Damage control: Peter Noble talks difficult start to year
Earlier this year, the governor of the Australian state of New South Wales pulled the plug on Byron Bay Bluesfest the day before the much-loved festival was due to go ahead. Despite agreeing to operate at 50% capacity under a state-approved plan, Bluesfest was given no option to comply, leaving the festival owing artists, suppliers and contracts with no income to pay them.
Here, festival organiser Peter Noble talks about the impact of the last-minute cancellation and looks ahead to the ‘new’ Bluesfest 2021, which takes place from 1 to 4 October…
IQ: Tell us about the moment you learned Bluesfest would not be able to go ahead.
PN: The public health order came through at about 3.30pm on 30 March, the day before the festival was due to open. We were literally set up and ready to go. Every single thing had been done; the stallholders had the food and the liquor was in the fridges, the signage was up – it was as close as you could get to opening your doors. That positive Covid case was the first one we’ve had in our area since July the previous year. It was a shock. We were traumatised.
Did the New South Wales government consult you before they pulled the plug?
I’d been given a heads up a few hours earlier that the government was going to do it, but we weren’t given any opportunities to do anything but comply. Even though I was very much a part of a process of developing the first Covid safety plan for live music, once it got down to the government decision, the festival was not part of it.
A lot of people felt the government’s decision was very heavy handed – that we are a five-day event, and they could have cancelled our first day and see if there was going to be any further positive cases in the community and, in fact, it turned out that there wasn’t.
I don’t think that the health minister would make such a decision so quickly without looking at all the options again. We all learned something from it and it’s no use crying over spilt milk.
What were the financial ramifications of the last-minute cancellation?
Well, the treasurer of New South Wales called on Easter Saturday, when I was still in shock, and said that I would be the first recipient of the business interruption fund – which I had been advocating for, for a bloody long time. The festival received an interim payment from the government that allowed us to pay all of our workers, make a good start on paying our suppliers, and pay the musicians money. We paid half the fee to anybody that was earning under A$15,000 [€9,500] and 25% to anybody that was earning over.
“Ticket sales for the rescheduled event have been astonishing. I love being in this industry”
Our next payment will be to stallholders who had perishable goods or craft beer. We had to do all those things to be able to come back. I can’t say how much we were given because I signed a non-disclosure agreement, but after the government’s final payment to us, we will hopefully end up in the same financial position we were in when we started working on that first event in May 2020, which was cancelled. Without the business interruption payments, we would have gone into liquidation for sure.
What does that say about the need for government-backed insurance?
The fact that there is no avenue for that kind of support, unless I go to the tourism minister with cap in hand and say, “Please save my event,” is farcical. But I think it’s probably because we haven’t really lobbied the government in the way we needed to, to be recognised for our contributions.
There are only ever a small number of major event producers. You’re not going to see many events in Australia calling out in the way that I am because most are backed by multinationals and have the ability to be funded. The government needs to be stepping in and saying: “We value events. We’re going to invest in them. Or at the very least, we’re going to launch a government-backed guarantee.” If they don’t do that, I fear we’re going to see a loss of events.
How did you make the decision to reschedule Bluesfest for October?
I said to our artists, “If we did reschedule, would you want to come?”, and all but two headliners said yes. So then it just came down to whether or not the team had the fortitude. I couldn’t put it on my team to do the event if they just couldn’t do it on a mental-health level. We were traumatised. But we decided to go ahead and all of a sudden, the vibe came back into the office.
Tickets to the rescheduled event were released on 20 May and the sales have been astonishing. We had about a million dollars in ticket sales within 24 hours. To see such a big show of faith from fans through buying a ticket has really made me think, “God, I love being in this industry.”
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Bluesfest forced to cancel at the eleventh hour
Byron Bay Bluesfest 2021 has been cancelled by a public health order, a mere 24 hours before doors were due to open to the public.
The New South Wales (NSW) government announced on Wednesday (30 March) that Bluesfest would not be permitted to go ahead on its scheduled dates, Thursday 31 March to Monday 5 April, due to a new Covid case in Byron Bay.
Bluesfest confirmed the cancellation in a statement published late afternoon on 31 March. “We are heartbroken that Covid-19 has spread into our local community,” it read. “We are getting the message out as quickly as possible so that those traveling to the event can make alternate arrangements.”
