Hitting the right note: Covering a music festival

Hitting the right note: Covering a music festival

The world of the music festival has changed significantly since the days of Woodstock and the first Glastonbury festival. Long gone are the loosely-organised hippie gatherings with security handled by Hells Angels.

Nowadays, the music festival is more often a slickly-arranged corporate event – which requires equally slickly-arranged risk management and insurance cover to match. While the boom in festivals of the last few years is receding, smaller ‘boutique’ festivals continue to thrive – the events brokers are most likely to get involved with

Arena Underwriting’s general manager Paul Howard has provided policies for hundreds of events over the years, from tiny bush festivals for a few hundred people to Australia’s largest touring shows. Here are his top tips for making sure any event is fully covered.

Know your client
First and foremost, brokers should carry out due diligence on prospective promoters, particularly their track record. Many of the worst promoters have been weeded out as the festival market has contracted over the last couple of years, says Howard, but that doesn’t mean brokers should be complacent.

“Look at their history – and not just in the last year or two, but over the last 10-15 years,” he says. “Promoters can easily rebadge themselves, like any other business.”

The venue
The size of the venue is also critical, especially in relation to crowd numbers, says Howard.

“Is the venue a suitable size for anticipated crowd numbers?” he asks. “You should also investigate whether the venue is an indoor or an outdoor venue, and whether it’s an urban or a regional location. These will create different risk management challenges for the event.”

The contract between the promoter and the venue should also be checked in case of ‘hold harmless’ agreements.

“A ‘hold harmless’ agreement requires the promoter to assume responsibility for any incident that arises during use of the venue – essentially assuming liability for other parties,” adds Howard. “That’s something we specifically exclude from our policies – we won’t indemnify other parties due to their negligence. These agreements are becoming less common, however.”

The risk management plan
“Before we go too far with events with a reasonable number of people - say 2,000 upwards – we take a good look at their risk management plan,” says Howard. “Even small community events bring risk – if there’s no plan, that’s when alarm bells should ring.”
Howard highlights a few key elements that should be considered for a music festival.

“First, are there enough security and crowd control measures in place to deal with the clientele? What controls do they have in place to ensure aggregate numbers of the crowd aren’t going to one stage at the same time? Do they have barriers to prevent crowd crushing, and a plan to control numbers going in and out?” he asks. “Adequate first aid facilities should also be in place.”

Howard recommends checking the contract between bands and the promoter for behaviour stipulations.
“For example, it’s often laid down that bands shouldn’t encourage people to crowdsurf or to surge to the front,” says Howard. “A condition we put on major festivals is to require signage next to the stages stating banned behaviour. In fact, that’s a requirement that most venues carry out now as a matter of course.”

Policing usage of drugs and alcohol is also a major consideration, especially preventing attendees from bringing alcohol and drugs into a venue. However, Howard cautions that it’s not just about wielding an iron fist – promoters also need to consider the health and safety of attendees.

“A few years ago, there was a major claim involving a girl who was carrying several  Ecstasy tablets,” says Howard.” She was just about to enter when saw she saw the sniffer dogs at the entry gate – so she took all the pills at once – with the obvious consequences.  Now, it’s best practice to have warnings on variable messageboards before you go in that you’ll be searched for drugs.”

Keeping people hydrated is also a big consideration, especially at events held at the height of summer.

Camping and other issues
It’s not just in the arena that promoters need to consider the risks that come with large numbers of people who may not be in full control of their faculties.

“We see a lot of country festivals that involve camping, and that’s actually a big risk,” says Howard. “For example,  it’s important to have an allocated area for people to camp where there’s not going to be vehicles moving around, as otherwise people can get run over when sleeping in their tents.”

Promoters and brokers should also consider the potential risk of fires, as well as the impact local flora and fauna. Adequate toilet and shower facilities should also be supplued, especially in the bush where access to these may be limited.
A further risk can be presented by waterways, especially if there’s a dam on the property on which the festival is being staged.

“On a hot day, with a few drinks inside you, a dip can seem pretty tempting – and that can be a big issue if there is a couple of thousand people on site,” comments Howard. “The organiser may need to put in place measures to stop people jumping in the water, such as warning signs that there’s no supervision and swimming is done at attendees’ own risk. it may even need to fence off the waterway entirely.”

External providers
Finally, brokers should also ensure that third party suppliers are adequately covered, and that there are no gaps in cover which could cost the promoter dear.

“The promoter basically sub-contracts everything out – amusement providers, AV, pyrotechnics, rigging, staging, stallholders and so on,” says Howard. “We effectively only cover the promoter as the organiser of the event. We can extend policies to cover stallholders, although we normally don’t cover product liability, just the public liability. Everything else should be covered off by suppliers’ own policies. Brokers need to ensure there are no holes.”

Even so, Howard cautions that the promoter still carries a vicarious liability, so may become involved in any action if, for example, if staging fails and injures attendees. However, most promoter-focused policies will cover the defence costs if needed.
Ultimately, creating a thorough and well-thought-out risk management plan tailored to the event is the most important thing that a promoter and broker can do to ensure the success of a music festival.

“Every event is different and carries different risks,” says Howard. “That’s why we’ve got to ask a lot of questions about what’s going on and what the promoter is doing. It’s often worth bringing on board an experienced risk consultant to put together the risk management plan, especially if the event is likely to be of any significant size.”