Monday 23 October 2017

Smaller events to draw biggestcrowds as 'blow-out' festivals shunned

Edel O'Connell

CONCERT promoters and fans are concentrating on cheaper, smaller-scale events this summer as the future of 'blow-out' festivals is uncertain.

There has been a steady growth in the number of smaller festivals and outdoor events in recent years with tickets at more recession-friendly prices.

During more prosperous times, festivals such as Oxegen and Electric Picnic -- which command upwards of €250 for a weekend pass -- sold out instantly.

However, this summer, not even the likes of Madonna or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers can be guaranteed a sell-out at major Irish venues.

After months of speculation it came as little surprise when, late last year, MCD announced Oxegen would not go ahead this summer. The country's largest music festival, which has been running since 2004, is considered a rite of passage among 18- to 25-year-olds.

But last year a camping ticket cost €244.50, which many young festival-goers found was beyond their reach.

Oxegen -- and its predecessor, Witnness -- sold out its capacity of 80,000 tickets during the peak years. However, last year Oxegen attracted just 58,000 on the Friday and 70,000 on the Saturday and Sunday.

Meanwhile, there were concerns about the future of Electric Picnic following the closure of concert promoter John Reynold's flagship Tripod venue in Dublin. However, the show will go on, although booker Declan Forde admitted that selling tickets for the 32,500-capacity event wouldn't be easy.

"Anyone who tells you otherwise is spoofing. It is a tough climate, there is no denying that. We have to be more selective in what we do but we believe the Electric Picnic will be around for a long time," he said.

He added that the festival's early-bird tickets had all sold out, although he declined to say how many tickets were offered at the reduced price.

With Oxegen on a hiatus this year, concert promoters MCD have filled the gap with a series of concerts in the Phoenix Park, each with a smaller capacity of 45,000.

So far two gigs have been announced -- the Stone Roses on July 5 and a triple-bill featuring Snow Patrol, Florence and the Machine, and Temper Trap on July 8. Both of these smaller concerts have sold out.

While there are still tickets available for Madonna's concert at the Aviva on July 24 and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers with Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds at Croke Park on June 26, some acts can nevertheless buck the trend. Westlife, who will be performing their farewell tour, have two sold-out dates at Croke Park this summer.

Over the coming weeks, there will be a slew of announcements from smaller, up-and-coming festivals such as the Body and Soul Festival at Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath; Sea Sessions in Bundoran, Co Donegal; and Indiependence in Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

Indiependence promoter Shane Dunne, who runs the event with a group of friends, said they had sold triple the number of early-bird tickets this year compared with 2011. "Obviously paying €99 for a three-day event is much more attractive than €250, but also I think people prefer the smaller, less manic intimacy of a festival like ours."

Given the huge success enjoyed by Pod's Forbidden Fruit festival in Kilmainham last summer, it is also returning this year as an expanded three-day event with five stages and a stronger line-up.

Booker Mr Forde said: "We have had a lot of success with the Forbidden Fruit. I think people like the ticket prices and the fact that they can go for one day and get public transport back to Dublin and don't have to lug loads of food and clothes," he said.

Meanwhile, traders have said they were unable to make a profit at some of the bigger festivals in recent years and have welcomed a drop in pitch fees.

Daniel Duggan, who set up his Thai food catering business Kanum three years ago, said he has seen pitch fees drop from €7,000 in 2010 to €3,500 at Electric Picnic, which he describes as a more "realistic fee".

Mr Duggan said he decided never to cater at Oxegen again after he was unable to break even.

"There is a different type of clientele at the Electric Picnic and other festivals who are more used to different types of cuisine," he added.

Irish Independent

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