Read the full Bluesfest statement via our website: www.bluesfest.com.au/bluesfest-is-cancelled-for-two-years-in-a-row
In a statement, Minister Hazzard said: “While the cancellation of Bluesfest is disappointing for music lovers and the local community, I hope that ticket holders would support Bluesfest and hold on to their tickets as I understand Bluesfest will be working on a new date as soon as possible.”
Under an NSW Health-approved Covid-19 safety plan, Bluesfest 2021 was set to operate at approximately 50% of normal capacity and production, hosting around 16,500 people on each of its five days, with an all-Australian line-up.
It’s just been announced that @BluesfestByron has been cancelled. While this is such huge blow for Aussie music, the health and well-being of this country has to come first. Thanks to the team at Bluesfest for doing the best they could in preparation. pic.twitter.com/4fpJBzqXAh
— Jimmy Barnes (@JimmyBarnes) March 31, 2021
The cancellation marks the second time the festival has been called off due to the coronavirus.
The last-minute cancellation of Bluesfest has prompted fresh calls for a government insurance scheme that would help live events redeem their costs in the event of an eleventh-hour cancellation.
“Govt has a Covid insurance system for the film industry. Music needs one too. Urgently”
Bluesfest’s Peter Noble had called for such a fund at the beginning of the year. A business interruption fund, he wrote on Facebook, would “incentivise event presenters to put on events and be protected in not going to the wall, should an out break of Covid shut down their businesses at short notice and protect artists, crew and suppliers [to] get paid should that occur”.
“The federal government did it more than six months ago for the film industry to get them back to making movies. Why are we still waiting?” he wrote.
Shadow Arts Minister Tony Burke has also called for a “Covid insurance system” for live music. “The music industry is full of viable profitable businesses unable to function because of public health,” he wrote on Twitter. “Govt has a Covid insurance system for the film industry. Music needs one too. Urgently.”
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Bluesfest 2021 to go ahead after safety plan approved
Byron Bay Bluesfest is set to go ahead at around half its capacity after the government of New South Wales (NSW) approved its Covid-19 safety plan.
The festival was called off last year with three weeks to go as the coronavirus spread in Australia. By approving the safety plan for Bluesfest 2021, the state government “has indicated that, if the current Covid-19 situation continues in NSW, Bluesfest would be permitted to proceed”, says festival director Peter Noble OAM.
“This is a great day, not only for Bluesfest but also for the Australian live music industry and our unrelenting efforts to get back to presenting live music safely. While our capacity, stages and campgrounds will be approximately 50% of the numbers we have had in the past, it is great to know there is a future for our industry, and that we have been given the opportunity to present Bluesfest 2021 at a level not seen at festivals in Australia since the summer of 2019/20.”
Noble thanks NSW ministers including tourism minister Stuart Ayres and deputy premier John Barilaro for “working closely with us on a weekly basis to achieve this milestone result for the music-loving people of Australia”.
Bluesfest 2021 is scheduled for 1–5 April in Tyagarah, Byron Bay, with performers including Tash Sultana, Kev Carmody, Ocean Alley, the Church, John Williamson, Tex Perkins, Jimmy Barnes, Cat Empire, Kasey Chambers and Jeff Lang.
At 50% capacity, the festival will welcome around 15,000 festivalgoers, and 80% of tickets have already been sold.
“We are looking forward to seeing your smiling faces as you experience the best in Australian music”
Noble says he will make a further announcement about “how Bluesfest will be presented in a safe manner next week. What we can say is that the plan is created in a way where we can adapt to the requirements of the NSW health department should there be a need to create higher levels of safety for the public on site, and, of course, we are also hopeful that conditions will be further relaxed should there be no further community transmissions.”
“The good news is you won’t need to wear a mask currently while attending,” he continues. “We are looking forward to seeing your smiling faces as you experience the best in Australian music at an outdoor fully seated event.”
Noble concludes: “There are so many people to thank who took part in working with us in getting to this point. The artists and their agents and managers, the media for their ongoing support, our suppliers and, of course, the Bluesfest team, who never wavered – well, only sometimes – in their conviction to produce Bluesfest at Easter this year.
