Once that music festival lineup is released, a buzz surrounds the event, drawing thousands of music fans to some far-off locale. Music fans pack up, road trip, camp out and spend days and nights partying, dancing and enjoying an alternate reality away from the real world. The amount of work and planning that goes into such an off-the-grid experience would make your head spin, which is why it is so easy for something to go wrong. The most recent in our memory may be the luxury festival in the Bahamas, Fyre, and its slow burnout, but, unfortunately, Ja Rule’s exploration into the music festival world wasn’t the first flop.
Beginning with Woodstock, the godfather of all music festivals, there were bound to be a few mistakes — there just was no social media at the time to put it on blast. In hindsight, a 1960s music festival promoting free love and flower power having a few logistics issues isn’t exactly a surprise, but some took a greater toll than others.
Woodstock was a potential gold mine and music festival organizers John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Michael Lang knew it. They sought out funding and a space for the festival and promotions to get as many hippies to the field as possible. The only problem was, not many people wanted thousands of hippies on their land partying for three days. Money was thrown around, fake promises and shady deals were made and the talent was chosen.
At first, each band was to be paid $10,000–15,000 flat rate, but things quickly changed when Jimi Hendrix demanded twice that pay and The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and The Who refused to perform until they had money in hand — smart move. Woodstock organizers’ money was wearing thin at this point and, with so much more than expected funneling to the bands, there wasn’t much left over for actual festival planning — despite the fact 500,000 festivalgoers purchased the $18–24 concert ticket. By the time the festival weekend arrived, not much planning beyond signing the talent occurred.
When 500,000 ticketholders arrived there were no gates, fences or any sort of controlled location set up. This was all incredibly problematic, especially considering tickets were still going to be sold at the “gate” the day of each show.
Hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers flooded the scene, parked anywhere and walked (possibly miles) to the open field hosting Woodstock. Imagine that many concertgoers, surrounding townspeople and neighbors in a mosh pit together — no concessions, little to no bathrooms, food, shade or any real security or organization.
Things were not going well. An impromptu medical clinic was set up next to the camp, but more than 5,000 medical issues were reported and even a few deaths — one overdose, one tractor accident and one burst appendix. The festival ended in a muddy, chaotic mess, but the legendary success of that epic Woodstock festival lives on.
Soon after Woodstock wrapped, more music festivals were already in the works. Other disasters include Woodstock 99 (unsurprisingly) at Griffiss Air Force Base.
Located in Rome, N.Y., Woodstock 99 was basically a crime scene with little water supply, poor organization and little to no security. Volunteers left the job early, fires were set, sexual assaults were committed and New York State Troopers eventually raided the entire festival.
Fast forward to Sept. 25–27, 2015, when TomorrowWorld graced Chattahoochee Hills, Ga. Between the rain and last-minute transportation limits placed on the concert, thousands of hopeful attendees were left stranded, paying exorbitant fees attempting to get to or away from the festival. Needless to say, the EDM festival was a fail of epic proportions.
All of this build-up leads us to the year of Fyre and Karoondinha — never heard of them? That’s because concert promoters and lawyers were paid high prices while sponsorships and ticket sales came in quite low. Karoondinha may have lost some people a lot of money, but, at the very least, it wasn’t a Fyre festival catastrophe.
Fyre’s infamous disaster of last year was described as the rich-man’s Hunger Games. With astronomically priced tickets (around $12,000 each), high-end luxury promises and a smattering of rickety tents provided — it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see this one fall apart. For starters, the astronomical ticket sales couldn’t even begin to cover the promises made, which says something for the poor planning of this event from the get go. Musicians pulled out left and right from the time the festival came close, but tickets to the Bahamas were booked so no one really told the festivalgoers.
One thing most of these festivals have in common is the newness of the idea. Even Woodstock 99 was a standalone concept, although positioned as a 30-year anniversary weekend. Every year around festival season time, we see horror stories pop up and reminders of the festivals gone wrong. Between what we know from past failures, constant reporting along the way and clear clues, it’s safe to say none of this is really a shock.
In the long list of music festivals each year, there have been few disasters and most are incredible experiences. You could say we found a rhythm and won’t be fooled again, but who wants to jinx it?
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