Everybody was surprised, many were disappointed and some were even shocked and angry, when we found out last weekend just a few hours before the start of the People’s Festival that it got unexpectedly cancelled.
I found out (Thanks to Darragh Doyle!) at midnight on Friday, having just suggested to everyone a few hours earlier to come to the festival. At that time I had to decide if I would send 9400 more mails to let you all know, but I decided to post the change on the Facebook page for the Dublin Event Guide instead. The cancellation happened less than 14 hours before the start of the festival and everyone was keen to find out why it didn’t go ahead, but unfortunately no full explanation has been provided by this morning (Fri 26 Aug), despite promises for a full statement already last Saturday. Because it can’t be too complicated to explain what happened, this might indicate that there will not be an official explanation!?
So let me put the facts and some speculation together to at least attempt an explanation. I wasn’t involved in any way, but I think a lot of people are left wondering.
It all started when the Festival of World Culture (FOWC) was cancelled. This was partially because of the high cost and the cost overrun, but many think the FOWC was seen by the Councillors in Dun Laoghaire as a nuisance and they wanted to get rid of it. After the FOWC cancellation thousands of people were seriously disappointed (me included!) and a number thought about if and how it would be possible to run an alternative festival. I looked into it too, but around the same time a group in Dun Laoghaire got together and decided to work towards running a “People’s Festival”. The name surprised initially, because the FOWC was as well for the people, so it was a bit strange to stress the “People” element, but it then emerged that at least at some stage the people behind the festival had not only cultural but as well a political motivation and saw the People’s Festival as opposition to the establishment/authority. In how far this is still the case with the group that finally ran the planning for the festival is not clear to me. But either way, the result is that unfortunately the authorities and NOT the People “won”.
It seemed that the organiser did a good job, got lots of bands on board and ran some fund raising events. The word about the People’s Festival was spreading, but many thought it was a successor of the FOWC. This was never planned and the organisers stressed that from the beginning, but because the People’s Festival was filling the gap that the FOWC left, it is not surprising that this was assumed by many.
A pre-announcement of the date indicated that the 20+21 Aug 2011 was the targeted weekend, but the final announcement took another while. Nevertheless, the People’s Festival had developped a momentum that seemed to surprise the organisers. (I remember a Facebook Event Page message where they were surprised about 800 people having declared that they would attend.)
Around that time my estimate was that up to 10,000 people could arrive in Dun Laoghaire for that weekend and you can imagine that 10,000 people somehow need to be looked after with Stewards, Garda, food, drink etc.
The venues were just three pubs, but there were two outdoor stages announced and that would have taken the pressure off the indoor venues.
Unfortunately it was exactly these outdoor stages that caused the whole festival to fail, it seems. It turns out that the organisers had assumed that the venues had the required licenses for live music indoors and outdoors. And while this might have been a little too naive and should have checked early on, I can understand that an assumption was made that the pubs were either licensed or would look after all these requirements.
Only on Friday afternoon the organisers found out that the licenses were not held when someone from the Garda checked what was planned for the weekend.
At around 19:00 a statement was released that all events would now have to be moved indoors and that the outdoor stages will NOT be available. That doesn’t sound tooo serious, but when you start wondering how possibly 10,000 people will fit into 3 pubs and who will look after the more than 8000 people who might be stranded outside, you realise that there were bigger problems that JUST the license.
Clearly Dun Laoghaire didn’t want the People’s Festival and the People’s Festival organisers didn’t want Dun Laoghaire, so there was seemingly no dialogue from very early on, which could maybe have sorted some of the issues.
I don’t know what happened between 19:00 and 21:58 on Friday evening when finally the cancellation was announced, but analysing all aspects, I am not surprised that the ONLY option was to cancel the event completely.
Just think about all the bands that were meant to play outside and now were not allowed to. They could NOT have accommodated on additional stages inside so quickly, so they would have been VERY upset. Their fans even more! Thousands of people could not have been let into the pubs with Off-licenses as the best available alternative AND on top of that, I dare to guess that the gardai were not prepared for the event and that the organisers might not have had the appropriate number of stewards. So public orders issues were another threat.
So, what was the probably reason for the while disaster? I would say, that it was (understandable) inexperience combined with the fact that the authorities and the organisers didn’t work together but maybe even against each other.
The stage based element of the event was seemingly very well prepared and organised because the gigs did then go ahead in some shape and form on Saturday and Sunday in three venues in the Dublin City Centre (Stags Head, Button Factory, Sweeney’s Mongrel).
I would say the organisers learned a hell of a lot in a very very short time frame ;-) and if they will go for it again next year, it will be a success. I would recommend to leave the ideological or political element to one side, but only the future will show if that is possible.
Interestingly, the newspapers were extremely ignorant and wrote articles without having done and research, but even more interesting is that a Dun Laoghaire councillor claimed that they were involved in planning the People’s Festival. Odd councillor! See the article here:
The news spread relatively fast about the cancellation and it was in the Irish Times as well. The People’s Park was busy on Sunday with the Ukulele Hooley and I hear the event in town was successful. I saw all kind of comments in the Internet (some people had forgotten their chill pill ;-) ), but in the end it is a learning curve and the person that has never failed, most likely has never tried.
It is possible that they could have avoided some of the issues, but it is over now and hopefully they are not giving up but use the learnings to make it better in 2012.