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Ultra Music Festival sued over no-refund policy

Ultra Enterprises, the company behind Miami’s Ultra Music Festival (UMF) and Ultra music events globally, has been hit with a lawsuit over its alleged refusal to offer cash refunds to those with tickets for the cancelled UMF 2020.

The 2020 festival, scheduled for 20–22 March in Miami, Florida, was called off in early March, becoming one of the first casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic that went on to claim almost the entire festival summer.

The proposed class action, filed in the US district court for southern Florida, accuses Ultra of conversion and unjust enrichment. Plaintiffs Samuel Hernandez and Richard Montoure claim the company’s insistence that they must hold onto their tickets and transfer them to UMF 2021 or ’22 is based on “impermissible ticket contract terms”, according to Law360; Ultra’s terms and conditions say it reserves the right to issue a full or partial refund, or no cash refund at all.

This, argue Hernandez and Montoure’s lawyers, means UMF – by reserving the right to keep money paid for tickets regardless of whether it puts on the show – is “essentially (and impermissibly) rendering its obligations under the [T&Cs] illusory, and the agreement itself an unenforceable unilateral option contract.”

“We do not believe Ultra Music Festival has the right to shift the burden of this extraordinary crisis onto its customers”

Hernandez sought refunds on four of six tickets he bought, for a total of US$3,000, while Montoure wanted a refund of two three-day passes he purchased for about $1,000.

“We understand that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted every part of the global economy but we do not believe that gives the Ultra Music Festival the right to shift the burden of this extraordinary crisis onto its customers, who, in some cases, paid hundreds of dollars to attend this festival,” Joe Sauder of Sauder Schelkopf – which is also suing South by Southwest on behalf of out-of-pocket ticketholders – tells Rolling Stone, “and now the Covid-19 pandemic has or will preclude them from ever using any credit.

“We look forward to seeking to recover cash refunds for our clients and the class members.”

In addition to Ultra and South by Southwest, several ticketing companies are also facing legal action over their refusal to offer cash refunds for cancelled shows, with SeatGeek and StubHub the target of one and two legal actions, respectively.


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Virtual event to replace cancelled Burning Man 2020

Burning Man is the latest US festival to be called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, with organisers announcing that the famous Black Rock City will take the form of a “virtual metropolis” instead this year.

The countercultural gathering was set to take place from 30 August to 7 September in Nevada’s Black Rock desert.

“After much listening, discussion, and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision not to build Black Rock City in 2020,” reads a statement on the Burning Man website.

“Given the painful reality of Covid-19, one of the greatest global challenges of our lifetimes, we believe this is the right thing to do.”

The event, often dubbed as an “anti-festival”, will go ahead online, however, with fans invited to enter the Virtual Black Rock City 2020, in keeping with the event’s 2020 theme, the Multiverse.

“Given the painful reality of Covid-19, one of the greatest global challenges of our lifetimes, we believe this is the right thing to do”

Unsure what form the online gathering will take, the Burning Man team says although it “will likely be messy and awkward with mistakes”, the virtual event will also be “engaging, connective, and fun”.

The first round of Burning Man ticket sales took place last month, with 4,000 tickets prices at $1,400 sold during the ‘FOMO’ ticket sale in March, as well as those sold through Direct Group Sale (DGS). The event’s main ticket sale was postponed earlier this month.

Organisers state they are “committed” to providing refunds to “those who need them”, adding that they hope some “will consider donating all or a portion of your ticket value, and/or making a tax-deductible donation to (non-profit festival organiser) Burning Man Project”.

“Substantial” staff layoffs, pay reductions and other cost-cutting measures will be needed to ensure the organisation remains operational into next year’s event season, say organisers.

Burning Man joins other major US events to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, including South by Southwest, Governors Ball, Boston Calling, Firefly Festival and Ultra Miami, with Coachella, Bonnaroo, BottleRock, New Orleans’ Jazz Fest and Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas all pushed back to later in the year.

Photo: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

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Sick Festivals: 300+ events now affected by coronavirus

With the coronavirus forcing festival cancellations on a daily basis, music data start-up Viberate has launched Sick Festivals, a list of some 5,000 music festivals, updated daily, tracking which events are on, which are postponed and which have been cancelled altogether.

Slovenia-based Viberate has, at the time of writing, identified 141 cancelled and 185 postponed festivals. The data is sourced from artists, venues, events and festivals featured in Viberate’s blockchain-based music industry database, which the company hopes will become the ‘IMDb of music’.

