Friday 20 April 2018

Concert promoter Peter Aiken: 'I went into it with good faith... it is a nightmare'

Garth Brooks promoter Peter Aiken insists he was led to believe getting a licence for fourth and fifth shows would not be an issue

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Peter Aiken has had better weeks. The face he wore in his office yesterday was like something from one of those country and western songs - about a good man going down a hard rock but who finds his way in the end through a lot of pain, and is redeemed.

A song by Garth Brooks, in fact.

"What can I do?" Peter says. "I went into all this with good faith. The next step? We hope we can resolve it somehow. That's all we can do. It is like a nightmare."

Asked about Brooks' reaction when he rang him last Tuesday in Oklahoma to tell him that Dublin City Council had refused the licence for two of the five sold-out shows at Croke Park, Peter answers: "He was devastated. Devastated. Because all along I told him that we were okay and that the five shows were definitely going to happen."

Peter says Dublin City Council were kept in the loop about what was happening right from the start of the process.

"We were meeting them all the time. From the start we were talking to them. I was at a couple of meetings with them. People who work with me were talking to them on a daily basis. We had submitted our work schedule. We had to show them in a very detailed document, nearly minute-by-minute, of what we were going to do."

So, how did it all go so wrong?

"I don't know," Peter says with genuine exasperation. "I never saw this coming. I was aware of all the objections. I thought... " he says breaking off. "Look, I was led to believe we would be awarded a licence for five events."

Who led you to believe that?

"I was never led to believe that I wouldn't. When I was going with Bruce Springsteen in Kilkenny," he says referring to the Boss' two shows in Nowlan Park on July 27 and 28 last year, "I got the licence awarded to me a week before the concerts. I have had outdoor concerts in Ireland when I have got it the night before or two days before - that's what it comes down to. But the licence has never been refused." Peter adds he had meetings with Dublin City manager Owen Keegan in relation to the Brooks concerts.

And he led you believe that five concerts would be okay? "He didn't lead me to believe that," Peter says, "because they [Dublin City Council] are not going to say that, because you have to submit all the details. If I say, 'I want to do a Garth Brooks concert on a certain date', they say, 'get it in on paper and we'll have a look at it.' They'd be foolish not to say that. Nobody ever indicated to me in the 21 weeks since I announced this that I mightn't get it [the licence for the fourth and fifth shows.].

"Before we announced the fourth and fifth shows, I rang and got in touch with Dublin City Council to inform them that we were going to go four and five shows. There was a conversation. I told them that we were going with a fourth show and possibly a fifth. They said: 'Thanks for the courtesy of letting us know.' The venue knew. I knew. Garth Brooks knew. Everybody knew."

I ask Peter were there mistakes made.

"No," he answers emphatically - for the record, Aiken's decades-long CV, that includes such artists as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant, Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, makes him one of Ireland and Europe's top concert promoters.

"It is exactly the same process that I have done before," he continues. "I would admit that I went in hoping to do two shows. I never had the experience of so many people looking to buy to tickets. Garth has never done this amount of tickets anywhere in the world. The agreement was two concerts at the start and it became three. There was such a demand that I asked the relevant authorities: 'Can I do a fourth show?' They said: 'Yes.' And then I said there might be a possibility of a fifth and they said: ' Yes.'"

"I don't just go in and take an ad in the paper," Peter adds. "You know, the way some eejits on the radio are talking about it". Peter says he is angry at the impression given by these people that he has been "reckless" in some way with regard to the Garth Brooks concerts. "Everybody is talking about something they don't know anything about. Licences for concerts are awarded sometimes two weeks before the event takes place.

"You cannot award a licence before the tickets go on sale because that means you would be putting tickets for sale possibly two weeks before the event. That is not enough time to sell the tickets," he says, adding that the five concerts are bringing in about €50m a show into Dublin. "That's a quarter of a billion to the Exchequer."

"The person who is going to be out of the pocket the most will be Garth Brooks - by millions. He will be out more than anybody, because he has invested so much. A lot of pieces that he has designed for the show are custom-made for the show."

In his exclusive 60 minute interview with the Sunday Independent yesterday, the promoter confirmed he has taken legal advice but will not attempt to challenge the decision in the High Court. "No. I don't think so."

When asked about the decision to refuse the licence for the fourth and fifth shows, Peter adds: "I think they [Dublin City Council] have looked at it and think the best thing is [to refuse the licence] without really, really thinking it through. I think the best thing to do would have been all or nothing."

Peter says to stop two concerts and leave 160,000 in limbo doesn't make sense.

"It is foolish to think that some of those people won't turn up on the nights of the shows [which have been given the go-ahead] and try and get in," he adds. "People have waited 17 years for Garth. They will turn up just to be around the venue and think they may have a chance of getting in. It could be thousands of people turning up and that would lead to huge, huge problems on the streets of Dublin, problems we've never seen before.

"Look, everybody knew 21 weeks ago when we put the tickets on sale that this was happening. We initially discussed doing two shows. I went back to Garth and he agreed to do the dates. This was in early December. I asked Garth would he come to Croke Park on the 20th of January to launch it. Everybody knew before he arrived; the people who are relevant to this whole deal all knew before the 20th of January that Garth Brooks was coming to do two shows," he continues.

"We put the tickets on sale and I had never seen anything like it. Aiken Promotions have been going nearly 53 years. We have never seen anything like it and we will never see anything like it again. Before we announced the fourth and fifth shows, I rang and got in touch with Dublin City Council to inform them that we were going to go four and five shows. There was a conversation. I told them that we were going with a fourth show and possibly a fifth."

Why did Garth Brooks say in his statement a few days ago that it was all five concerts or nothing?

"I think he was making it clear. It is an impossible decision. How can he come and only do three shows? Do you think the 160,000 who bought tickets for the other two shows would understand? 'Why isn't he doing the other two shows for us?' Garth has been working on this since January. He was involved on a daily basis. He was at planning meetings with us. When I went out to Nashville in March, he was at the meetings.

"He wasn't furious," Peter adds of being told of Dublin City Council's decision. "He is not that type of person. He is devastated. When you sell 400,000 tickets and you are the biggest story in the world and then you are told: 'It's not going to happen.' I mean, I think he is shocked as well, the same as all of us. Garth just doesn't believe that this has actually happened."

Peter says he has "a couple of days" to save the the shows at Croker. "The cut off point is Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. And then, that's it. You have to be hopeful."

I ask Peter the big question: As of now are the five shows effectively gone. "He issued the statement," he answers. "I work for Garth Brooks. He made it quite clear. He hopes it will be resolved. I will be talking to his representatives today. I know that they will be hoping that I can say the magic words: 'Everything will be okay.'"

Sunday Independent

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