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AIF to operate AFO as Steve Heap retires

The UK’s Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) will hand over operation to the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) following the retirement of general secretary Steve Heap.

Heap, who will step down at the beginning of April, has been AFO’s general secretary since its formation in 1987. The organisation currently represents 102 festival and event organisers, with events ranging from 500 to 25,000-plus capacity, while AIF represents 101 UK music festivals, ranging from 500 to 80,000-cap.

Together, the trade bodies will have a collective voice representing 202 festival promoters and events organisers across the UK.

“Since founding AFO in 1987, I have devoted a considerable amount of time, effort and love to the grassroots festival industry,” says Heap. “Members and I have worked together to build a stronger, well-recognised and sustainable future. Retiring from this desk now, after 38 years, is a big tug and I will leave all the ‘thank yous’ to my personal letters later.

“For now and the future, I am delighted to be giving the reins to John Rostron and the team at AIF, where I know AFO members will find support, knowledge, campaigning and unity in this world of festivals. AFO members are creative, conscientious, and resilient, and I believe will embrace this change of management with enthusiasm, leading on to a real recovery and strong, successful season in 2024.”

The AFO and AIF have come together many times in the past to fight for the combined interests of their members, with achievements including negotiating a new reduced festival tariff with PRS for Music; negotiating a reduction on VAT for tickets sales to 5% during Covid; lobbying government for financial support, and leading to the contribution of over a billion pounds from the Cultural Recovery Fund to a variety of arts organisations.

“The UK’s festival sector is depleting at a staggering rate in 2024 and, without government intervention, there is no guarantee that pressures will ease”

“Steve is a legend in the festival world and he’ll be greatly missed as he begins his retirement from AFO,” adds AIF CEO John Rostron. “I’m enormously pleased that his departing gesture is to entrust AFO to myself and the team at AIF. We’ll continue to support AFO members in the way they’ve become accustomed but also bring new opportunities and strength by having so many independent festivals together in one place.

“I’m pleased that I’ll still get time with Steve as he offers his wisdom and support to me and the members as he steps back to enjoy more time in the fields, and less time at a desk.”

Meanwhile, Devon’s Spring Classic festival has become the latest UK festival to cancel this year, with organisers citing spiralling costs.

“Spring Classic festival is the 14th UK festival to cancel, postpone or announce their closure entirely in 2024,” notes Rostron. “Again, reasons of soaring costs for a third consecutive year since the pandemic have meant this popular, well run event can no longer go ahead, despite plenty of personal investment from its organisers.

“The UK’s festival sector is depleting at a staggering rate in 2024 and, without government intervention, there is no guarantee that pressures will ease for promoters in years to come. We again urge people to visit fivepercentforfestivals.com, contact their MP and call for a three year VAT reduction on festival tickets to 5% in order to give festivals the economic respite they need to recover.”


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NEC Birmingham signs up to festival trade bodies

The NEC Birmingham has joined the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) and the Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) as it seeks to explore new opportunities within its events diversification strategy.

The NEC is the UK’s largest exhibition venue, with 18 interconnecting halls in addition to more than 387 acres of hard-standing ground and 59 acres of woodland.

Post-pandemic, the campus has adapted its commercial approach to broaden its festival proposition, staging the 45,000-cap Wireless Festival outdoors with Festival Republic in July last year. It also hosted Slam Dunk Festival in 2014.

“We work closely with many trade bodies across the live music and events industry, contributing to policies, key initiatives and lobbying activity. It is important that we listen to the wants and needs of more event genres as we diversify our offer” says Richard Mann, new business director for the NEC, which also owns ticketing agency The Ticket Factory.

“We are in discussions with festival organisers about events for this year and beyond”

“We’re a large site with big ambitions to bring a greater mix of events to the Midlands. We are in discussions with festival organisers about events for this year and beyond. Our audience database for the NEC and our arenas is comprehensive. The challenge for us is bringing new events to the region which can revitalise the local festival and events landscape.”

AIF CEO John Rostron says the move represents a big addition to the AIF membership.