The idea for Sick Festivals came when one of the company’s founders, techno DJ Uroš Umek (aka DJ Umek), started receiving a slew of festival cancellations, he explains: “Just a week ago, I played on the Resistance stage at Ultra in Melbourne and Sydney, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When I landed back home and turned my phone back on, most of my upcoming gigs had already disappeared from my calendar.

“That was when I realised how serious this outbreak had become in a matter of days. It feels eerily dystopian.

“It’s up to us to do whatever we can to manage the damage”

“Now it’s up to us to do whatever we can to manage the damage. At Viberate, we quickly put together a service that we hope will help people see what’s going on with the festival they had been planning to visit, and shed a light onto industry professionals’ income loss, which is no laughing matter.”

In addition to listing festivals’ current statuses, Sick Festivals allows fans to express their disappointment at cancellations/postponements, demonstrated by a sad-face emoji next to the festival’s entry. (At press time, Coachella had 19,175 sad faces, some 5,000 more than Ultra Miami and 9,000 more than Glastonbury.)

Viberate, one of the first wave of music-focused cryptocurrencies, started out as an Airbnb-like service which promised to cut out the agency middle man and connect unsigned musicians (who would be paid in Viberate’s native crypto, the vibe) with a database of those who might want to book them.

Nearly three years on, its creators are focused on building blockchain-powered database that maps the entire live music business, including artists, music venues, booking agencies, festivals and other music events.


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The show goes on(line): Concerts get creative amid global shutdown

In a matter of weeks, the global live music industry has come to a virtual standstill, with shows called off and fans forced inside by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

But while ‘normal’ concerts are off the cards, a wave of virtual events are springing up to take their place, taking advantage of social media, virtual reality and online worlds to bring fans closer to artists at a time when both concert performer and concertgoer are stuck indoors.

Sweet streams
By far the most popular way of connecting with housebound fans, many of the world’s biggest artists, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Pink, John Legend, country singer Keith Urban and Latin star Juanes have streamed live performances on their social media accounts in recent days.

Others, such as Miley Cyrus, Christine and the Queens and Lizzo, are broadcasting largely non-musical content that offering a glimpse into their self-isolating lives, while likes of Bruce Springsteen are making past concerts available for free. UK singer Yungblud, meanwhile, took the opportunity to create The Yungblud Show Live, an anarchic hour-long show (featuring a concert segment, drinking games and a cooking lesson) filmed in LA following the postponement of his upcoming tour.

In the classical music world, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has made its ‘digital concert hall’ video streaming service, featuring over 600 concerts spanning more than a decade, free to all before 31 March.

“We already miss our public very much and hope that in this way we can remain in contact with our audience, at least virtually,” says Olaf Maninger, the orchestra’s principal cellist.

Elsewhere, in Europe’s clubbing capital, promoters have gone one step further by creating a 24-hour ‘virtual club’, dubbed United We Stream, in order to “save Berlin’s club culture in quarantine”. (The German capital’s nightlife been on lockdown since Friday 13 March.)

Launching today (18 March) at 7pm local time, the initiative will see the empty clubs streaming several hours of DJ sets and live performances every day, with the venue changing each night. Participating clubs include the Watergate (which will host tonight’s first show, with Claptone, Monika Kruse and Mathew Jonson), Tresor, Kater Blau, Salon Zur Wilden Renate and Sisyphos.

Fans are encouraged to donate €10, €20 or €30 a month in exchange for a ‘virtual club ticket’, with all funds going directly to a relief fund to support clubs and event organisers during the closure.

“We already miss our public very much”

Faces for radio
Miami’s Ultra Music Festival (UMF) was the first major western festival to fall victim to the coronavirus, having been pulled by city councillors just over two weeks out, on 4 March.

Now reborn as a ‘virtual audio festival’ on US satellite/internet radio platform SiriusXM, Ultra will take the form of an audio-only event, running from Friday 20 to Monday 23 March (its original dates) and featuring live performances by DJs scheduled to perform at Ultra Miami, including Afrojack, Major Lazer, Martin Garrix, Above and Beyond, Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero and Oliver Heldens.

Ultra Virtual Audio Festival will be broadcast on a temporary SiriusXM channel, UMF Radio (channel 52), which will also air previous Ultra sets by stars such as Marshmello, the Chainsmokers, Kygo and Carl Cox.

Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM, says: “With the postponement of beloved events, necessary changes in people’s everyday life and need for social distancing, we know our listeners are seeking a sense of community more than ever.