“But number one is our gratitude to the music fans, who purchased the tickets from the moment we went on sale and who will join us in making history as major live music events return in Australia.”
Five-day Bluesfest 2021 tickets are priced from A$585 (US$450) + fees.
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Aus festivals receive share of gov’s $75m Rise fund
The promoters behind Australian festivals including Bluesfest, Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival are among the first recipients of the federal government’s AU$75 million Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (Rise) fund.
The fund is part of the government’s $250 m Creative Economy Support Package to help restart activities such as festivals, concerts, tours and events once it is safe to do so.
Music festivals in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria were among the first recipients of the Rise fund, with Byron Bay Bluesfest receiving $1 m for its 2021 event to run between 1–5 April over the Easter long weekend.
The event, which normally draws 100,000 patrons, was cancelled this year when Covid restrictions came into effect, weeks before it was expected to go ahead.
An economic impact report showed that the cancellation of Byron Bay Bluesfest deprived the state of New South Wales of over $200m and 1,150 jobs.
This week, Bluesfest revealed that it has dropped all international names from its bill and is debuting a completely domestic lineup featuring Jimmy Barnes, Tash Sultana, Ocean Alley and more. The festival revealed that four months out, 70% of tickets have been sold.
Other NSW recipients include Secret Sounds, the promoters behind Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival (both of which were cancelled this year), which will receive $1.5 m to develop a new festival ‘that would keep audiences connected while also reaching new audiences across Australia and overseas’.
“My message to everyone in the arts and entertainment sector is – we want you back out there doing what you do best”
Reportedly, the new festival will be among the additional events that Secret Sounds has applied to host at the Byron Parklands site.
In the first round, NSW has received $17.8 m which will go to 28 organisations while Victoria has received $20 m for 48 projects.
Successful applicants in Victoria include Melbourne International Arts Festival/Rising ($1.48 m); Melbourne Fringe ($275,000); and Castlemaine State Festival in regional Victoria ($172,900).
The arts sector has expressed impatience with the minister’s office over the time it has taken to announce the recipients. A full list is to be published by the Office for the Arts in mid-December.
“As well as generating jobs and income, the Rise fund means there will be lots of shows that Australians can go and see – and that’s good news for all of us after a tough year,” says minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, Paul Fletcher.
“And my message to Australia’s artists and performers, to backstage crew, to everyone in the arts and entertainment sector, is – we want you back out there doing what you do best, and Rise is going to really help that happen.”
The federal government has also published a roadmap for “reactivating live performance venues and events” in Australia. The guidelines break up the return to live music into three steps, though it delegates decision making on capacities to state jurisdictions. It projects an ultimate return to standing concerts only in outdoor and “mixed” performance spaces.
Festivals are also projected to make their return after the final step, with restrictions.
Australian PM advises ban on events over 500-cap.
Updated 18/3/20: Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announces a ban on “non-essential” indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, including “social activities and entertainment”, effective immediately.
The Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has advised against all “non-essential” mass gatherings of over 500 people, effective from Monday (16 March).
The announcement follows yesterday’s statement from organisers of Australian festival Byron Bay Bluesfest that the event was to go ahead as planned.
A statement released by the Bluesfest team reads: “We are now awaiting the official requirement from Federal and State authorities on Monday and will update you at that time.” Updated (16 March): Bluesfest executive chairman Peter Noble today issued a statement cancelling the festival, saying “it is obvious we will not be on this Easter. We are heartbroken as we believe we were presenting one of the best ever bills of talent for you.”
Leading Australian promoters Frontier Touring an Chugg Entertainment today issued a statement that “a number of concerts will no longer be able to proceed as scheduled”, including shows by Jimmy Eat World, Marc Rebillet, Kip Moore, Miranda Lambert and Seaforth.
“Frontier Touring and Chugg Entertainment are presently working with all artist teams to determine if dates can be rescheduled to late 2020 or early 2021,” reads the statement.
“For ticketholders, tickets will remain valid for rescheduled dates and they will be notified directly as soon as details of new dates are confirmed. Where concerts cannot be rescheduled a full refund will be available for all tickets purchased through official ticketing agencies.”
