bare arses and far too many miles.
It’s a long slog to the top, it’s a job, a tough job that may or may not lead to success and wealth beyond your wildest dreams, but God the road there can be hard work. And it will involve discarded Post Office vans turned into hellholes of splitter vans designed to hold 4, that end up carrying 7.
You’ll need a guide, a mentor, a savant to steer your every strategic decision. If you’ve been around this game long enough you’ll realise there is a very strict hierarchy to the running of a large-scale show or tour.
While the stage manager may believe they have all the power in their venue or chosen field (badumtish) the real power lies with the tour managers. They call the shots, and so help you if anything is not up to standard.
TMs are the only people who can use ‘Do you know who I am?’ with any authority. Your TM is the thin veil between perfection and PR disaster. And they are a thin veil, a very thin veil sometimes. I’ve yet to meet one that hasn’t been one step removed from completely certifiable. A really good tour manager will get you in and out of somewhere like Glastonbury with the right power cable slung over their arm before anyone realises they had neither pass nor the access to do so. And we have that on good authority.
A real Tour Manager will get your tour bus through any gate on-site at any time of the day or night, regardless of what their pass, vehicle lockdowns or the staffer on the gate in question says. If the rider has not been delivered to the fullest extent, they will descend with wrath hitherto unseen this side of the Summer of 69.
A real gem will be able to rustle up alternative accommodation in the blink of an eye if the green room available is unsuitable. I was once tasked by an artist to find a space outside of a venue about four minutes after we had arrived. I was saved only by dint of the fact that we were in London and there was a raft of cafes in the neighbourhood who were only too glad to charge me a few quid to hire an unused upstairs room.
When it goes wrong it can go spectacularly wrong, and sometimes all the people in the world that you have on your side won’t be good enough to make magic in the midst of mayhem. Here for your delectation, is our Top Ten show-stopping disasters, failed festivals and near-death experiences.
Enjoy the schadenfreude.
10. The Sex Pistols, 1978 US tour.
Malcolm McLaren decided that in order to generate as much press as possible he would book the Sex Pistols in lesser-visited cities like Dallas and San Antonio and (checks notes) Tulsa.
He steadfastly avoided cities like New York, LA, and San Francisco, cities one would imagine would prove successful.
It was a fiasco of untold proportions. The band were met with outright hostility across much of the country, they were bottled off stages and openly slagged off McLaren on whatever platform they could get access to, especially those with a PA. Johnny Rotten has described it as the most exploitative experience he ever lived through. Sounds like a joy.
9. Mötley Crüe, World Tour. 1987
If it’s a Mötley Crüe tour you should expect chaos. At the height of the mega millions period for popular music, the Mötley Crüe world tour has become a thing of legend, with near-death experiences, drugs, and Nazism.
The tour entitled, Girls, Girls, Girls was Crüe’s attempt to be the most rock and roll of all the rock and roll bands.
To start, Nikki Sixx had a near-fatal overdose, the crew came with a drug dealer who drove around with the band in a car with “dealer” as its licence plate, the near-death of a Japanese gentleman who was at the wrong end of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in flight, groupies dressed as Nazis, and that’s only the stuff we know about. Not surprisingly, their management eventually killed the tour, before the tour killed one of the band.
8. The Beatles, American Tour. 1966
If you are planning on touring the Bible belt states of the US of A it is probably wise to make sure nothing embarrassing comes to light mid-tour. Say, for example, if the locals hear one of your troupe suggest you were “more popular than Jesus” you could imagine that it may not be received in the way it was delivered. Such a thing happened to The Beatles in 1966 and the tale is tour folklore.
Between the screaming, the exhaustion, boredom and the mind-numbing hours on the road, this was one tour that was bound to turn bad. The band received death threats, the KKK protested at a show over the Jesus comment, one show in Cincinnati turned into a riot between police and punters after heavy rains meant the gig had to be cancelled. The Beatles decided the final date of the tour, in San Francisco, would be their last.
7. U2, European Tour. 1997
The U2 Zoo TV tour was considered one of the most insane shows on the road. For all its grandeur it left the band struggling to up their game. Pop, the follow-up album, was met with mediocre reviews so they had to push the boat out on their tour. Popmart was their answer, it was arguably the kind of answer you come up with at four am after a night on the finest Columbian marching powder money can buy and 30-year-old whiskey.
Popmart involved a giant golden arch, a lemon that held the band and moved around the stadium, LED screens on a scale no one had seen, and a 12-foot olive on a cocktail stick. The size of the production meant that buying tickets involved bank loans for most punters, and the scale of the fiasco became clear when the band got stuck inside the lemon in Oslo. You have to laugh, while you piss away millions on a monstrous stage show.
6. RiZE Festival, 2019.
RiZE was created to replace V festival, which in itself was created as a vehicle to promote Pulp in 1996. The last outing of V was 2017 after a decline and money worries, it shut up shop. RiZE was the replacement, part council part Festival Republic, the second iteration, set for 2019, didn’t happen. With lower ticket sales and higher expenditure than everyone expected in 2018, Chelmsford City Council couldn’t take the chance of losing any more money. The financial hole left after 2018 was somewhere around £500,000. That’s a lot of money and probably a good reason why councils shouldn’t try to put on music festivals.
5. VestiVille, Belgium. 2019
That VestiVille included Ja Rule of FYRE Fame should have been a warning bell.
The hip hop festival was due to take place at the end of June in Lommel, but the city Mayor had different ideas for the sake of safety. Most people weren’t aware things were off until A$AP Rocky tweeted just before he was due to go on stage. Though a quick twitter search would suggest most should have known. Punters complained about being held in campsites for hours on end, unable to get food or water.