“Not only does it demonstrate creative thinking from NEC Group, it also points to the value of AIF as a resource to businesses connected to the festival industry, alongside the promoters themselves,” he says. “We look forward to working closely with the NEC, carving new opportunities for both the venue and our festival members, and promoting the interests of the sector more broadly.”

Steve Heap, general secretary of the AFO, adds: “We are delighted that the NEC has joined us. AFO’s credibility has built gradually since we formed in 1987, and we now have more than 150 grassroots festivals, many of whom move sites from year-to-year, that would welcome engagement with the venue. We look forward to working more closely with the NEC as the year progresses and beyond.”


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Mojo’s Woo Hah! festival adopts new name, location

Mojo’s Woo Hah! festival will return next year under a different name and in a new location.

The Dutch hip-hop event has been renamed Rolling Loud Rotterdam, and will take place in and around Rotterdam Ahoy between 30 June and 1 July 2023 with headliners Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott.

Woo Hah! festival was founded in 2014 by 013 and Live Nation’s Mojo, with the aim of bringing more major hip-hop acts to the Brabant region. In 2018, the event moved to its most recent site in Beekse Bergen.

For the 2022 edition, Woo Hah! joined forces with the world’s largest hip-hop festival franchise Rolling Loud, which also has a presence in the US, Canada, Portugal and soon to be Thailand.

Rolling Loud Rotterdam 2023 will reportedly host around 28 artist performances for 40,000 visitors each day.

Rotterdam Ahoy’s ability to host more attendees than the Beekse Bergen site was a big part of the draw according to Camiel Le Rutte, project manager festivals Mojo.

“First of all, there was a production problem on the Beekse Bergen site: lack of space. All festival visitors must be able to see the headliners on the main stage at the same time. That does not work with big names such as Kendrick Lamar, who sold out the Ziggo Dome twice in October. In addition, their show must meet high requirements in terms of sound, LED light, video walls and set pieces.”

Another important factor was that many of the Woo Hah! visitors came from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht. “We see a longer future in Rotterdam. And thanks to the North Sea Jazz Festival, we are very familiar with Ahoy’s production possibilities.”

Jolanda Jansen, director of Rotterdam Ahoy, says: “In recent years, Ahoy has already proven itself as a perfect location for major events and we can’t wait to add Rolling Loud to this list. The international and culturally diverse character of this American festival fits perfectly with a city like Rotterdam.”

Rolling Loud founders Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif add: “Our first experience with the Dutch festival audience was one to remember. We love the energy you bring when you finally get to see your favourite artists live. We are ready to show the Netherlands the next step of everything Rolling Loud has to offer at the new location at Rotterdam Ahoy.”


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The Associates: AFO, AIF, BDKV

Covid-19 has impacted every business sector around the world, but with live entertainment likely to be one of the last industries to return, given social distancing regulations, the associations that represent its millions of employees have never been more important.

As restrictions in many countries enter yet another month, for issue 91 IQ found out more about some of our association partners and discovered just what they are doing to help their members navigate and survive.

First in the spotlight are the UK’s Association of Festival Organisers and Association of Independent Festivals, along with Germany’s Federal Association of the Concert and Event Industry.

Association of Festival Organisers (UK)
The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) was formed in 1987 when just six organisers came together to exchange ideas, discuss the growing festival calendar and offer support to each other. Now, there are more than 250 members, over 150 of which are festivals, with the rest of the membership made up of associated supply services.

The AFO supports its members by engaging with UK government, local authorities, trade/industry, UK Music, and many other organisations, supplying them with information and a voice that enables them to stand up for their corner of the outdoor events industry.

Membership fees are kept as low as possible because they believe that the organisers that need help and advice the most are the ones with the smallest budgets. A festival, for example, can join for £100 (€112) per year; an associate will be more like £200 (€224), depending on size; while individuals pay around £40 (€45).

During the pandemic, AFO has provided members with information and guidance, and offered one-on-one Zoom calls for any member that needed more detailed attention. The association has posted 26 items of Covid-19 news on its website and sent out numerous blogs and newsletters, along with surveys and general questionnaires to keep up to speed with the devastating situation the virus has brought to the industry.

