It is a half century since the mother of all music festivals was held in a farmer’s field, the precursor for Glastonbury and many more of the events we see today. Yet, the risks the organisers faced back then are just as prevalent today. Here are 5 of the big ones from the summer of ’69 which are still potential showstoppers now.
Fun fact, the festival never took place in Woodstock as the organisers could not find a suitable venue there. They settled on a village called Wallkill and, after investing much time and even more money, Wallkhill was scrapped too when the residents complained, meaning their permit requests were rejected. It was third time lucky when ‘Woodstock’ finally set up in White Lake.
Permits and authorisations are still a big risk today and it has been reported that this was one of the reasons Woodstock 50 was cancelled this summer. Also, it is not just before the event you need to think about but afterwards too. There could be penalty charges if you are delayed in vacating the venue for logistical reasons like adverse weather.
Acts can be a no-show for a range of reasons – including illness or even death or other eventualities. For example, at Woodstock, The Jeff Group was booked, but broke up on the eve of the festival. Another band were stuck at LaGuardia Airport in New York and couldn’t get to Woodstock. The roads around the festival were so choked with traffic that other performers had to be brought in by helicopter.
There are broader risks of non-appearance which organisers need to mitigate against through insurance or risk management. Could a solo artist be replaced? Also, in the case of a band, if one member is not available, could the show still go ahead? Is there a history of non-appearance? What happens if a close family member is seriously ill or dies suddenly?
Transport and supply chains can be subject to events outside of the control of the organisers. At Woodstock, the catering suppliers pulled out at the last moment, leaving 400,000 attendees to fall upon the goodwill of the local community who generously kept them fed and watered.
The risks can be magnified if the event forms part of a tour as it did in 2016 when The Rolling Stones were on their tour of South America, with a finale in Cuba – the first ever concert by any western rock band in communist Cuba. What could possibly go wrong?
First, shortly before their arrival there was an awkward double booking. The Cubans agreed to welcome a US president, for the first time since 1928. The government decided It was too tricky to host Barack Obama and the Stones at the same time. Jagger, Richards and company would just have to wait. The pressure racked up with some estimates putting the event costs at $7 million for the gig as pretty much everything had to be transported into Cuba. The date was reset for Good Friday, unfortunately The Pope took exception and asked them to postpone. Fortunately, despite the challenges the Stones played. If they didn’t, the costs would have been huge.
Events, especially if they are open-air, can be prone to wind, rain and weather extremes like hurricanes and heat. The threat of heat is often overlooked but needs to be assessed, especially in regions where it should be a consideration, such as Australia. If it is too hot, then it might not be safe for staff working at the event as well as the audience themselves.
At Woodstock, a huge rainstorm led to organisers frantically trying to protect the stage, electrics and the public. The attendees were exposed to the elements for 4 days and when you consider that their number was similar to a small city, adequate medical facilities needed to be available. Today, the availability and ability of emergency services to get access to the venue needs to be aligned to the size and scope of the event.
The construction of the stage plays a part in protection against weather risks or collapse. When the storm hit Woodstock, the organisers were not prepared. They later admitted that the stage wasn’t well-protected from the rain, and “everyone was praying that the light towers weren’t going to fall because they just weren’t well-tethered. The conditions for the acts to play were challenging.”
Adequate protection for power and supplies against adverse weather became a priority at Woodstock when the heavens opened – “The conditions were suboptimal to say the least, there were electrical wires going under the mud and the ground was vibrating.” Today, you would expect more robust protection, but power problems can still happen and back up scenarios need to be well prepared. A recent power cut caused by lightning left a million people without power in England and Wales.
If you would like to discuss how Shepherd Compello can help you with Event Cancellation insurance please get in touch with David Bishop or Nic Miles on 020 7378 4000 now