“To encourage that, we are pleased to be working with Ultra Music Festival to provide our listeners with this virtual audio festival featuring the diverse line-up of artists the UMF delivers year after year, as well as exclusive fresh, new sets from some of the biggest names in dance music.”

UMF 2020 ticket holders will receive an email in the coming days offering access to UMF Radio and other SiriusXM programming.

In the UK, meanwhile, the cancelled Country to Country (C2C) festival – due to take place on 13–15 March at the O2 in London – was replaced a special show on BBC Radio 2, which was originally to have broadcast from the event.

Radio 2’s Country Festival, presented by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, Bobbie Pryor and the Shires’ Ben Earle, featured live performances from artists scheduled to play C2C, including Luke Combs, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, the Cadillac Three, Old Crow Medicine Show, Brett Young and Tenille Townes.

“We know our listeners are seeking a sense of community more than ever”

Game on
Passing the time while ill by playing video games is nothing new, but the current period of self-isolation will be the first time many experience a live event inside a virtual world. Marshmello’s groundbreaking Fortnite concert last year opened the floodgates opened for live music in gaming, with rock bands Korn (in AdventureQuest) and the Offspring (in World of Tanks), DJs Ekali (in Minecraft), Reggie Watts and Blasterjaxx and EDM label Monstercat (in Sansar) among those to have organised large virtual concerts since.

Mojang’s Minecraft – the open-ended world-builder which, with nearly half a billion players, is arguably the biggest game in the world today – is no stranger to hosting music events, holding its first live concert, with AlunaGeorge, Broiler and Lemaitre, in March 2016. It also hosted Fire Festival, with Ekali, Arty, Hudson Mohawke, Luca Lush and over 5,000 ‘festivalgoers’, early last year, with another 80,000 tuning in via live stream.

Upcoming live entertainment in Minecraft includes Second Sky-inspired music festival Second Aether, which will take place on 28 and 29 March, and an as-yet-unnamed festival set to take place at Club Matryoshka (a virtual nightclub hosted on a private Minecraft server) on 26 April.

Sansar, a virtual-reality online world from Linden Lab, the maker of Second Life, also plans to host several virtual live events in the months ahead. Sansar – which has partnerships with Monstercat, Spinnin’ Records and Roddenberry Entertainment (Star Trek), among others – yesterday (17 March) released a guide to creating an event inside the game, touting its credentials as a platform for “free virtual events amid [the] coronavirus emergency”.

“Sansar is no stranger to large-scale live events, and we’re here to help you and your audiences stay safe, productive and connected during the coronavirus outbreak,” says Sansar community manager Galileo Linden, noting that the game can accomodate “a conference for work, an educational workshop, a live performance or even a music festival”.

“We’re here to help you and your audiences stay safe, productive and connected during the coronavirus outbreak”

Reality check
Amid the gloom on global stock markets, MelodyVR maker EVR Holdings was one of few shares not in the red on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) today, its value surging with growing demand for concerts on virtual-reality headsets, according to the London Evening Standard.

In its Covid-19 update to the LSE, EVR says it has has seen a 56% spike in sales for MelodyVR over the past week as most major concerts were cancelled. “MelodyVR’s technology was originally created to enhance the live experience for music fans around the world who were unable to access performances either as a result of their location, age, cost of attendance or ticket availability,” the company explains.

“The restriction of both mass gatherings of the general public and international travel has already begun to adversely impact the global music industry, and while our vision was never to act as a replacement to live events, we believe that our technology affords fans the closest possible opportunity of experiencing the next best thing to actually being at a venue or show without physically being present.

“We have not sought to actively capitalise on the events of the last few weeks, yet having experienced a 56% increase in average sales over the course of the last seven days we anticipate this trend of MelodyVR platform usage to continue.”

Also having a good day is popular rhythm game Beat Saber, which announced today it has sold more than two million copies, cementing its reign as the best-selling virtual reality-exclusive title. “[T]he game has also proven to be a successful platform for artists to connect with fans, selling over 10 million songs through downloadable content,” reads an announcement on the Oculus blog.


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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.


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Mixed fortunes for live events as Covid-19 spreads

The live music industry is being affected differently in markets around the world by the continuing spread of coronavirus (Covid-19), with over 110,000 cases now reported worldwide.

Politicians in the UK today (9 March) reiterated that there was no need to cancel large events to prevent further spread of the virus.

At the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) last week, top agents expressed their resolve to carry on with business as usual, with CAA’s Emma Banks saying the agency would not take shows off sale “unless we have to”.