The promoters note that concerts by New Order, Gengahr and Julia Jacklin will proceed as scheduled over the weekend.
“Frontier Touring and Chugg Entertainment are presently working with all artist teams to determine if dates can be rescheduled to late 2020 or early 2021”
In Melbourne, Robbie Williams’ upcoming concert as part of TEG Dainty, Apollo World Touring and Westbrook Inc.’s World Tour series has also been called off, along with the Australian Grand Prix. The concert was to take place at the Lakeside Stadium within the Grand Prix racetrack on Saturday.
“We appreciate that this is very disappointing news for the fans due to attend the show and all ticket holders will receive a full refund and will be contacted by Ticketek shortly,” reads a statement from World Tour Melbourne and TEG Dainty.
The news follows the cancellation of Miley Cyrus’ World Tour Bushfire Relief show at the same venue earlier this week.
The Australian editions of Download Festival, set to take place in Sydney and Melbourne on 20 and 21 March, have also been cancelled.
Headliners My Chemical Romance pulled out of headline appearances at the festivals, as well as all other performances in Australia and New Zealand today, “given the current global situation”. The band have also cancelled upcoming tour dates in Japan.
“Given that this announcement has come barely eight days prior to Download Australia we will not be able to secure an alternative headliner as there is insufficient time to secure visas and arrange the other relevant logistics that are required prior to the festival,” reads a statement from organisers.
“As we are unable to deliver a complete line-up, we have very reluctantly made the decision to cancel Download Australia 2020″
“As we are unable to deliver a complete line-up to meet the standard that Download fans both expect and deserve, we have very reluctantly made the decision to cancel Download Australia 2020.”
The team says it is working with My Chemical Romance and fellow headliners Deftones “to schedule separate headline shows in Australia in 2020”, as well as with other Download acts to arrange “headline shows in Sydney and Melbourne next week”.
All ticketholders will receive a full refund via Moshtix.
In the wake of event cancellations, the Australian live performance industry has called on the government to supply a stimulus plan to support the business in the event of significant loss of trade.
“We believe it’s possible to design measures that are targeted, scalable and temporary in terms of their budgetary impact, and which could be lifted once the current public health crisis is resolved,” comments Live Performance Australia chief executive, Evelyn Richardson.
Read insurance brokers advice on navigating coronavirus-related event cancellations here.
Byron Bay Bluesfest to go ahead as planned
The organisers of Byron Bay Bluesfest have confirmed that the festival is going ahead as planned from 9 to 13 April, despite the spread of Covid-19.
“We are all aware of COVID-19 in Australia and want to update you. Bluesfest Byron Bay will be going ahead as planned,” reads a post on the festival’s Facebook page, last updated today (12 March).
“Both NSW Health and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the federal body, report that attending public events such as Bluesfest are low risk.”
Fan are assured that their tickets are “fully insured” in case of a coronavirus-related cancellation.
The New South Wales festival, organised by Peter Noble, is entering its 31st year in 2020, featuring acts including Lenny Kravitz, Dave Matthews Band, Kool and the Gang and John Butler.
“We are all aware of COVID-19 in Australia and want to update you. Bluesfest Byron Bay will be going ahead as planned”
Extra safety measures and additional facilities, such as hand sanitisation stations, will be put in place at Bluesfest to further safeguard the health and safety of guests.
Covid-19 was yesterday declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Major festivals including Coachella, Ultra Miami, South by Southwest and Tomorrowland Winter have been cancelled or postponed due to the virus.
Events affected in Australia include Miley Cyrus’ cancelled headline performance at the World Tour Bushfire Relief concert in Melbourne, Victoria. However, Robbie Wiliams’ appearance as part of the same event series is going ahead as planned, along with the Australian grand prix.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today said there will be a “further review of mass gatherings” across the state, saying, “there is no need to massively change what you are doing but it’s not business as usual. We are asking everybody to be alert.”
13 new cases of the virus were reported in NSW yesterday alone, bringing the state’s total to 78, half the total number of cases reported across the whole country.
NSW music festival regulations rejected
The New South Wales (NSW) Legislative Council has rejected regulations put forward by the NSW Government that imposed stricter licensing laws on music festivals.
