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Why do festival organisers keep getting it wrong?

Being hailed as “Fyre Festival 2.0”, another festival fell victim to its lack of preparation late last month. Excessive queues, poor sound system and sub-par quality food plagued Australia’s Wine Machine festival throughout the day, and to top it off, an electric thunderstorm plunged the event into chaos.

Of course, you can never control the weather, but festivals of this scale must be prepared with a contingency plan when the heavens open. So, why do organisers keep getting it wrong? And what should they be doing to mitigate such disasters?

Line machine
Throughout the day, the 11,000 attendees of Australia’s Wine Machine festival were left queuing for hours to be served food and drinks, earning the festival its unofficial name of ‘Line Machine’. In response to complaints about the long queue times, organisers blamed the severe licensing laws recently implemented in New South Wales that restricted people to only buying two drinks at a time. For the long food queues, organisers blamed the shortage of workers after two staff minibuses failed to arrive.

While the new licensing conditions placed upon the festival can’t be avoided, it should have been tackled in the initial planning strategy. Organisers need to understand what restrictions could hold them back and tackle these early on. Using such restrictions as a scapegoat for poor event planning is not acceptable and the organisers should have been prepared for 11,000 attendees wanting to drink at their festival, which was hosted at a winery.

Festivals are becoming more environmentally conscious; a welcome development as a large-scale event can cause great strain on the local environment. However, it should not be at the expense of the guests. Cashless technology is becoming more popular for organisers to speed up efficiency, reduce theft and understand attendee behaviour at events.

Organisers need to understand what restrictions could hold them back and tackle these early on

It must be noted that such technology needs to be properly installed, tested and ultimately offer a real benefit for the festivalgoers. Instead, attendees of Wine Machine were faced with a surcharge on all their card transactions and were not allowed to use a cash alternative.

It’s important that organisers walk before they can run, ensuring that new technology can increase the enjoyment for the attendees rather than cause problems.

Overpromising and underdelivering
Just like Fyre Festival, Wine Machine was unable to deliver on its promises. The promotions across social media for the festival, situated in a winery, promised “the best chardy [chardonnay] ever”, but revellers could not enjoy such claims due to the huge unavailability of Chardonnay at the festival. This is another case of overstated marketing to get people to attend the festival and consequently being unable to live up to the expectations.

Sometimes it’s better to maintain an element of surprise for the festival guests, something that leaves them feeling satisfied. Instead of this, organisers nowadays have a tendency to overpromise in order to sell out and then fail to match those promises.

Social media is a powerful tool to build awareness of an event and extremely effective when generating a conversation among your target audience. A drip-feed strategy that clearly informs festivalgoers about what to expect is the most effective route.

Safety measures
When organising any event, no matter how big or small, safety is the number-one priority for organisers. In the case of Wine Machine, when the weather turned for the worst, there was no clear strategy for evacuating the guests and this caused chaos. Festival attendees were forced into the roads after being prevented from finding shelter inside the winery, with some hiding in disabled toilets to escape the weather.

It’s important that organisers walk before they can run, ensuring that new technology can increase the enjoyment for the attendees rather than cause problems

Furthermore, many guests complained about the treatment they received from security staff during the evacuation, with some citing the aggressive nature from the staff.

It’s important to always be prepared for an evacuation and while it’s no easy feat to move 11,000 people in the pouring rain, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. There needs to be clear instructions for everyone to understand what is going on and where they should go, with accessible transport to take them to a safe place.

Constant communication on social media and throughout the festival – making use of the speakers available – will ensure that the feeling of confusion among attendees is drastically reduced. A calm evacuation is vital for a successful evacuation.

The Fyre Festival documentary brought to life the disastrous consequences of poor organisation and execution, and event organisers are now under more pressure than ever before to make sure that they provide their attendees with the best possible experience. Social media has exposed some of the festival failures and left planners with no place to hide.

Always be prepared for every eventuality, ensuring that you have control of everything you can to give you the capacity to react effectively to what you cannot control. Have a back-up plan, provide clear instructions at every stage and have high-quality safety procedures in place. Take care to deliver on your promises to ensure that your attendees have the most enjoyable time and are not left feeling disappointed.

If these simple processes are followed and executed well, there should be no excuse for a poor festival experience.


Richard Dodgson is founder and creative director of Timebased Events.

Fans criticise evacuation of NSW Wine Machine event

Attendees of Wine Machine, an 11,000-capacity live music and wine festival in New South Wales (NSW), have criticised festival organisers following the event’s cancellation and evacuation due to severe lightning storms.

Organisers evacuated the festival site after an electrical storm hit Australia’s Hunter Valley, where the event was held. The cancellation occurred before festival headliner Hot Dub Time Machine had performed.

Festivalgoers have since criticised the way in which organisers handled the severe weather conditions, citing aggression from security staff and a disregard for safety. Fans objected to being “shoved out on to roads” and prevented from finding shelter on site.

“The safety of all patrons, artists and staff is of absolute priority,” wrote the Wine Machine organisers in a statement.

“The Hunter Valley last night experienced an extreme weather system causing an initial show stop and eventual evacuation of the event. This sucked for every single person on site,” read the festival’s statement, adding that “evacuations of this nature are never pleasant.”

Organisers invited attendees to provide email feedback on how police and security staff handled the evacuation.

Fans also criticised Wine Machine for its overpriced food and drink, poor sound system and excessive queues. Some attendees compared the event to Fyre Festival, while others suggested it be re-named “Line Machine” due to the long queues.

“The safety of all patrons, artists and staff is of absolute priority”

Festival organisers addressed the complaints, saying that “due to the current climate in NSW, severe licensing conditions were placed upon the event limiting drinks to two per person causing unacceptable congestion at the bars.”

Music festivals across NSW are struggling to adapt to the government’s new licensing regulations, which place events under much closer scrutiny and require many additional licensing and security costs.

The Wine Machine organisers also cited “staffing issues” for external bar operator Prime Collective. The bar supplier said it takes “full responsibility”, explaining that “two of our staffing mini-buses carrying 32 staff were reportedly involved in an incident whilst en route from Sydney, resulting in bars being under staffed.”

Wine Machine headliner and founder Hot Dub Time Machine has announced two free shows, the first on April 11 at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre (2,500-cap.) and the second on April 12 at the Newcastle Exhibition Centre (7,528-cap.), to make up for the missed set at the festival.

“Wine Machine and I both appreciate all the support over the years, so we wanted to make it up to you with this small token of our appreciation,” said the DJ.

Wine Machine is held in six locations across Australia, including the Yarra Valley (Victoria), Swan Valley (Western Australia) and Canberra’s Lake George winery.


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