It seems like every music writer with too much time on their hands has spent the last two days putting together a heartfelt lament at the news of the Sonisphere festival cancellation.
Download ticket holders have been accused of gleefully laughing in the faces of disappointed Sonisphere punters. The cancellation has been heralded as a dark portent of the death of metal in the UK. Sympathy has been heaped upon the poor music-loving saints who run promoters Kilimanjaro, whose hopes and dreams for a successful 2012 festival have fizzled out before they ever truly ignited.
Absolute bollocks, all of it. Anyone who knows anything about economics, and how the entertainment industry in general has been affected by the recession, will have seen this bad news coming a mile off. It’s actually not unheard of for a festival to be cancelled due to poor ticket sales or lack of decent organisation, but it seems that the metal community have taken this particular cancellation a little too personally.
It might have escaped the attention of music journalists, who have the benefit of press accreditation and access to a nice, civilised press area, but music festivals are extremely expensive and get more so with every passing year, regardless of the financial status of their target audiences.
Download tickets this year are going for anything up to a whopping £200 for arena access and five nights standard camping, and that’s before you’ve factored in the cost of travelling to the venue, paying the inflated food and drink prices, and buying all new camping equipment because you forgot to pack the tent up properly after the last time and it’s gone all mouldy in the garage.
Attending more than one festival in any given summer is but an expensive dream for most music lovers bogged down in the current economic quagmire, so it stands to reason that there was always going to be a loser when Download and Sonisphere went head to head this year. Download were wise, they got their headliner announcement in unprecedentedly early, marketed the hell out of their temporary 2011 ticket price offer, and followed up the initial announcements with regular updates.
Meanwhile, in the Knebworth camp, Sonisphere remained suspiciously quiet, only breaking their silence in February with an even-more-nostalgic-than-Download line-up, which saw the bread of Kiss and Faith No More sandwiching the bizarre filling of Queen, fronted by American Idol pop fodder Adam Lambert. The whole thing reeked of desperation booking, which is unexpected considering the festival coups of Sonispheres gone by (The Big Four, anyone? Rammstein’s debut UK festival appearance?)
Yet, despite all signs pointing to disaster, I appear to be in a minority of people who were less than surprised by the confirmation by festival organisers this week that this year’s Sonisphere, due to take place over the weekend of 6th-8th of July 2012, will not go ahead.
There’s no doubt that the news is a real shame. They appear to have sold at least some tickets, and those punters will no doubt have time off work and travel arrangements to cancel; not to mention the fact that any event failure in these times makes it hard to believe that things are going to get better any time soon. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Sonisphere organisers could have done more.
They could have given themselves a fighting chance by putting in an announcement early, trading off the excitement generated by the success of last year’s festival. Or, if the booking caused the delay, they could have used the advantage of seeing their competitor’s entire line-up and booked something completely different. They could have taken a chance on some first time headliners, bringing in the kids who will keep them in ticket sales for the next 20 years. Instead they tried to beat Download at their own game, several months too late.
I have no doubt that Sonisphere will recover from this setback. Many festivals have managed to bounce back from a cancellation, and with so much good feeling in the metal community towards Sonisphere they have the opportunity to make next year bigger than ever. But the organisers have to learn from past mistakes. They need to recognise that the festival-going public have been milked dry by promoters for the past decade and with the cost of living rising, they’re going to have to offer something extra special to make the non-essential expenditure seem worthwhile.
Well at least they’ve got a head start on Download for 2013.