Marc Geiger, a partner and head of music at WME, did not mince words when describing his feelings about the organizers of the now defunct Pemberton festival, which declared bankruptcy Thursday night without issuing refunds to fans.
“I want each of them to know ‘I coming after you personally,'” he told Billboard in an exclusive interview. “We’re going to pursue all of these people to the full extent of the law.”
WME represents several acts that were scheduled to play at the festival including Haim, Big Sean and Tegan and Sara. Geiger said he was angry about the impact the cancelation will have on artists, fans and the festival market. Among the individuals he said he believed were responsible for the canceled British Columbia festival were promoters A.J. Niland and Evan Harrison of Huka Entertainment, Pemberton land owners and Janspec Holdings Limited investors Amanda Girling and Jeremy Turner, and investor Jim Dales.
“They should not be able to run away from this. You can’t do this much damage to the festival ecosystem and think you can get away with it,” he said, noting that the last-minute bankruptcy unfairly punishes fans who spent hundreds of dollars on tickets and can’t necessarily get their money back.
Billboard spoke to Huka’s Niland and Harrison, who said they did their best to minimize the damage from the festival crash, telling Billboard that they were moved to non-controlling roles in the festival late last year. Since learning of the plans for bankruptcy, Niland and Harrison said they actively lobbied for a solution that didn’t hurt fans or artists but their pleas were ignored by the festival’s majority owners.
“We did everything in our power to prevent this,” Harrison tells Billboard. “The decision was sudden and unexpected. We are going to do everything in our power to make this right and we will keep trying until this is fixed.”
Billboard’s efforts to reach Girling, Turner and Dales were unsuccessful. A call to Ernst & Young, the firm hired to oversee the bankruptcy, was not returned.
“This is fraud, pure and simple,” Geiger said, comparing Pemberton to the disastrous Fyre Festival that imploded weeks ago. “The only difference between Pemberton and Fyre is that Pemberton sold their event with trees instead of supermodels.”
Chance the Rapper, Muse, A Tribe Called Quest and Major Lazer were slated to headline the event in British Columbia’s scenic Pemberton Valley, near the foot of Mt. Currie. According to bankruptcy filings, the festival was likely to lose at least $14 million in 2017. Tickets for this year’s concert were $270 and after going on sale two weeks ago, organizers had sold 18,230 tickets. That was down significantly from 2016 when the event sold 38,423 tickets and 2015 when the event sold 25,151 tickets.
The decision by Pemberton Festival’s owners to declare bankruptcy came as a shock to many, with fans logging into the site to find a bankruptcy notice instead of a lineup poster.
“As [Pemberton Music Festival] is now in bankruptcy, it has no ability to provide refunds for tickets purchased,” the letter reads. “However ticket holders may file a proof of claim form as an unsecured creditor with [Ernst & Young Inc.] in accordance with the claims process.”
Geiger said it was investors responsibility to deal with financial losses, not the fans.
“This is just gross to me,” he said. “These guys are declaring bankruptcy, but none of them are actually bankrupt. Their shell company is bankrupt. And now they want fans to pay the price. That’s not bankruptcy. That’s fraud.”