Chengdu Big Love Music Festival's Big Scandal
Update June 27, 2012: Head of Big Love Chen Shu released a statement yesterday that the total losses from the four-day festival amounted to RMB57 million. He also released some other figures:
RMB50 million: total cost for one year of organizing plus staging the festival
RMB60 million: total investment for the festival
RMB3 million: total revenue from ticket sales
Chen partially blamed corruption at the festival gates between scalpers and guards taking bribes to let people enter the grounds. He also said that a key shortcoming was not having the support of the financial backing of a local company or the local government.
An unnamed industry insider told Financial World that the festival organizers spent far too much on top-notch equipment and claimed that the artists were paid 10 to 40 percent more than the market rate, creating an ostentatious display with little to back it up. He also said that of Chinese music festivals, very few (namely Midi and Strawberry) turn a profit.
Original story starts here
The Big Love organizers weren't getting a lot of love these past few days.
Within hours of the festival's final act, China's "godfather of rock" Cui Jian leaving the stage at around 2 a.m. on Monday, a scandal broke out on Chinese microblogs.
The first announcements appeared online at around 3 a.m. via festival staff, performer, and media microblogs that the staff of the Chengdu Wyndham Grand, the hotel that had been fully booked by the festival organizers to house artists and guests, locked all doors and refused to let anybody leave, claiming that the rooms had not been paid for.
When the first performers arrived at the airport a few hours later, another wave of microblogging appeared: Their plane tickets hadn't been booked either. Microbloggers also claimed that hotel staff had blocked Taiwanese pop singer Luo Dayou's car and wouldn't move unless he paid his room, although this was later denied repeatedly.
Signs of problems had begun appearing on the third day of the festival, when the Big Dream (local and world music) stage had its power cut until well into the evening. Bands had been scheduled to play on that stage from the early afternoon.
"I was sleeping when I head a sudden knock on the door. It was my colleagues telling me that the organizers were late on their payment and that the hotel wanted us to gather up our things as fast as possible and leave. The organizer had said that there would be a car to take us to the airport, but since the drivers hadn't been paid, they didn't come either. We had to pay for our own taxis to the airport."
Organizers were accused of fleeing the scene and hanging up on reporters who called asking for confirmations of the situation.
A hotel staff member later confirmed that the Big Love Music Festival organizers had booked more than 400 rooms but had paid only a RMB480,000 deposit on its RMB1.3 million bill. Police were called in to investigate.
A festival assistant stated that the staff of 150 or 160 was left high and dry at the airport, facing a total of more than RMB200,000 in plane tickets to get home.
Another festival staff, identified as Feng Feng, said that costs had simply exceeded expectations—the cost to fly and house the band Suede, for instance, he said exceeded RMB1 million.
Police said the case would be classified as a civil case, not a criminal case.
Big Love had prided itself on its unprecedented-in-China lineup and staggering investment, but industry insiders say the sky-high cost of the aritists alone led to its downfall.
In a response to the various reports on the incident, an editorial on Netease called the festival organizers "a team of amateurs" and blasts the project as "flooded with all kinds of problems every step of the way" (as we reported last year the festival was postponed and its location changed after it had been promoted heavily) but also says the problems are indicative of the immature festival industry in China and that it was a bubble waiting to burst:
"I do not know the ... exact prices for artists, but have heard that the [promised payments at Big Love] were quite a bit higher than normal performances, even exceeding 200,000 yuan."
The second issue is that the festival allowed artists huge entourages, according to Netease.
"What kind of show allows a performer an entourage of 20 people? Including all friends and family? I don't want to name any names, but there were more than one or two of these artists, and they were mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan."
Ticketing: There were more than 30,000 people on the grounds every day but only a few thousand tickets were sold? Rumor is that the scalpers had an inside connection.
Zhang Man, programmer for Yunnan TV's "Music Live," who partnered with Big Love to produce recordings and help book acts, gave an interview about the fiasco in which she claimed that they put in hundreds of thousands of yuan but still support the festival organizers who are their long-time friends.
Despite the chaos and confusion, and after the initial panic, most of the people who came forth to speak about the mishaps said that the music festival was a great effort and that they aren't scared off music festivals in the future. One publicist told a Sina reporter, "From the lineup to the reception, equipment, and security, we've never seen such an outstanding festival, and we've participated in a lot of them! It's really incredible!"
By Monday evening, the organizers had responded to the criticisms, placing the blame on mismanagement due to lack of experience and promising that they will deliver more than words to investors and staff.
Here are some more interviews with people who were on the scene as well as some footage from the festival.