The rejection means that festivals formerly placed in the government’s ‘higher risk’ category, and were most affected by the regulations, can revert back to their previous licensing laws.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian implemented the regulations, which placed more responsibility on festival organisers to ensure the safety of patrons and incurred many additional licensing and security costs, following a string of drug-related deaths at music festivals in the region.
The regulations were criticised by industry bodies including the Australian Music Festivals Association, Live Performance Australia, Apra Amcos and Music NSW, as well as leading industry figures such as Byron Bluesfest founder Peter Noble and Live Nation Australia chairman Michael Coppel.
“The government can now sit down with the industry for some constructive consultation on ways to improve patron safety at music festivals, including steps to reduce drug-related harm,” comments Evelyn Richardson, chief executive of Live Performance Australia.
“From the outset, we have repeatedly expressed our strong desire to work collaboratively with government on our shared commitment to safer festivals.
“Genuine collaboration with industry representatives who have decades of experience in running safe and successful festivals is the best way to promote the safety of festival patrons, while also ensuring NSW continues to enjoy the economic and cultural benefits from a dynamic and diverse music festival industry.”
“The government can now sit down with the industry for some constructive consultation on ways to improve patron safety at music festivals”
The government now has two months to propose a new set of regulations. Representatives from the Australian Labor party stated that they would support a regime that did not publish an ‘extreme risk’ list of festivals, that followed existing NSW Health guidelines for festival organisers and that ensured all medical providers at festivals are registered.
Politicians also urged the ‘immediate establishment’ of a regulatory roundtable, at which live music industry associations could consult with local councils.
“The opposition does not move to disallow these regulations lightly, but we simply believe that these regulations do not do the job as required to regulate music festivals and to keep kids safe across NSW,” stated shadow minister for roads, music and the night-time economy John Graham, speaking at the debate.
The minister also commented that no politicians met with the festivals at the time of implementing the regulations and that “no consultative body existed, or exists today”, adding that there is “no other industry that government would work with in that way.”
According to Labor minister Penny Sharpe, the “impact on venues and festivals” was not “accounted for” in the regulations. The minster urged the government to learn from its mistakes, referencing the recently scrapped Sydney lock-out laws.
As well as Byron Bay Bluesfest, other NSW festivals include Defqon.1, Days Like This, Transmission, Electric Gardens and Rolling Loud.
Report: Bluesfest 2019 attendance, spending up
Byron Bay Bluesfest increased attendance by almost 10% and contributed over AU$83 million to the New South Wales economy in 2019, a new report has shown.
Speaking to IQ ahead of this year’s festival, director Peter Noble noted that all ticket sale records had been broken for the sold-out anniversary edition. More than 105,000 fans attended this year’s Bluesfest, a 9.2% increase on the previous year.
Findings show that spending by attendees increased by almost 19% this year, with an average daily expenditure of $304. As a result, festivalgoers brought over $35.5m to the local government area of Byron Shire, contributed $59m to the region of Northern Rivers and a total of $83.4m to the state of New South Wales.
Spending by promoter Bluesfest Services was up 38% in Bryon Shire at $2.6m and increased by 24% across the rest of the Northern Rivers at $1.9m. Overall, annual expenditure on Bluesfest was approximately $18.4m, including around $1.6m in wages to 15 full-time staff.
“Bluesfest has become a pinnacle event in the calendar of Australians and music fans overseas”
The Bluesfest Group this year hired a record number of 1,454 people in NSW alone.
“I’m thrilled to think that from its humble beginnings as the East Coast Blues Festival, Bluesfest is now such a critical contributor to the local economy in the tropical surrounds of Byron Bay,” says Noble.
“Over the 30 years of its existence, Bluesfest has become a pinnacle event in the calendar of Australians and music fans overseas. I’m excited to see where the next 30 [years] will bring us as a festival in relation to the Byron, Northern Rivers, NSW and Australian economies.”
Tickets for Bluesfest 2020, which will take place from 9 to 13 April, are on sale via Moshtix. Tickets are priced at $600 plus fees for a five-day pass and $420 for three days. Single day tickets will become available in December.
Acts confirmed for the 2020 event include Dave Matthews Band, Patti Smith, John Butler and Frank Turner.
