Friday, August 12, 2011

In the red

Ah. It turns out that my recent speculation about the future of Truck was well founded - in fact, this year's event is in deep financial trouble, with organisers Robin and Joe Bennett struggling to pay creditors (including some of the bands). As I suspected, two reasons they've cited for the cash shortfall - despite a record attendance - are market saturation ("the market this year is dire. There are just too many festivals") and insufficient full-price tickets sold in advance.

Saturation has undoubtedly been a factor for lots of festivals this summer, and Truck isn't the only event left desperately trying to recoup some costs by flogging off reduced-price tickets at the last minute. Only today I had an email offering discounted tickets for Standon Calling, which starts tomorrow.

But what's disappointing is that the article contains no concession from Robin that there are additional factors specific to Truck and for which the organisers themselves are at least partially responsible. As some of the commenters on the story make clear, the line-up was poor and lacking in variety (as well as being very Oxford-centric - all a bit backslappingly cliquey if you're not from the area, I'd imagine), and the range and quality of food available was disappointing, especially for a three-day festival. If the line-up had been better, more full-price tickets would have been sold, and if the food had been better, more money would have been taken by the catering facilities. One commenter mentions the absurdity of having an alcohol licence and yet still allowing festival-goers to take their own booze, though that's a bit of a red herring, as the same policy seems to work perfectly fine at Glastonbury and Green Man, amongst others.

Another commenter is John Spiers, whose band Bellowhead were the Friday night headliners. Full credit to him for enthusiastically championing the festival ("an absolute asset to South Oxfordshire"), even though he's clearly nettled at essentially being deceived: "It is inconceivable that Joe and Robin did not consider that this might have been the outcome of the festival given the pre-sales and state of the accounts. I can't help but feel a little betrayed by fellow musos who I really trusted for not levelling with us and giving us the opportunity to choose the risk for ourselves". If Spiers is right and it is indeed "inconceivable" that they could have no inkling that there might be a problem, then Joe's comment here - "I always think the last one was the best one ever and this year it is no different. I think the festival has a bright future" - now sounds like someone in complete denial, or protesting too much.

Whatever the truth, clearly the organisers have some bridges to rebuild and a significant task on their hands to plug the gap if the festival is to survive to see a fifteenth year. It's not my intention to kick them while they're down - just the opposite, in fact. Like Spiers, I and many others hope they learn from this year's mistakes and that Truck returns to rude good health in 2012.

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