How to avoid a pub­lic gig fi­asco

So­phie Ri­d­ley, an event con­troller and safety of­fi­cer, ex­plains to Niall Byrne what the phrase ‘sub­ject to li­cence’ means

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

With so many gigs, fes­ti­vals and shows hap­pen­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, it’s easy to for­get the amount of work that goes into putting on a well-run event, some­thing that is only high­lighted when things go wrong.

Think of na­tional psy­che-level of trauma around the li­cens­ing is­sues of the can­celled Garth Brooks Croke Park gigs in 2014 or the Bar­bra Streisand 2007 Castle­town House fi­asco, where in­ad­e­quate plan­ning re­sulted in three-hour traf­fic de­lays, aban­doned cars on mo­tor­ways and in­ad­e­quate seat­ing ar­range­ments.

To avoid these pro­moter pit­falls be­com­ing na­tional events them­selves, hir­ing the right per­son to tick all the boxes across all as­pects of run­ning a big gig is a must. This is where some­one like So­phie Ri­d­ley comes in. With more than 20 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in event man­age­ment as a safety of­fi­cer and event con­troller, Ri­d­ley knows the ins and outs of big gig pro­duc­tions and how to plan to avoid such is­sues. Pre­vi­ous gigs in­clude Boxed Off at Fairy­house, The Big Grill and Beat­yard in Dublin, Life Fes­ti­val, The Po­lice at Croke Park and the Plough­ing Cham­pi­onships.

Sub­ject to li­cence?

We’re all fa­mil­iar with the term “sub­ject to li­cence” but what does it mean? How does an event tick all the boxes to be al­lowed to go ahead? A li­cence is needed for any event with a ca­pac­ity of more than 5,000. The safety of­fi­cer is in charge of the event-man­age­ment plan, the li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion and deals with the lo­cal county coun­cil in terms of con­di­tions.

“First of all you have to have a pre-sub­mis­sion meet­ing, which is a new thing since the Garth Brooks fi­asco,” Ri­d­ley says. “You set out your case for why you should be al­lowed put tick­ets on sale in a meet­ing with the lo­cal coun­cil, the Garda, the fire depart­ment, HSE emer­gency man­age­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal health. Then, 13 weeks be­fore your event, you have to have a li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion in.

“As it’s a plan­ning law thing you have to put a note in the pa­pers, and then you pay a li­cence fee of around ¤2,500 and you set out an event-man­age­ment plan, which ba­si­cally sets out how you’re go­ing to run your event.”

The plan de­tails the peo­ple in­volved in the pro­duc­tion, the artists, ca­pac­ity, struc­tures, whether camp­ing is of­fered, ex­its and en­trances, crowd pro­file, site lay­out, se­cu­rity, toi­lets and more in a stan­dard for­mat 50- to 60-page doc­u­ment.

That doc­u­ment is then the sub­ject of meet­ings with all the stake­hold­ers that re­sults in re­ceiv­ing the li­cence sub­ject to con­di­tions four weeks out from the event (hence sub­ject to li­cence), as well as agree­ments with the fire of­fi­cer and the Garda about how many po­lice will be on site, and how much you are pay­ing for them to be there.

Af­ter that, there’s a pre-event plan­ning meet­ing that takes place on the week of the event. “That’s the last meet­ing just to make sure you tick the boxes ba­si­cally and that any out­stand­ing is­sues are ad­dressed,” Ri­d­ley says. “And then on the day be­fore and day of, those stake­hold­ers will come down and check you’re do­ing what you said you are do­ing.”

Mis­judg­ing your au­di­ence

Part of the plan­ning is know­ing that things can still go wrong and of­ten those big is­sues are the re­sult, in Ri­d­ley’s es­ti­ma­tion, of a pro­moter mis­judg­ing their au­di­ence.

“There was only one road in and one road out,” Ri­d­ley says of the Streisand de­ba­cle. “You may think they’re all go­ing to ar­rive by bus and they all ar­rive by car. In the case of Streisand, quite a lot of them thought they were com­ing to an in­door gig de­spite the fact they were con­tin­u­ously told oth­er­wise.”

Dance events have a dif­fer­ent au­di­ence and with dance mu­sic comes, for ex­am­ple, the like­li­hood of more drugs at an event. Ri­d­ley says the cost of hav­ing the med­i­cal ser­vices on site for 5,000 peo­ple at a one-day event is in the re­gion of ¤5,000, which is of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated by new pro­mot­ers.

“You’ve no idea what’s go­ing to turn up. This coun­try goes through a cy­cle. We had two or three years when drugs weren’t very prob­lem­atic at gigs in terms of there weren’t many peo­ple be­ing sent to hos­pi­tal or many se­ri­ous is­sues.” This year, though, drug misuse has again be­come an is­sue.

“Four years ago there was a bad drug out there,” says Ri­d­ley. “It was green rolexes and green ap­ples, which by the time they got to Elec­tric Pic­nic were blue ghosts. This year again the drug ca­su­al­ties to hos­pi­tal are very high but it just seems to be a mix­ture of drugs.”

Drug test­ing

Some pro­mot­ers are keen to ad­dress this in a sim­i­lar man­ner to some UK fes­ti­vals: by of­fer­ing drug test­ing at events. The is­sue with drug test­ing on site is the le­gal­ity of it.

“I don’t think we’re quite there yet in this coun­try but it’s a good thing to do,” Ri­d­ley says. “Peo­ple are fright­ened that it looks like you’re con­don­ing drug use. But if you ac­cept that drugs are used in this coun­try – not just at events but in pubs and clubs all over the coun­try ev­ery week­end – you do what you can to pre­vent those get­ting into your event. Surely, the next step is to make sure that once they do get into events, that the drugs are what peo­ple think they are.”

In the ma­te­rial world The Po­lice at Croke Park in 2007. Be­low: So­phie Ri­d­ley

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