“Our 30th was just wonderful”: Bluesfest round-up
The 30th edition of Byron Bay Bluesfest wrapped up on Monday 22 April, following a weekend full of artist collaborations from Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Mavis Staples, Kasey Chambers and more.
Australia’s most highly awarded music festival welcomed 88 artists and over 105,000 attendees to its anniversary event, with headline performances from festival favourites Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.
“Our 30th was just wonderful”, says festival director Peter Noble. “We tried some new things and it seems they really worked. Jack White’s the Saboteurs were absolutely brilliant. There were more great Australian artists such as Tommy Emmanuel, Paul Kelly, Julia Stone, Russell Morris, Kasey Chambers and more.
“The headliners were loved and the return of both Ben Harper and Jack Johnson were major moments. The list is never ending,” comments Noble, giving a special mention to Chicago’s Melody Angel, “who is emerging as a bonafide star at Bluesfest”.
“Our audience is telling us what a great time they are having, and the truth is, we just want to do it all over again,” adds the festival’s owner and director.
Noble recently spoke out against strict new licensing laws that have swept across New South Wales, imposing many additional costs on festivals and placing extra responsibility on organisers to ensure the safety of patrons.
“Our audience is telling us what a great time they are having, and the truth is, we just want to do it all over again”
Collaborations across the weekend saw Ben Harper join Mavis Staples for a Saturday afternoon performance. Kasey Chambers brought Ben Harper, the War and Treaty, Tommy Emmanuel and the Veronicas on stage during her performance and Jack Johnson was joined by Lukas Nelson, Gary Clark Jr. and Paula Fuga for his Sunday night headline slot.
A closing ceremony taking place at the Boomerang festival precinct on Sunday afternoon saw artists from across the festival come together to perform dances, chants and traditional calls to celebrate the First Nations peoples of Australia.
“Boomerang had a spirit this year that resonated across the Bluesfest site, from the eclectic line up of First Nations music, to the dance, story and workshops. There truly was something for everyone,” says festival director Rhoda Roberts.
Tickets for Bluesfest 2020 are available online exclusively for 2019 ticketholders from AU$430 for a five-day ticket. Tickets will be available to the general public from 29 April 2019. More information can be found here.
Bluesfest threatens to leave NSW in policy dispute
The founder of Byron Bay Bluesfest, Peter Noble, is one of several music industry professionals to speak out against the New South Wales government over heightened licensing and security costs for music festivals.
“I am saying now, Bluesfest will leave NSW. We have no choice it’s a matter of survival. Will the last festival to leave NSW please turn out the light of culture in this soon to be barren state?” writes Bluesfest founder, Noble.
The NSW government introduced new licensing regulations for music festivals last month, following a string of suspected drug-related deaths at festivals in the state. The regulations place more responsibility on festival organisers to ensure the safety of patrons and incur many additional licensing and security costs.
The government continues to refuse to introduce drug testing at festivals in the state, despite calls from the Australian Festival Association and family and friends of the deceased.
The Byron Bay Bluesfest, set to take place from 18 to 22 April, this year celebrates its 30th anniversary, in what is tipped to be the festival’s “best year ever”.
Noble states that the event’s designation of ‘high risk’ under the new legislation signifies the revocation of the festival’s full-strength liquor license and “a myriad of other costs”, totalling “hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
Noble describes the policy as “poorly thought-out, unbalanced legislation”, and states the government has implemented new laws “without full consultation of stake holders, or meetings with entertainment industry professionals.”
“Will the last festival to leave NSW please turn out the light of culture in this soon to be barren state?”
“I charge the Government with a systemic failure in fairness here, and implore all politicians from all parties to quickly become involved with what is a serious injustice,” writes Noble.
Mountain Sounds, which announced the cancellation a week before the event was scheduled to take place, accuses the government of “fear-mongering, bullying and oppressing the youth”, in what it refers to as a “war on festivals”.
“We were told we would have to pay an additional upfront amount of approximately $200,000 for 45 user pay police on a 24 hour cycle. This came one week out from the festival and blindsided us as we were quoted for 11 user pay police on the 18th of January,” reads the organisers’ statement.