Last weekend I had my heart broken.
It wasn’t a boy that I loved that hurt me. Or a friend that told me my outfit was shit. It was a brand that broke my trust. A brand, that brings people together from around the world, to make them happy through the form of music. After several years of courtship and then a blissful elopement to Butlins last year, I thought were going to be lovers forever. Everyone I met during our relationship was united in our love. You might think I am just talking about Bloc, an electronic dance music festival that ended in calamity (but not disaster) when it was shut down due to overcrowding at 12.30am on Friday 6th July. But when I was walking around the Pleasure Gardens site, soaking up the hurt and bitter disappointment felt by many of my fellow revellers at the never-ending queues, the night for me didn’t signify the end of Bloc, as whatever happens, the company will get renamed and restart, ticket refunds or not. But really, for me, signified the end of the British festival.
Festivals used to be big business, but last year it’s estimated 30 festivals went bankrupt. Let’s take a look at the festival season this year; The Big Chill was cancelled in January, Truck Festival has gone bankrupt while Isle of Wight was a complete muddy washout. Just today The Hit Factory concert in Hyde Park festival was cancelled to the ruination of the Hyde Park site due to this weekend’s Wireless festival. The market is already over saturated, the founding father of festivals, Micheal Eavis, said last year that festivals only really have another 3/4 years. You can blame the recession, you can blame the weather, but with high ticket prices, rising travel costs, we need to prioritise what we want out of our summer. And lets be honest, this year, it’s been an absolute washout.
But that’s the big picture. I think communication and online PR has a big part to play in all the continuing death of the British festival. Fair play to The Big Chill, who said early in the year that; “Sadly, the artist availability and confirmations we were achieving led me to conclude that I couldn’t risk going ahead with the event this year.” Biting the bullet early meant the brand lost no respect. People will probably come back next year. But other festivals have not done the same. The Isle of Wight Festival did a poor job communicating how the weather issues were affecting the site, leaving many travelers stranded along the way to the site, sleeping in their cars. Bloc also chose to ignore while thousands of people were lining the streets trying to get into the East London Docklands venue, instead tweeting that everyone inside was having a good time. We weren’t. Bloc was even more silent after the eviction, which was announced by the Pleasure Gardens online, but then Bloc took over 36 hours to apologize via a second statement, and is now collecting information from revelers to ascertain what happened. Bloc defiantly made the right decision in closing the festival early, but unfortunately their online behavior only served to knife Bloc’s own jugular from very respected promoter, to a perceived greedy money sucker that needed a bigger boat.
But there were positives gained from this PR disaster, where the Bloc community used social media in a positive way. Many of the artists that meant to play at Bloc got together to play at venue all over London, many free to wristband holders. Where social communication works it is collaborative, grassroots and for the people. Other festivals taking place during the rest of the year should take note to communicate misfortunes to revelers early, with empathy, understanding, and respect.
Maybe I’m getting old. But I have been to far too many festivals over the last two years where I felt my money was taken from me not for my pleasure, but for corporate greed. And as my disposable income becomes less and less, like many others I think I might choose to spend my precious time and money abroad seeing the world rather than be stuck fenced into a site with tents far too close together, music bleeding into each other, and overpriced donkey meat disguised as beef burgers. For now, I’m all about the gigs, and the sun loungers. Oh, and taking Kodak moments of short-lived festival happiness.