You’ve got it all planned out: the bands, permits, vendors, venue, sponsors, staff, ticketing and payments system; your music festival appears to be unstoppable on paper. The scary truth, despite your precision planning, is that circumstances beyond your control can and will arise throughout your event. Think Murphy’s Law.
How do you recoup from a severe thunderstorm that floods the grounds during the first day of your event? What are your options when your headliner calls to cancel due to a case of bronchitis? Every event planner’s worst nightmare…
Regroup, Reorganize, & Improvise
Although the two criseses mentioned above seem too unfortunate to ever happen, both occurred at Detroit’s 2015 MO POP Music Festival. And despite the adverse circumstances, MO POP still managed to bring in a huge crowd and provide an awesome experience for music fans across Michigan, including myself. This crew regrouped, reorganized, and improvised their way to a successful festival, while battling the elements and maintaining a positive attitude. Here’s how they did it!
The Big Storm
As I entered the gates of MoPop Music Festival on Detroit’s sunny Riverfront Park, I kept my fingers crossed that the weatherman was wrong. The forecast called for heavy rain around 2pm but it was already 1:30 and I was lathering myself in sunscreen to protect myself from the beaming 85 degree sun. I felt confident that the poncho in my daypack would not be necessary. However, after a few hours, I realized that the weatherman had not been entirely wrong, just a bit early with his prediction.
A large, dark cloud slowly moved over the stage where Iron & Wine was playing their third song, and the downpour began. The rain felt refreshing until the stage manager gave the signal to evacuate the stage and cut the band’s set list short after only half an hour of playing. No more music, just thunder and lighting. Everyone ran for shelter. Cue dramatic chaos and unhappy fans.
Beneath the merch and biergarten tents, weather wasn’t the only thing that the fans felt disheartened about. One of the headliners, Passion Pit, had canceled the day before, not leaving much time for the organizers to arrange a back up band. Many fans had traveled near and far just to see the indietronica band play live. After nearly a three hour delay, MoPop event organizers rallied to make things right.
Showcase Your Improv Skills
The storm drove many fans to leave the festival, but a few, fearless, dedicated music lovers stayed. The main stage was off limits, as a giant lake had formed around its perimeter. However, the crew rose to the occasion and moved all of the equipment to a second stage where a band began playing within twenty minutes of the storm clearing.
Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to tweak or break your own schedule. AKA Check your ego; keeping people safe and entertained is more important than “sticking to your plan or looking cool”. People don’t care which stage a band is performs on, as long as they play!
The band that began playing was Brandon Flowers (lead singer and songwriter of The Killers) and his entourage. Although they weren’t considered the biggest band at the festival (like Modest Mouse), the crowd started acting like it.. Fans soon forgot about the rain, the thunder, and the delay, as they danced and sang along to the words of the famous Mr. Brightside.
Lesson #2: Headliners are important (who doesn’t love Float On?), but don’t underestimate the power of the performers leading up to your headliners. Although they are not the main act, they are the backbone supporting your music festival.
The Chromeo Crisis
MOPOP implemented another improv strategy while dealing with the unfortunate circumstances of the closing band, Chromeo. This electro funk duo’s gear had gotten trashed in the rain, and despite everyone’s’ burning desire to see the guys perform, the noise ordinance and the toasted gear would not allow for a full, live set. So, Chromeo performed a “dj set”. This means that they didn’t perform their music live, instead, the duo actually djed their own set on stage. It’s nowhere near as brilliant as a live performance, but it’s better than no band at all. This allowed fans to at least rock out with the band, and gave Chromeo the opportunity to have a stage presence while eliciting an insane dance party. Was the situation ideal? No, it was not. Was it better than telling everyone to pack up and go home? Definitely.
Lesson #3: When all hope is lost, there is still hope. When times get tough, strive to find creative solutions, not perfection.
The Clean Up
Instead of just hoping the sun would dry the grass and magically clear away the massive puddles, the crew worked through the night to make this…
Look like this…
The photos speak for themselves, but really, this simple solution made it possible for both stages to be used and facilitated the large fan base that Modest Mouse drew in.
Lesson #4: Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The massive amounts of hay laid down by the MOPOP crew saved the festival’s biggest day of revenue. Although a lake forming in front of your main stage is unlikely, it truly is a possibility. So, have a game plan that can resolve issues like this.
Don’t Pout, Take Action
All in all, people tend to be more understanding if you do your best to remedy unfortunate circumstances in a timely manner. Don’t fall into the trap of sitting around and pouting while all hell breaks loose; instead, flex your decision-making muscles and decide to take action. Follow in the footsteps of the MO POP team by keeping your fans safe and as entertained as possible!
Special thanks to Ryan Garza of the Detroit Free Press for the stunning photos of this event!