The inaugural NORTHERN LIGHTS festival, planned for the weekend of July 30-31 in Aberdeen, was cancelled on Thursday due to poor ticket sales.
The Seaton Park site was licensed for 25,000 people but it’s rumoured that fewer than 2,000 tickets had been sold. Just 10,000 would have made the event break even.
Acts who had already been booked to appear included Madness, Kelis, Maximo Park, Paloma Faith, Example, The Noisettes, The Pigeon Detectives, Tinchy Stryder, Mylo, The Futureheads, Idlewild, Edwyn Collins, The Twilight Sad and The Xcerts, while more than 200 local bands applied to take part in showcases to win slots on the bill.
The organisers pulled the plug after Faithless, who were understood to have been earmarked as Saturday headliners, could not commit to the show. It is also believed that they had unsuccessfully approached Ian Brown, who was demanding a six-figure fee.
Festival chief Jim Sandison described the decision to cancel Northern Lights just four weeks before it was due to start as “heartbreaking”, so just where did it go wrong?
1. No Saturday headliner
The organisers had announced that a “mystery guest” would headline on July 30. Punters were (quite understandably) waiting to find out who that was before deciding whether to buy a weekend or day ticket, or even go at all. While the Northern Lights line-up certainly wasn’t poor, it lacked a big-name draw.
2. Too much competition
The festival market is crowded, if not overcrowded. In Scotland alone there’s T in the Park (whose booked artists are out of bounds due to the terms of their contract), RockNess, Belladrum, Wickerman, Loopallu, Insider, Doune The Rabbit Hole, Kelburn Garden Party and Solas – all of which are within seven weeks of when Northern Lights was due to take place. In addition, Aberdeenshire already has Wizard Festival in New Deer, 30 miles away from Seaton Park (albeit their line-up is notoriously pish).
3. Poor advertising
There was little in the way of a marketing campaign, with many people only hearing about the festival for the first time when news broke of its cancellation. It didn’t help that the existence of Northern Lights was only made public 15 weeks before its start date.
4. Bad weather
It has been a crappy summer in Scotland so far. With the possibility of getting sodden at an outdoor festival a very real one, many people simply refuse to part with their cash for an unknown quantity until the weather forecast is more concrete.
5. No camping option
The lack of on-site camping facilities made Northern Lights unattractive to people who didn’t already stay or have friends/family who live in the Aberdeen area.
6. Age limitation
There was a 14+ age restriction for Northern Lights which immediately ruled out the ‘family’ market as potential ticket buyers.
We’re living in a time of economic austerity. Many people simply can’t afford to spend £100 on two days of live music.
Start-up festivals are incredibly hard to get off the ground, with all manner of costs, deposits and red tape to be negotiated. Perhaps the organisers would have been wiser launching Northern Lights as a one-day event in its first year.
9. No pedigree
While most punters don’t know and couldn’t care less who is putting on a music event, the agents and managers of popular artists certainly do – it’s common for them to demand appearance money up front when dealing with fledgling promoters. With no prior festival experience behind them, the Northern Lights team would have faced an uphill struggle to attract decent names without having to cough up large portions of their budget in advance.
10. Premature cancellation
The decision to scrap Northern Lights drew online complaints from people who said they had intended to buy a ticket after payday, which for many fell on June 30 – the day it was cancelled. Most new festivals have to wait until the week of the event before receiving the majority of their ticket revenue. Maybe the organisers were a little too hasty in switching off the lights.