During the pandemic, AFO has provided members with information and guidance, and offered one-on-one Zoom calls

Association of Independent Festivals (UK)
The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) is one of the UK’s leading festival representative bodies. Founded in 2008, the combined attendance of AIF’s 65 member events exceeds 820,000 each year, with members contributing an estimated £386m (€433m) to the UK economy annually. AIF provides a vital support network for independent festival promoters through members meetings; public facing campaigns and lobbying; producing conferences and training events; and providing business support services to members.

AIF’s member events range from 500- to 70,000-capacity and include some of the most successful and innovative festivals in the UK: Boomtown Fair, Shambala, Boardmasters, End of the Road, Bluedot and many more. Member fees range between £500–£5,000 (€560–€5,600) and are calculated based on licensed capacity.

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, AIF’s work representing members has been extensive and far-reaching, including proactively lobbying and presenting evidence and data to support measures that will alleviate the sector to both the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Her Majesty’s Treasury.

These include producing numerous impact surveys and lobbying on issues such as temporary extensions to consumer refund periods; VAT holidays; extending the coronavirus job retention scheme; making a distinction between retail and seasonal businesses; and clarity on the eligibility of festivals for grants and loans. These efforts have resulted in discussions at ministerial level about the festival industry’s issues.

BDKV successfully lobbied for legislation that gives promoters the right to offer ticketholders a voucher instead of a reimbursement

BDKV (Germany)
The Federal Association of the Concert and Event Industry, or Bundesverband der Konzert- und Veranstaltungswirtschaft (BDKV), membership includes about 450 promoters and agents across all sectors of the live entertainment business. Membership fees depend on the size of the member company or organisation and range from €750 to €2,500 per year.

During the pandemic, the BDKV successfully lobbied for legislation that gives promoters the right to offer ticketholders (for shows that were/are unable to go ahead due to the coronavirus) a voucher instead of a reimbursement, as well as for any presale expenses.

The voucher scheme is unique, according to BDKV, as it completely reverses existing German law. However, the association convinced policy makers that the vouchers were vital for German promoters whose businesses would have been in jeopardy if they had been forced to reimburse ticket holders.

In addition to its voucher campaign, BDKV has been instrumental in establishing a task force for all German associations involved in the music business, which has created a detailed damage claim for the business, amounting to €582m, including around €420m for the live sector. BDKV, alongside its task force partners, is currently awaiting an answer from German government regarding this claim.


View the full Associates list in the digital edition of IQ 91. To keep on top of the latest live music industry news, features and insights, subscribe to IQ now

This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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UK festivals targeted by email scammers

The Association of Festival Organisers (AFO) has issued a warning to its members following reports of fraudulent emails inviting international artists to play at UK festivals.

The director of Cornwall Folk Festival, who was first alerted to the scam in June, reported the fake emails to the AFO today (July 3).

Posing as festival directors, the email scammers offer bogus bookings to artists to replace allegedly cancelled headline acts, and take payments from those who pursue the invite.

According to the AFO, the Isle of Wight Festival has also been targeted by the scam.

“We’ve been inundated over the past two weeks with dozens of emails from musicians asking us if the offer is for real,” says Cornwall Folk Festival director Adrian Jones.

“The offer is quite credible. It includes details that a musician would recognise as part of a plausible contract, including transport, accommodation and a back line. And not a spelling mistake in sight, which is most unusual for spam.

“The offer is quite credible – it includes details that a musician would recognise as part of a plausible contract”

“The con is surely being played on the artists, who may well find themselves being asked for a deposit for flights. We’re only being contacted by those who realise it is a scam. We have no idea if others have replied and are in conversation with the spammers,” adds Jones.

This is the second time in as many months that an industry association has drawn attention to email scammers.

In May, the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association warned that fraudsters were posing as agents representing artists such as Adele, Justin Timberlake and Eminem, asking promoters for deposits in exchange for fictional live dates.

Cornwall Folk Festival takes place from Thursday 22 to Monday 26 August in Wadebridge, North Cornwall. Headline acts include the Unthanks, Steve Knightley and Flats and Sharps.


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