Not exactly a shocking revelation, but what is surprising is how both attendees and those close to the festival were seemingly blindsided.
Pipeline Productions, most notably known for running Wakarusa, seems to be getting the brunt of the public disappointment and blame for dropping the cancellation just six weeks out from Phases, which was scheduled for October 16-18 in Arkansas. The official statement on their website reads:
“Dear Phases of the Moon Community,
It saddens us to inform you that Phases of the Moon Music & Art Festival has to be canceled. We were very excited to have had the opportunity to continue the Phases adventure in Arkansas this year. Unfortunately, due to a significant number of unforeseen obstacles, including the continued closure of the only road leading into the festival site, we were left with no choice but to cancel the event.
We apologize sincerely for this inconvenience and hope to see all of you at great live music and events in the near future. A separate notice will be sent to ticket holders concerning refunds.
Thank you for your love and support.
Sincerely, The Phases Team”
The biggest unforeseen obstacle? Low ticket sales.
For a bit of a background, I’ll defer to the points made by a knowledgeable redditor (how’s that for a credible source, but this user had their shit together) who had a really great rundown of what has been happening behind the scenes.
Pipeline runs Wakarusa, a venue in Lawrence, KS (their home base) and now defunct Harvest Festival, and dipped their toes into Thunder on the Mountain.
Harvest was cancelled because bluntly, it wasn’t making financial sense anymore. Despite a moderate turnout every year, increasing cost with non-increasing profit is reason enough to cancel anything.
Thunder on the Mountain was a partnership with Madison House. Madison House apparently pulled the rug from under Thunder on the Mountain due to abysmal ticket sales. Why? Because country music fans don’t want to camp. Hotels in the surrounding area were booked to the gills but when you attract a middle aged crowd, comforts of home are more appealing. That coupled with the fact that the top 2 acts cost ~$2 million alone, you need Wakarusa level turnout to financially support those acts. (The partnerships Pipeline made with Madison House for Thunder on the Mountain is a whole different story. Pipeline is in the middle of a lawsuit with Madison House, who are all in the middle of a class action lawsuit over funding of the same festival.)
As for Phases this year… they hadn’t hit the break even threshold. If there was money to be made, the festival would have continued on.
We can blame a billion things for the cancellation of a festival: uncooperative municipalities, aggressive security team, road closures, bad vibes but at the end of the day, if there’s money to be made, the festival will go on. The story of Pipeline seems to point to the disintegration of the traditional festival model, where the lineup and headliners are a much smaller predictor of success than the fans would like to think.
One of the most interesting parts of going through the reactions is how many people chose to go to Phases instead of another festival, or were glad they went elsewhere instead of betting on Phases. Festivals are becoming harder and harder to market as unique with a few huge productions booking the same talent as smaller offshoots. Culturally, music festivals have become potential money makers for everyone from bands looking to engrain themselves in the music culture, to radio stations to municipalities looking for a quick way to drive tourism. But there’s only so much money from fans to go around. Repeatedly, I find myself completely overwhelmed by the number of opportunities I have to see the exact same music but in slightly different settings in basically any terrain of my choosing.
In a nutshell, I’m pretty sure the festival bubble is either bursting, or about to burst. There are too many people doing the exact same thing, and vying for the exact same dollars in fans’ pockets. The big ones are and will make money. But with a ton of smaller production companies aiming maybe a little too high from the get-go, these smaller festivals are going to continue to burst in spectacular fashion.
Basically – what Anna said. Except that I don’t believe the festival bubble is bursting, nor is it about to burst. It has burst. We’ve seen a number of festival cancellations already and Anna is completely accurate in saying that in such a saturated marked of “festivals,” more and more events are finding it difficult to establish themselves as different everyone else.
Everyone knows about music festivals at this point. And now that everyone has known about festivals for several years now, many people seem to have their favorites already. What we’re seeing now is new events pop-up on the hopes of milking this cash cow, but what they find is that there is a finite amount of money consumers are willing to spend on live music, specifically, the multi-day music festival. Here’s the dilemma: The age group to which multi-day music festivals seem to attract and/or be marketed to do not (typically) have the financial resources to attend more than a couple every year. Those in the targeted demographic who do have the financial resources to do so, often do not have the time to attend more than a couple festivals every year. Obviously this is a broad generalization, but I’m simply proving the finite argument.
The other major issue that Anna mentioned is differentiation.
A new festival must not only boast a lineup that is both unique and desirable, but, because in all reality, this is nearly impossible to do (or it’s just not done), the festival must also promote (convincingly) that the intangibles are there to make it worth the consumer’s limited time and money to make the investment. In many cases, consumers are sacrificing a previously attended festival in hopes that the cost/risk benefit analysis will end up in their favor and this new festival will be better than the last. In fact, existing festivals still have to do this year after year until they’ve established themselves in such a way that consumers are fans of the festival. We’ve seen this happen with festivals who are lucky enough to sell out before a lineup is even announced. Consumers trust the festival will be good enough that they’re willing to roll the dice.
Most festivals are not doing this.
Too many festivals boast too similar lineups with too similar amenities with too similar vendors and too similar extracurricular artistic activities.
The exception? Though not new, the reinvented Camp Bisco was held at the home of The Peach Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and boasts a water park included in the cost of the ticket. A GODDAMN water park. I’ll see your ferris wheel and raise you WATER GODDAMN SLIDES. When it’s 100 degrees, you know where I don’t want to be? On a giant steel wheel closer to the sun. You know where I do want to be? The GODDAMN water.
I attended several festivals this year. Bisco was the best. For the reason above, and several others I don’t have time to go into.
We’ll be seeing more festivals die off. Many, before they even hit the ground. However, and I think there are plenty of economic examples outside of the music industry, you’ll start to see much smaller, boutique festivals crop up and become wildly successful in their own rights for their ability to draw unique, niche, crowds, and provide consistently problem-free, extraordinary experiences. It’s already happening in many places. In fact, the areas surrounding Philadelphia and Denver are both establishing themselves as providing no shortage of these experiences.
Don’t worry, that bubble will rise and burst soon enough and we’ll start the process all over again.