At this point, we’ve all seen what happens when a large event’s infrastructure crumbles. Many of us on the east coast remember Hudson Project, by way of personal experience or photographic evidence, and the disaster that resulted from the apocalyptic storm that hit on day three resulting in a total shut down and emergency response. Glastonbury 2005 suffered a similar fate, when floods chest high caused power outages and performance cancellations in the first hours of the festival. It’s become increasingly obvious in recent years that the business of throwing a music festival is a bigger gamble than we all thought. Profits are more likely to come from a trip to Vegas, despite a rising demand for bigger and better parties.
Rarely, however, do we see an event called halfway through for financial reasons. Often, the integrity of the brand and the experience for the paying guests takes priority over the performing artists and staff, with promoters having to make difficult calls about who to disappoint. This was not the case two weeks ago at Creatures of the Night, as festival administrators canceled the event early Saturday morning after realising their pockets weren’t as deep as they had originally thought. Despite beautiful weather and word of more guests arriving from all over the northeast, event promoters made the decision that the reputation of the development team and their relationships with bands and their management was more integral than guest experience or the brand they had worked so hard to develop.
“Friday night, Alex (Cole-Gardner, Creative Director, Chief Investor, and Co-Founder of Creatures of the Night) started to get a bit more honest with his team about the money that was there, we tried to scrounge up as much money as we could, but I personally made the decision to cancel the show to nix as many artists from showing up and not being paid as possible. In terms of keeping everyone happy in the long run, I think this was the most professional decision.” said Ryan Newport, co-founder and booking director for Creatures of the Night, “To be truthful a lot of the bands would have ended up playing regardless but we want to keep the best relationship we can with these artists and their management. We really do have a dream and a vision and it would argue our actual nature to make a call that goes against our integrity. While we weren’t the best at that planning wise, we chose the route of integrity at the time so we can rekindle this vision down the road. We think taking the route of truth instead of following the model that other events have this summer, would show everyone that our mistakes were based on inexperience and we still want to grow together.”
The “everyone” in question didn’t seem to include the guests, staff, and artists who had traveled many miles on their own dollar to participate and experience an event that suddenly didn’t exist. Jesse Boyer, the event’s volunteer director, had a different perspective on the matter.
“Alex couldn’t swallow his pride and tell everyone under him that there were no more funds. I told Alex that I was on the fence and had gut feelings about this whole event and he begged me to come. If you’re going to gather a team of people to make an event like this work, the team needs to all be on the same page with the ‘owner’. They spent money in the wrong places and let their egos take control of what could have been an all around amazing experience,” said Boyer, one of several staff members responsible for the miraculous rescue of what could have been a disastrous Saturday night.
Despite much of the production team walking off upon realization they wouldn’t be paid, those that remained banded together in what can only be described as a heroic effort to wrangle a renegade event, the likes of which many artists and audience members haven’t seen before. Utilizing a vast network of talented friends on the ground, the hired help at Creatures put together three full stages of entertainment, including performances by Aqueous, Bunk Buddha, The Mclovins, Ludge, Stratosphere, Spankalicious, Of The Trees, Levitation Jones, Nominous, Birds of Paradise, Esseks, and a second performance by Yheti b2b the lovely Honeybee. All the artists who performed on Saturday did so for the sake of the guests who would otherwise have been left camping on the side of the road in Tennessee, having paid hundreds of dollars for an experience that fell apart. The Incendia crew cranked up the heat, turning their large dome into a replacement stage after the Main Stage was taken down, and personally financed fuel to keep guests warm through the chilly 40 degree night.
“At the end of the day, music is made to be heard. It can make the biggest difference when it’s not there. I just talked with all (the producers I know personally) that were billed for Creatures and came to them as a friend to ask if they could continue to play music. I basically let them know what was happening and that it would mean the world to me and everyone…who traveled so far,” said Boyer, ”It wasn’t GAs fault the festival had to cancel, and it definitely wasn’t the artists or staffs fault either. I thought it would just be a good opportunity for the artists to come out on top and show the attendees that their time and money was not totally wasted. People would have sat in the camps all night, bored and upset, and would remember Creatures being a bust, or they could rage with their friends to Yheti, Sixis , Birds of Paradise, Mc lovins, Catullus and all the other bands that played for THEM. People are going to remember those sets, and even if they didn’t have fun seeing their favorite headlining artists, I hope that they can see that at least some of the staff honestly cared to bring them the good time they deserved.”
