Every live event, whether it is a regular season baseball game or a massive music festival, all want the same things: nice weather and to ensure that all their guests are safe. For outdoor events having a sunny, cloud free day can really affect how fans react to the event. It’s simple, when the weather is nice, guests are happy. Pictures look better and overall there is a good energy all around. However, sometimes mother nature has other ideas in mind. This is why it is essential for live event producers to develop a solid emergency preparedness plan. Thinking through and preparing for a variety of situations can better equip an event to handle anything that it thrown their way. When there is a lack of planning, chaos can ensue and result in the ultimate demise of the event or even the organization hosting.
Take the unfortunate tale of TomorrowWorld and bankrupting of their parent company SFX. the first night of the festival was met with heavy rains and things did not improve from there. As the weather continued to worsen the roads surrounding the festival grounds (which was out on a lake in the middle of nowhere Georgia) were deemed inaccessible. That means that thousands of people who opted not to camp had no way of leaving the festival grounds. Madness ensued as everyone had to trek through miles in the mud to get even remotely close to a ride-share. Then once they arrived there they were met with insane surcharges of over $100. The result was a dystopian scuffle to get home or give up and sleep on the side of the road.
Photo via @EDMPocahontas / Twitter
"What happened at Whitelake this weekend may have been more than an uncontrolled outpouring of hip young people, struggling as they did to survive. First, the 20-mile traffic jams and 5-mile hikes; then, the intense heat and sudden rain; the thirst and hunger from the shortage of water and food, just for the opportunity to spend a few days in the country getting stoned on their drugs, and grooving on the music. What happened at Whitelake was that hundreds of thousands of kids invaded a rural resort area totally unprepared to accommodate them." John Laurence, CSB News, told VICE.
The festival’s solution to the mayhem? Cancel the final day to any non campers. The result? The festival has yet to return. While the reasoning from the festival stated “Unfortunately in the current environment, it is not possible to give you the best and unique experience you deserve.” It’s hard not to believe that the absolute disaster occurring at the last event did not play a huge part in the decision and add to the downward spiral of the bankrupted SFX. The main issue for event organizers is that they lost trust with fans. An overwhelming amount of backlash came not because of the weather but due to the festival’s seamingly lack of preparedness. Many statements from those stranded felt like they were left to fend for themselves rather then being presented with solutions or saw any effort to help during the event. Besides refunds, the festival seemed to do little after the event to repair the damage done. This is why not only having a plan in place to handle situations during is important but also having one for how to respond after is just as critical to keep the on the public’s good side.
Unfortunately for Governors Ball Festival their 2019 event was met with some trials and tribulations when it came to the weather on Randall’s Island over the weekend. While the festival is typically “Rain or Shine”, festival organizers felt that the inclement weather was going to be unsafe for attendees. This resulted in an emergency evacuation of everyone from the festival grounds. While there were many reports that the exit was less than perfect, it seems like it was more a result of disgruntled guests stampeding towards and exit and destroying art installations in frustration at the weather and not like the desolate situation of TomorrowWorld.
The festival not announced two within two hours of the evacuation that they would be issuing refunds, they also released a lengthy statement admitting to the “While we are happy that no injuries were reported during the evacuation, we aren’t going to sugar coat things here. When you are evacuating tens of thousands of people from any site, it is a challenging endeavor.” In this statement they also told attendees that they would be hosting a Reddit AMA where they could ask questions, give suggestions, and learn more about what caused the situation. The response of the festival was quick, detailed, and open to improvement.
Image from Free Williamsburg
Also, luckily for the festival, they added many ancillary experiences that gave people something other than the weather to talk about after the event ended. These new additions proved to be the silver lining for Governors Ball. The two most notable ones were the New York style festival bodega and the Bud Light Dive Bar which will feature up and coming artists. The bodega was built to look and feel like one that you would typically find in any New York City Neighborhood. It even sold fresh bagels in addition to sunscreen and other snacks. "Every year, we try to make the festival as New York City as possible because Gov Ball is NYC," Tom Russell, a Governors Ball co-founder, says to AM NY. "We want people to walk in and feel this is really authentic. This is really New York." In addition, the festival hosted a Pride Parade Saturday afternoon. All of these new experiences not only gave guests more things to enjoy but helped to give the event positive attributes that outweighed the negativity of Sunday’s evacuation. This will hopefully drive guest to return the following year despite what they went through on the last day.
While inclement weather can be a downer, it does not have to be the nail on the coffin for an event. Unless that event does nothing to respond to the situation then not only will you lose the trust of your guests but you could also face class action lawsuits. This tale of two festivals demonstrates the power of active and rapid communication. Things did not go perfectly at Governors Ball but every step of the way event organizers were informing attendees of the situation. After they were quick to release a statement and even hosted an open forum where attendees could provide feedback, get more light on the situation, and ask questions. Emergency preparedness plans should not only include what to do during the event but also how to respond after as well.