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Southbeats cancelled, now Wheels and Fins... why are so many festivals biting the dust?

Two major Kent festivals have been cancelled in the last two weeks.

Southbeats festival, set to feature Dizzee Rascal, was called off due to poor ticket sales, and shortly afterwards, the Broadstairs festival Wheels and Fins announced its cancellation.

Southbeats was cancelled due to poor ticket sales
Southbeats was cancelled due to poor ticket sales

Not quite a festival but similar, Rochester Castle Concerts lost more than £300,000 this year.

But it's not just this year that's been bad - the county has a chequered past with big outdoor shows.

Back in 2008, Z008 was called the "worst festival ever", with water drying up, fences collapsing, and big names pulling out.

The Hop Farm Festival and Lounge on the Farm in Canterbury have also since flopped.

So why are so many festivals biting the dust - and are organisers to blame?

Wheels and Fins festival was supposed to be on Broadstairs beach
Wheels and Fins festival was supposed to be on Broadstairs beach

Although outdoor live music events have been around for centuries, the festival business has now transformed into a billion pound industry.

More and more are cropping up every year, and it is undoubtedly a competitive market.

In a statement from Southbeats, the organisers cited this as a reason for poor ticket sales.

But, Gill Tee, who has 21 years experience in the industry, doesn't see festival as competition because every event is different, and can play to their own niche.

However, after so long in the business, she has a very good idea of the challenges organisers can face.

She is the co-founder of Black Deer, an Americana and country music festival which has just enjoyed a second successful year running in Tunbridge Wells, with ticket sales more than doubling.

Some festival organisers are blaming poor ticket sales on a competitive market
Some festival organisers are blaming poor ticket sales on a competitive market

According to Gill, a big problem for many organisers is a lack of communication between the production team and promoters.

Many festivals have multiple teams working completely separately which can cause issues.

Along with co-founder Deborah Shilling, Gill does everything from organising music and suppliers to advertising and ticket sales.

She said: "Organising a festival for someone else is very challenging.

"But having control of both production and promotion means we can do it exactly the way we want."

An experienced team is also very important, says Gill.

Founders of Black Deer, Gill Tee (right) and Deborah Shilling (left). Picture: Ania Shrimpton
Founders of Black Deer, Gill Tee (right) and Deborah Shilling (left). Picture: Ania Shrimpton

Before starting Black Deer, she worked in production, organising festivals up and down the country.

She now runs her own production company, Entertee Events and supplies festival fencing alongside Black Deer.

Gill said: "You need to have people on board who know what they're doing.

"Even if you've got a great idea you must have advice and financial backing to make the dream a reality."

The team which led the "shambles" which was Z008 stressed it was their first festival - perhaps this was the main problem.

Although Gill has sympathy for any festival or event which has to cancel, she said there is no excuse for bad management.

She said: "I know how much goes into these events and any of us can fall victim to bad luck.

"But there is never an excuse for poor management. If an event has failed because of this, maybe they shouldn't try again because suppliers become financial victims."

Gill highlighted the importance of listening to customer feedback.

Ramblin' Man Fair at Mote Park, Maidstone is one of Kent's successful festivals. Picture: Andy Payton
Ramblin' Man Fair at Mote Park, Maidstone is one of Kent's successful festivals. Picture: Andy Payton

She said: "We are constantly looking for ways to improve and even as the festival was happening we were visualsing what's going to make it better next year."

After Southbeats announced it was cancelled, people took to social media to share their views about why the organisers weren't able to sell enough tickets.

Some suggested it was because the location had been changed to Sevenoaks instead of Port Lympne safari park in Hythe.

One person said: "The biggest mistake was trying to make the festival bigger and moving it to a venue which is difficult to get to on public transport."

Others said it was because the festival was changed to over 18s only, when before 16 and 17-year-olds were also welcome.

Perhaps if Southbeats organisers has listened to their customers, more tickets would have been sold.

Fantastic Negrito performing at Black Deer
Fantastic Negrito performing at Black Deer

But according to Gill, the most important ingredient for festival success is passion for the job.

She "lives and breathes" Black Deer, and feels this filters through to how the event is delivered.

"You've got to love it because it does take over your life. And if you have passion, people will see the heart in the festival," she said.

"You have to have lots of tenacity and spirit."

But she warned not to get blinded by love and that it must always be counter balanced with hard work, financial backing and experience.

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