“Spankalicious played a huge role in making the tent stage run,” said Brian “Levitation” Jones, brother of festival founder Alex Cole-Gardner, who performed for free Saturday night to keep the party alive, “It’s a crazy feeling hearing you won’t get paid, it was devastating for every artist. I was very shaken up about it because it was my brother and I saw how hard they worked. The artists definitely came together and pretty much everyone who played Saturday wanted to make it happen for the fans. Night one was very organized, everyone who was there could see that, and it just came down to budget and experience”
While Friday night was certainly well organized, the facts remain that the choices of the event administration led to enormous losses, and inexperience and ignorance seems to be the only excuse. Despite building a team of experienced event crew, failure to take advice from those with more knowledge, neglecting to budget for hospitality, transportation, and emergency services, and a general disassociation with the reality of throwing a large scale event caused a metaphorical crash and burn of the dream shared by a few young men. Getting caught up in the hype of hosting your own event is difficult to avoid, even for the most experienced professional. One can easily see how these boys were overwhelmed by their own egos and lack of perspective, having seen events in similar dire financial straits executed time and time again. A statement posted on the Creatures of the Night Facebook event page several days after the festival revealed how serious their debt had become, with a deficit of over $100,000 being made public knowledge to drive home the reason WHY the plug was pulled:
“There are so many uncalculated costly factors that a first-time coordinator doesn’t take into consideration, making budgeting extremely difficult, despite all of the planning and double-checking. What we thought would cost us $238,000 ended up costing closer to $350,000 due to contractual disputes between our management and the land owner, as well has an honest lack of understanding of what it actually takes to turn a dream this big into reality. We depended on ticket sales to carry us through the weekend, but didn’t get the kind of draw we desperately anticipated. So, now, we sit here ashamed that we could not give each and every one of you what you desired and deserved. Financial shortcomings aside, we were understaffed, and we excitedly took on a project that was too large on many levels from the start, instead of starting small and with patience and focus, building up from there….”
The statement goes on to describe their vision and misplaced ambition, with the directors apologizing to their guests wholeheartedly for their egregious errors (see full statement here: https://www.facebook.com/Creaturesofthenightfestival/posts/854351334681000). Some have been satisfied with this response, while others responded angrily in search of refunds and compensation for their work. Many of those in attendance feel that Saturday’s renegade action was enough to makeup for the failings of the event overall, while others feel that the promoters shouldn’t be “rescued” by the efforts of their now unpaid staff.
“Saturday night was a blessing in disguise, it came at a time when we had been so disappointed, and to see the community itself gather and overcome the misfortune of the day, gave me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that my efforts ahead of the show brought together the exact people that it takes to build a transformational festival,” said Newport in a statement to Lost in Sound last Tuesday, “While individuals maybe weren’t transformed by the performances we promised, the event was certainly transformational. It was nice to see that the community wouldn’t give up.”
But have these promoters learned their lesson? It remains to be seen. Creatures of the Night certainly isn’t the only event to gamble against their ticket sales. This is a model used the world over, from the smallest venue to the biggest festival, and at this point it seems to be unsustainable. Artists are now demanding to be paid weeks ahead of time to make up for previous instances of performing without a paycheck, and expecting costly items like top shelf liquor upon their arrival. These additional up front costs comprise the event’s budget for essential needs like staffing, water, and transportation. Once paid in full, Artists are able to make extraordinary demands, sometimes even refusing to play until those demands are met. Having personally witnessed this exact situation, it’s easy to see that music festivals as we know and love them are in need of a paradigm shift if they are going to survive. As directors and promoters hunker down to plan for next season, these facts should remain fresh in their minds.
“Creatures is a dream none of us are giving up on…” says Newport, “We fully intend on another festival in the future, and we plan on bringing great people together for a great purpose and were not going to stop doing that no matter what.”
Let’s hope the lessons they learned will resonate when that time comes.