Weather forced organizers to send the crowd home from the first day of the Panorama Festival, though the rest of the event went on as scheduled. (Getty Images)
Interest in coverage is increasing, specialists in the field say, but so have the prices; will some event organizers take their chances and decide to go without it?
Even staunch climate change deniers had to admit this past summer represented one of weather extremes, with Hurricane Florence making landfall on the North Carolina coast in mid-September and wreaking havoc on the local entertainment scene. The storm rolled in and effectively canceled J. Cole’s Dreamville Festival in his hometown of Raleigh, with a lineup featuring Big Sean, SZA, Young Thug and Nelly, among others.
The hurricane and its aftermath also knocked out all but six hours of September’s Pilgrimage Festival in Nashville, as well as a pair of Danny Wimmer Presents events at Louisville’s Champions Park a week apart, including the second day of Bourbon & Beyond (Robert Plant, Gov’t Mule), and all of Louder Than Life (Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, Godsmack). Other events hampered by inclement weather included Phish’s Curveball in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Aug. 17-19, and part of the first day of the Panorama Festival in New York’s Randall’s Island Park in July. Prior to Dua Lipa’s performance, organizers called off the event and forced the crowd to evacuate. Other scheduled Friday artists, including The Weeknd and Migos, had sets canceled, though the event went on as planned on Saturday and Sunday.
“The weather was a monster issue this year, the biggest I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve been doing this,” said Paul Bassman, a one-time artist manager for Dallas bands Drowning Pool and Flickerstick and now CEO of Texas-based Ascend Insurance Brokers, a company he founded 12 years ago to specialize in music festival coverage. “In the past, you might have a day or two canceled, but this year, there were whole festivals called off. In my memory, the climate changes have never been more severe or sudden. I wouldn’t necessarily pin it on global warming, but it’s certainly something you have to consider.”
Among Bassman’s insurance clients was last year’s Pilgrimage Festival, which was set to take place the weekend of Sept. 22 and 23, with headliners Jack White, Lionel Richie, Chris Stapleton, and Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. Saturday’s concert, which started at 10 a.m., was curtailed and the site evacuated by 4:30 p.m. before either White or Richie could perform, while Sunday was shut down entirely, eliminating sets by Stapleton (who was rumored to have been joined by Justin Timberlake) as well as Matthews and Reynolds, Brandi Carlile and the rest of the lineup.
In canceling the shows, Pilgrimage officials announced the festival would issue refunds “as soon as possible,” as it “finalized details.” In other words, meeting with insurance company officials and adjusters to work out the claims process.
Bassman acknowledged such shutdowns can cost insurance carriers “several million dollars,” as well as create uncertainty in the market.
“We have no idea what rates and coverage will look like in 2019,” he said. “There is certainly increased interest in cancelation insurance, but the carrier rates are rising so high, some clients may just take a risk and go without.”
Nashville-based Peter Tempkins, senior vice president and managing director of entertainment for broker HUB International, witnessed firsthand how an event can be called off while on site at the Watkins Glen International racetrack in August for Phish’s three-day headlining stint at Curveball. It was the jam band icons’ 11th such festival since initiating the tradition with the Clifford Ball in 1996, with two iterations held at the same location — Super Ball IX (2011) and Magnaball (2015). The venue, of course, was also the scene of the famed 1973 Summer Jam concert that featured The Allman Brothers Band, The Band and the Grateful Dead, drawing upwards of 600,000 fans, at the time the largest gathering ever at a pop music festival, back when it was called Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway.
While the issue was related to the torrential rains that had previously flooded the region, Curveball ultimately was forced to cancel on account of a contaminated water supply the town provided at the racetrack. In fact, fans had already been let into the grounds and set up camping sites while Phish was doing a sound check when the decision came down to call the event off.
“The impurities just couldn’t be filtered out,” said Tempkins, who was at the venue in the middle of the conversations that took place among the promoters, Phish’s team, race track officials and the town. “This was a problem affecting the entire area, not just the concert site. At that point, everyone had done what they could so the show would go on, but we had to pull the plug.”
With millions at stake on the decision whether to proceed or cancel, Tempkins said, if the verdict is to call it off, “I get on the phone with the carriers, an adjuster is appointed to document everything on site and then we go through the claims process until a settlement is negotiated.”
With mass-casualty attacks like the 2017 bombing at Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert, the killings of 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas later in the year, and the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando, venue insurance coverage has increasingly included violent acts.
That kind of liability coverage, if it is to cover terrorist activity, according to Tempkins, must fall under the dictates of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, signed into law in 2002, which is specific in what is and what is not defined as a terrorist act. “This doesn’t cover the fear of terrorism, but the actual threat of terrorism,” he said.
Under this definition, America has not experienced a full-on terrorist attack at a live venue. The Las Vegas shootings do not qualify because they were not judged to have been committed to coerce U.S. citizens or influence U.S. government policy.
So, while drone attacks represent one of the latest extremes in risk for today’s venue operators, security precautions have certainly improved, and promise to get even better with such technology as facial recognition software built into ticket sales.
“You can’t walk into a concert today like you did just five years ago,” said Tempkins. “With metal detectors, open bag policies and pat-downs, it’s a lot different. These days, the rules are very specific. … You can bring in a blanket but not a chair; a rain poncho, not an umbrella; and so on.”