Reacting to a suggestion from Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn that all events over 1,000 capacity be cancelled due to Covid-19, DEAG today announced that “all events will be carried out according to scheduled dates regardless of the number of participants.”

“DEAG will carry out a responsible analysis of each event in close coordination with the respective artists, their partners and of course the local authorities and will make an appropriate decision on a case-by-case basis,” reads the statement.

A spokesperson from German powerhouse CTS Eventim, which operates in 15 markets across Europe, states that Covid-19 is having only “isolated effects” on its business, such as in Italy and Switzerland.

“The majority of our events and functions take place in the summer and in the second half of the year,” continues the Eventim spokesperson. “Based on the current situation, there is no reason to believe that the major festivals will not be held outdoors in the summer. We cannot observe an increased return of purchased tickets.”

“Based on the current situation, there is no reason to believe that the major festivals will not be held outdoors in the summer”

The Italian government recently extended its ban on all public gatherings in the north of the country until 3 April, whereas all events in Switzerland over 1,000 capacity have been banned until 15 March, in a measure deemed “disproportionate” by Swiss Music Promoters Association (SMPA).

In France, a ban imposed on events over 5,000 capacity led to the cancellation of Tomorrowland Winter, set to take place from 14 to 21 March at the Alpe d’Huez ski resort.

“It is with a heavy heart that we have to inform you that the French government has decided to cancel this year’s edition,” reads a post on Tomorrowland Winter’s Facebook page.

“The French government is taking drastic measures regarding the Covid-19 virus in France. Therefore they are enforcing the cancellation of large events, bringing together people from different nationalities on closed festival grounds and event locations.”

Asian tour dates by international acts including Avril Lavigne, Green Day, BTS, Mariah Carey, Stormzy and Khalid are among those to have been called off amid coronavirus concerns.

A joint statement issued by Japanese music bodies reads: “We have decided to cancel or call off the majority of shows, following a recent request to cancel or postpone events from the government.”

The bodies, including Japanese promoters’ association (ACPC), federation of music producers (FMPJ) and association of music enterprises (JAME), state they will work to provide all the appropriate information to the public and “deliver high-quality entertainment again soon”.

Events in the United States have also taken a hit recently, with the cancellations of Austin showcase festival and conference SXSW and the Miami edition of EDM event Ultra Music Festival.


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Ultra Miami called off amid coronavirus fears

The flagship Miami edition of electronic dance music (EDM) event Ultra Music Festival has been cancelled in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Covid-19.

The decision, made during a meeting between local politicians and festival organisers, was reported by the Miami Herald on Wednesday (4 March).

The 165,000-capacity festival, which was due to take place from 20 to 22 March in Miami, Florida, was set to feature acts including Flume, AfroJack, Armin Van Buuren, Amelie Lens, Martin Garrix, Carl Cox and Eric Prydz. According to the festival website, over 90% of tickets had been sold.

The Miami festival is the second in the Ultra franchise to be called off this week. The Abu Dhabi edition of the event was cancelled on Tuesday. A statement on the festival website reads: “The local organisers of Ultra Abu Dhabi have cancelled the upcoming event. Tickets will be refunded through the original point of purchase.”

East Everything, Major Lazer, Nicky Romero, Seth Troxler, DJ Snake and Eric Prydz were set to perform at the festival, which was scheduled to take place at the 25,000-capacity du Arena on 5 and 6 March.

The consequences that Covid-19 is having on the live music industry has formed a key topic of discussion at the ongoing ILMC

The EDM festival franchise has events in twelve countries worldwide. Upcoming editions in Sydney and Melbourne on 7 and 8 March are still scheduled to go ahead.

The consequences that Covid-19 is having on the live music industry has formed a key topic of discussion at the ongoing International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in London, with top industry executives stressing that shows will continue to go on wherever possible.

Although concerts have been cancelled in many Asian territories, and the governments in countries including Italy, France and Switzerland have issued bans on public events of a certain size, business as normal continues in many markets such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

A UK medical advisor recently stated there is “no clear rationale” for closing events to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

A blanket ban on all events in the north of Italy, the European nation worst affected by the virus, is to be extended to the whole country, according to a draft decree seen by Reuters, that orders “the suspension of events of any nature… that entail the concentration of people and do not allow for a safety distance of at least one metre (yard) to be respected.”

All schools and universities have been closed in the country and all major sporting events are to be closed behind closed doors for the next month. More than 3,000 cases of the virus have been recorded in the country.

Photo: Ducbeo2000vp/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0) (cropped)


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