What Pop-Up Events Managers Can Learn From Failed Festivals
In many respects, the ultimate test of industrial tents is the festival season, and with many organisers ramping up their preparations in readiness for the breakneck pace of the summer, manufacturers and suppliers are on hand to help with foreseen and unforeseen situations.
A music festival is a summer institution, serving as one of the biggest tests of temporary infrastructure given the need for rapid assembly onto a temporary site, the huge number of people, vendors and staff that need to be catered for with multiple types of facilities, and the need to quickly disassemble and move it off-site.
Whilst some festivals have permanent or semi-permanent facilities, most festivals take place on sites that are used for other purposes during the rest of the year, meaning that the site needs to leave as little trace as possible to make cleanup easier.
Even the best festivals can struggle with this due to the sheer scale and number of people who travel through the event, especially multi-day events where people are expected to camp.
However, they also provide a lot of lessons to learn about which types of temporary structures are best and how to make any pop-up successful despite the many eventualities that can come inherently from a large group of people in an open-air location at the mercy of the whims of the weather.
Here are some examples of festivals that did not ultimately succeed and what has been learned since then.
Erie Canal Soda Pop Festival
Also known as the Bull Island Rock Festival, this 1972 event that was intended to be bigger than the famous Woodstock festival in 1969 had an exceptionally long list of issues that made its ultimate disastrous aftermath all but inevitable.
The first problem was the location; promoting duo Tom Duncan and Bob Alexander wanted to host it in the state of Indiana, but after objections to the potential crowd sizes, it was moved to Bull Island, a small stretch of land technically in the neighbouring state of Illinois.
The swampland venue was expected to play host to around 55,000 people, but estimates place the final number at nearly six times that, and the already lacking security, hygiene and practical facilities were pushed far beyond breaking point.
The vast majority of the lineup cancelled their appearances at the last minute due to flooding, illegal substances were more available than food, looting became rampant by the final day and at the end of the festival, the already damaged stage was burned to the ground.
It was one of the most comprehensive failures of logistics and facilities, and whilst heavy-duty waterproof facilities would not have solved every problem, they would at least have kept people safer during exceptionally poor conditions.
A by-word for a particular level of clearly foreseen disaster, the 2017 Fyre Festival lasted just under a day before the roughly 5,000 attendees needed to be rescued from Great Exuma Island.
Advertised as the ultimate luxury festival and a promotional tool for music booking app Fyre, the festival was a failure on every conceivable point, from false advertising that ultimately led to a venue change and significantly cut expenses and other corners to meet a strict four-month deadline.
This led to “luxury accommodation” that turned out to be UN disaster tents, catering that somewhat infamously turned out to be cheese sandwiches rather than the promised gourmet food, no hygiene facilities, no running water, and no musical acts.
Ultimately, it proved just how important preparations at the earliest stages are, as the event simply could not have been staged with the minuscule time required, and ultimately co-promoter Billy McFarland spent six years in prison for fraud.