Too much competition for audiences

THE bankers should have been an example to people in other industries that too much of a good thing can never last.

Music fans have never had it so good. Every weekend, there’s a festival, from Body & Soul in Westmeath to the Westport festival in Mayo. Dublin’s Phoenix Park and Iveagh Gardens are hosting gigs, from the likes of Justin Timberlake, Josh Ritter, and Grizzly Bear to The Killers.

This weekend, the inaugural Longitude festival will take place in Marley Park for three days. Meanwhile, you probably know a few people heading to one of Bruce Springsteen’s shows around Ireland over the next week.

Then, on the August bank holiday weekend, we have the new dance-focused Oxegen festival, in Punchestown, as well as the much smaller, more eclectic Castlepalooza, in Offaly, and Indiependence in Mitchelstown. Ah, the good times, they’ll never stop. As the Boss sings: “These are glory days.”

Concert promoters, Aiken and MCD, must think so. Bubble? What bubble? However, MCD founder, Denis Desmond, who now works with Festival Republic (which runs Electric Picnic), said in an interview with this newspaper, earlier this month, that ticket sales had dipped.

He rather bafflingly attributed this to the introduction of the property tax. Meanwhile, the O2 Arena saw its profits fall last year, alongside the average attendance, down 6% on 2011 to 83%.

Though Desmond is bullish that the music will never end, maybe he needs to be more realistic. Ticket sales for Oxegen are reportedly tanking. Formerly a general rock-and-pop festival, it took a break last year, and returns in August with headliners such as David Guetta and Calvin Harris. Rumours have abounded that the festival, which has reduced its capacity from 80,000 people to 50,000, may be moved to the even smaller-capacity Marley Park, due to poor ticket sales.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, Longitude has one of the most attractive lineups of the summer: Phoenix, Foals, Vampire Weekend and Kraftwerk, among many others.

The site capacity is around 10,000 and tickets are a reasonable (by Irish standards) €149.50 (plus those ridiculous Ticketmaster booking fees) for a weekend ticket. I was sure this would be an instant sellout, but you can still buy tickets with just a few days to go.

It’s a similar story with Indiependence and Castlepalooza, and the big daddy of the boutique festivals, Electric Picnic, which has survived legal wranglings and doom-mongering to put on Bjork, Arctic Monkeys and Fatboy Slim at the end of the summer.

Contrast this with Glastonbury, the inspiration for every festival, which returned this year after a break.

It sold out in two hours on a Sunday morning in October. The lineup isn’t announced till two or three months before the festival — people are going, not because of one particular band (sorry, the Rolling Stones), but because it’s the event of the summer, every (well, most every) summer.

That’s not the case in Ireland — festival lineups are always revealed before tickets go on sale. Longitude can’t just waltz in and expect people from outside Dublin to book three days’ accommodation, on top of a €150 ticket, just because MCD expects it.

Electric Picnic had that Glasto allure, that mutual audience love, a few years back, most notably thanks to Arcade Fire’s defining set in 2005.

But it has lost its way, with ticket prices only coming down a little, in line with the recession.

There was a time when the only major festivals in Ireland were Féile, in Tipperary, or Slane.

Now, we can’t move for choice — and everybody’s getting in on the act, and, no doubt, plenty are losing money, because they’re not getting enough people through the gates.

Music fans have never had it so good. It’s nice to have a choice, but what happens when that choice is repeated every weekend? Just as well the bankers aren’t in charge of music festivals, then...

* Eoghan O’Sullivan is a sub-editor for the Irish Examiner and blogs about music at thepointofeverything.com.


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