Not as Easy as it Looks

by Frank Hammel
in Editor's Note
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine
George Petersen, Editor of FOH Magazine

As anyone who has produced a large (or even small) concert event can tell you, there are lots of details to be taken care of. Fortunately, on the audio/lighting/video/staging side, many such technical minutiae can be taken care of with a few phone calls to the right vendors who will handle such details professionally. In fact, if you are looking for a few suggestions, more than 4,500 companies and resources offering expertise in every facet of event production can be found using the Event Production Directory (epdweb.com), a searchable database that is available in print and as a free app.

‡‡         Some Easy, Some — Not So Easy

Doing an indoor event can be pretty straightforward — call the venue, book a date and ask whether the facility has in-house audio/lighting/video services. Many gear offerings — particularly in very large venues — tend to be pretty rudimentary, such as a simple voice-only P.A. setup for lectures, etc. However, most venues have a preferred vendors list for A/V services of all types, so when the client calls, things can run smoothly. The same applies to outdoor venues — whether sheds, stadiums, raceways or amphitheaters. The staff running such facilities have done it all before and are, more often than not, remarkably helpful.

Now if you want to do an event in some kind of alternative outdoor locales — park, abandoned military base, farm, city streets, waterfront, etc. — that don’t typically host large events, then in terms of complex details, all bets are off. Perhaps Woodstock is the best-known example, but the “little” (and unglamorous) aspects of such productions — ranging from access control, security, parking, sanitation, food, water, trash, medical, power, fire/safety, parking lot lighting — the list is nearly endless — can provide all sorts of “gotchas.” And in such cases, we haven’t even touched on variables such as the weather and the “neighbor factor,” which invariably rears its head when you start dealing with permits and zoning issues.

‡‡         Lessons from Fyre Festival

Recently, both news media and social media outlets were ablaze with commentary about the failed Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, which promised “two transformative weekends,” along with luxury accommodations, gourmet foods and fun in the sun with non-stop music, rock stars and supermodels. Package pricing ranged into the tens of thousands (and more), including chartered jet airfare from Miami.

Well, if you haven’t heard by now (see related story, page 5 for more details) it didn’t quite come off as promised — in fact, didn’t come off at all, and ended as a fiasco, with many fans seemingly stranded on a barren seacoast with unimpressive food, few of the promised amenities — and no mega-concerts.

Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, who created Fyre Festival, were immediately (and unfairly) disparaged as scam artists who got people to put up millions to attend an event that never happened. And in American tradition, lawsuits quickly followed.

It is true that the site was not ready, and the accommodations and catering were far from complete, but the sound, lights and staging were in place, were concert-quality and were ready in time for the kick-off day. Although at least one of the artists reportedly backed out under claims that the lighting/audio production was not up to their standards, that seemed to be one of the festival components that was most ready to deliver as promised.

So the only “crime” that McFarland and Rule committed was getting involved in a project that was way over their heads — in fact, something that the most seasoned production professionals would agree would be difficult to pull off, even under best of conditions. Add in the additional challenge of trying to create a temporary city from scratch — or less than scratch, if you consider running sanitation and water lines and the hundreds of truckloads of sand brought in to cover the rocky audience area — even before building on the festival grounds or providing hundreds of tents.

No easy task, but add in weather problems earlier in the week, and the fact that Fyre Festival was held in Great Exuma, an island that’s in a remote area of the Bahamas, some 300 miles off the U.S. coast.

Even from Nassau, Great Exuma is 140 miles away by boat/plane, and dealing with customs, freight and logistics would be a tough assignment by anyone’s standards, especially on a small island with few amenities and a population of only 3,400.

So far, the word from McFarland and Rule is that they plan to reprise the event next year — this time from a U.S. location. Nobody wants to see anyone fail, and nearly every festival has a rough start (maybe not all quite as rough as Fyre Festival). So perhaps next year we’ll see — with a little more attention to details and planning — a revived event on U.S. soil. Hope it works next time.

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