It seems that Australian Festivals are well and truly cursed.
With 2012 already seeing the cancellation of Perth’s On The Bright Side festival, the super failure of Supafest, Good Vibrations packing it in for another year; and who could forget the disastrous Soundwave Revolution, which fell over in a spectacular fashion, it seems that Aussie music festivals are doomed to a plague of problems including poor promotion, weak ticket sales and generally succumbing to over-ambitious design.
Unfortunately the ‘Aussie Festival Curse’ has claimed another victim in the low-key Castle Festival, only in its second year, also being canned. But unlike previously organised disasters (Blueprint anyone?), Castle – building on the success of last year’s debut at Castlemaine Gaol – seemed to be doing everything right.
Strong, well-priced ticket sales, a great line-up of emerging acts including Oliver Tank, Northeast Party House and Playwrite, plus a unique but suitable venue. So what went wrong?
In an interview with local music blog All I Do Is Listen, Festival Director Maxwell Stuart talked about their problems in getting council approval. “None of us expected it to take this long to gain full council approval” he says, “everything else was fine, but nothing can happen without their approval.”
When asked about the site and which council he had to deal with, Stuart remained tight-lipped, deferring to the original press statement of “The Castle Music Festival will be held on a private property no more than an hour and a half from the Melbourne CBD.”
“Apologies if you have read this statement a million times already,” Stuart continued, “The owner of the venue is very supportive of our vision and it was our agreement not to disclose it until tickets were mailed out. We plan on using this same location next year, so we will be keeping it a secret for a lot longer.”
Good news for 2013, leaving enough time to organise the crucial council approval, but surely Stuart had dealt with the laborious red-tape before?
“Last year we informed everyone about the event too – Police, Fire Department, Council, Neighbours etc – but as it was a smaller event, it wasn’t really of much concern to anyone. The event was OK’d with all the departments, but it really shouldn’t have been. We didn’t really know what we were doing last year, and without sounding rude – the council didn’t really either.”
“Events like this are very complicated and they don’t really fall into any real category in terms of permits or zoning. Last year we were told that we didn’t require a permit, and then after the event, we were stung with a Planning Permit Infringement fine. This may seem unfair, but the council hadn’t ever dealt with anything like this before and as we had good intentions, they gave it the go ahead. ”
When asked directly about the swathe of festivals falling over in recent years, Stuart replied, “Yeah, I know, it sucks.”
Along with his fellow twenty-something business partner, Jake Laderman, Stuart spent “so much time looking into why festivals failed, and what we could do differently to ensure that we didn’t become another Australian festival that failed. The main things that appeared to be happening were either; the promoters aimed too high too soon and couldn’t keep up with everything, the promoters did stupid and/or selfish things OR the council squashed it.”
“The truth of the matter is…” he continued, “that running a festival is really, really hard. There is a lot more to organising one than most people think, and when one thing goes wrong, people just assume that the organisers were idiots, which is not always the case. It can literally be one simple thing that can ruin your festival.”
“Not enough toilets? Bad festival. Adverse weather conditions blew out the stage? Bad festival. Forgot to secure a liquor license? Bad festival. There is a whole lot more that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t know about.”
Stuart admits he wanted to build towards replicating the laid-back atmosphere of established festivals like Meredith and Golden Plains. “I have so much respect for those guys… [they’re] like Gods to us,” he admitted in the same interview.
Even the press release for Castle mentioned “if you have attended Meredith, Golden Plains or Boogie, you will be familiar with the ‘No Dickhead Policy’. If you have no idea what we’re talking about, this festival probably isn’t for you.”
“They’ve been running for over 20 years,” says Stuart “and have built up such a rapport with the people of the area that they can spend the majority of their time making their festival as amazing as possible, rather than constantly arguing with the council.” Unfortunately Stuart was not able to build the same relationship with the necessary regulatory bodies for Castle, resulting in the festival’s cancellation before its planned kick-off in late June.
As compensation, Stuart and his organisers are planning an ‘intimate event’ on the original planned evening of the 29th of June. “People from all around Australia bought tickets to the festival, and we feel really bad, so we’re trying to make sure they can still come down and party and catch most of the artists they were hoping to see.”
“Details about this event will be up very soon,” he teased.
There is light at the end of the long, dark festival tunnel. Despite the ever-growing number of those that have fallen over, a few have also sprung up. Like Adelaide’s recently-announced Spin Off festival, and WA’s North West fest that capitalises on the boom of nearby mining towns. Stuart also remains resolved to bring Castle back in 2013
“The music scene in Australia is massive,” he details, “we have the most ridiculous array of talented musicians that are gaining recognition around the world, and I feel like Australia has the potential to be world renowned for festivals showcasing these artists. We want to be one of those festivals.”
Remaining positive about securing the necessary council requirements for their return next year, “after this event, we’re going to take a little time off to lick our wounds and think about what happened, then we’ll back, armed to the teeth with knowledge and council negotiating skills to bring you the type of festival you all deserve. It really shook us to cancel it, but this is our passion and we’ve learnt so much since then and promise to be back next year.”