Legal and Management

Canceled Virgin Fest Sues WME, Demands Agency Return $6M Artist Deposits

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Lizzo performs at Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 24, 2019 in New York City.

Virgin Fest is suing talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment for failing to return artist deposits paid in advance of the now-canceled June 6-7 event in Los Angeles.

The deposits totaled $6 million for performers Lizzo, Ellie Goulding, Kali Uchis and others to reserve their availability for the inaugural festival in Los Angeles' Exposition Park, which was scrapped in May due to the coronavirus pandemic. The contract Virgin Fest signed with WME included a force majeure provision that outlined that the money would have to be returned in the if any "act beyond the reasonable control of the producer, which makes the performance impossible, unfeasible or unsafe," according to court documents filed Friday and reviewed by Billboard.

The concert promoters say that the force majeure provision was triggered by the COVID-19 crisis that occurred three months after the concert was announced. Virgin Fest organizers say the concert was cancelled after they received a letter from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's office informing them that the concert could not take place due to the city's Safer at Home order. Virgin Fest then invoked the force majeure provision in the "artist performance agreements and demanded the return in full of the prepaid depositions made in connection with those agreements," according to court documents.

While CAA, UTA and Paradigm all wired back the funds, representatives at WME declined Virgin Fest's request to return $6 million the agency was holding for most of the artists scheduled to play. Of that total, Lizzo was to receive $4 million to $5 million in a blockbuster deal negotiated by her agent Matthew Morgan and the Grammy-winning superstar had planned to use a portion of the proceeds for a high profile charitable effort.

"All the artists agencies -- with the exception of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME) -- have returned or agreed to return the full amount of deposits," says the lawsuit. "However, WME, refused to return the deposits, and insisted that the artist it represents are entitled to keep the deposits -- even if the COVID-19 pandemic constituted a force majeure event, even if the government orders prevented the festival from proceeding."

According to the court papers, WME has told Virgin fest it has no obligation to return the money because its artists remain "ready, willing, and able" to perform.

However, WME spokesperson tells Billboard, "Our clients are contractually entitled to the money already paid to them, plain and simple. We have stated our position numerous times to Virgin Fest, and attempted to work with them to find an impactful way forward in today’s climate despite our clients’ clear contractual rights, and especially considering that our clients booked these engagements in large part due to the charitable component, only to be met with hostile threats."