There were huge queues at the entrances which were eventually overrun, people, whether in possession of a ticket or not, streamed through and over turnstiles, security left wanting. Once they were inside it became obvious that much of the infrastructure wasn’t in place and stages were unfinished. People paid hundreds of Euros for tickets and thousands for five-star accommodation that just wasn’t there. The Twitter moment is an enlightening wander through the chaos of what people are calling Fyre MKII.
4. Arcadia London, 2019.
If you haven’t seen a show by the crew behind Arcadia you are missing out. They create huge centrepieces, monsters, robots, fire, freakiness, but apparently, not festivals.
The first Arcadia ran in London during the Glastonbury fallow year, as a 10th-anniversary event that was to be a one-off celebration, the response was such that they decided to run it again.
That though, was a pipe dream, they took the decision to cancel the 2019 event because they weren’t “confident of hitting the targets” to create a “new experience” to allow them to deliver Glastonbury too. The line up was complete, tickets were selling, and there was much anger about a decision that to most people who wanted to see it return, felt like a bit of a cop-out. Although, on the positive front, Arcadia has promised to bring a brand new show on an international tour very soon.
You might get to see them yet.
3. Woodstock 50, 2019.
Woodstock 50 is perhaps the greatest tale of will it won’t it, will it won’t it, we’ve ever seen. The original Woodstock was perhaps the greatest show on earth, taking place in upstate New York it was the turning point of the counter culture of the ’60s. It was the scene of absolute chaos. One million people turned up before the site was finished, they had sold 100,000 tickets. There were no more than a dozen police officers on-site, the pot seemingly able to maintain calm of its own accord. It had the line up to end all shows, Hendrix, Joplin, Canned Heat, Grateful Dead, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, The Band, the list is incredible. As an indicator of chaos, Creedence Clearwater Revival took to the stage at 3:30 a.m., it was one of those shows.
Sadly, Woodstock 50 never really got off the ground. In what has been described as a “dispute” with a financial partner and the legal proceedings that followed, organisers were forced to move site, they lost whatever funding they had left and headliners, that included Jay-Z and Miley Cyrus, both announced their intention to cease their involvement. After being denied access to two further sites the clock ran out. A freebie in a Maryland theatre was pulled as some of the acts, who’d been paid, pulled out. Of all the festivals on this list, it’s the loss of this one that is perhaps the most heartbreaking, because everyone wanted to go.
2. Hope & Glory, 2017.
The image of Tim Booth standing on a crowd control barrier, unaided by security, hoping against hope that he’s on the right side of gravity, will fill many with a sense of dread; it is only right that Hope & Glory makes the list.
Anyone with any experience of running large shows would probably tell you this was a disaster in the making, the numbers were off, the build was it was late and the organiser was not in control. That he had previously tried to take the Isle Of Mann to court was probably all the history we needed. As the crowds poured in on day one it quickly became apparent that there either wasn’t enough room or there were too many tickets sold in advance.
The site was littered with bottlenecks, the bottom of the hill was a dead end, a cobblestone hill with no exits at that, there was no signage and an awful lot of unanswered questions.
The report into the episode cleared the council of any wrongdoing, however odd that might seem. That the plans submitted to council were amateur at best, that it was allowed to go on while the organiser failed to attend meeting after meeting hopefully leads to changes in how we do this as a city. That they managed to get everyone over the line on day one is a miracle. The cancellation of the second day was almost a welcome event, the twitter meltdown was beautiful.
1. Fyre Festival, 2017.
There is probably very little anyone needs to say about Fyre Festival at this stage, a cross between Lord Of The Flies and The Hunger Games. It has all been said in not one but two documentaries. Fyre was the prime example of image over substance, Instagram over Infrastructure.
Festival-goers were sold a beautiful weekend on an island in the Bahamas via social media posts, some paying over $20,000 for exclusive VIP AAA packages. They were promised villas, champagne bars, and Fyre Flight, a bespoke air shuttle. As things started to spiral out of control, as acts, locals and production companies were getting stiffed, Fyre promised bespoke geodesic domes, personal assistants and five-star cuisine.
The event wasn’t on the Island people were promised, Fyre found a new site just weeks before the show was due to take place. What punters got for their money was FEMA standard emergency tents set up on a dusty abandoned building site with what amounted to open sewers. There were no toilet facilities, no staff, no bars, no running water, no food, no stages, no PA, no performers, nothing if you exclude the chaos outlined here, fires, theft, near-death experiences. Twitter was aflame. The lucky ones didn’t even make it out of the airport.
In 2018, Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland pleaded guilty to wire fraud, defraud investors and ticket holders alike. He was also pleaded guilty to a second count of defrauding a ticket vendor, over another fiasco he tried to set up while he was out on bail. He was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to forfeit $26 million dollars.
There are eight lawsuits, or there were at the last count, a number of punters are seeking class-action status, which takes it to a whole other level. One lawsuit is seeking in the region of $100 million dollars in damages. Fyre is, by some margin, the greatest festival fiasco there is. If it does anything it proves you should perhaps pay less attention to what you see on Instagram.
As for your tour and our friends Fontaines D.C., there is but one message.
The planning, plotting and praying is for nought if the bookings come too fast, too soon, you won’t be ready. If your act or your show is about to fall apart, sometimes the only wise thing to do see where you can reign in the listings, and cull the ones that will cause the least damage.
Or, if you’re Fyre, kill it before it kills a punter.
For us, if the decision to kill off a few festival dates means that if the Fontaines D.C. bus makes it to Liverpool in November in one piece then, congratulations, you get that space to pay over the odds for warm beer. And we all get a show the whole crew is looking forward to.
I reckon we all have dinner before and call it a Christmas do.