Huka Entertainment was forced to cancel its July 4 Warped Tour show in Wilmington, N.C., the latest in a string of setbacks for the independent concert promoter in an increasingly volatile festival market.
The cancelation, stemming from an insurance policy issue, comes at a difficult time for Huka, who had to lay off most of its staff following the high-profile bankruptcy of the Pemberton Festival in British Columbia. The cancelation of the festival and uncertainty over refunds brought a litany of negative headlines including threats from WME’s Head of Music Marc Geiger that he was “going to pursue all of these people to the full extent of the law.”
The Wilmington date was the second Warped Tour cancelation for Huka — a June 28 stop in Huka’s hometown of New Orleans was canceled several weeks prior due to ongoing fallout from the Pemberton show. Facing a funding crisis, Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman said Huka was unable to find a partner to co-promote the New Orleans show, and Lyman believed it was too late to get involved.
A representative for Huka tells Billboard that the insurance issue was a disagreement over who held the policy and that Wilmington city leaders canceled the event because Lyman’s company was listed as the policy holder instead of Huka.
“We have been doing multiple events a year with the city of Wilmington for nearly a decade. They have our insurance on file,” a statement to Billboard from Huka reads. “The ‘third party’ insurance in question was the insurance for the Warped Tour itself. It should not have been an issue since Warped Tour was the primary promoter.”
Lyman said he received a call Thursday afternoon while preparing for a stop in Orlando, informing him that city officials were canceling the show over a disagreement involving insurance for the event. Lyman says he offered to fly to Wilmington to resolve the issue, but was told the city had already shut down for the Fourth of July weekend and there was no chance of saving the date, which would have been Warped Tour’s first visit to the city.
“If I had been brought in earlier I could have fixed it,” he tells Billboard. ”But the first time I had heard about it was when they were canceling the show.”
It’s been a rough year for independent promoters — besides the Pemberton bankruptcy, the high-profile Fyre Festival famously flamed out after attendees arrived in the Bahamas expecting an island paradise only to find themselves trapped in a disorganized nightmare. Couple that with the cancelation of Karoondinha festival in Pennsylvannia earlier this week, and many in the music business are worried about the long-term future of independent events and whether fans will avoid first-year festivals.
Lyman tells Billboard he partnered with Huka on the Wilmington show because Huka had a business license in North Carolina, a requirement needed to promote a concert at the city-owned Legion Stadium. Wilmington Community Services Director Amy Beatty told city officials that Huka erred submitting insurance “under a third party name, which is not permitted,” according to the Wilmington Star News. “Starting contract discussions over with a new party with three business days (before the concert) would be an impossible task,” Beatty wrote.
Lyman said the news came as a shock to Huka’s production team, who had been making preparations for the tour stop featuring 100=plus punk bands, including The Adolescents, GWAR, Sick of It All, Plain White T’s, Save Ferris and American Authors.
“Usually you get threatened before something happens,” Lyman said. “This came out of nowhere.”
As for the New Orleans show, Lyman tells Billboard it was canceled because “I couldn’t assume the show. It would have required a ton of marketing, and I got my hands full out here.”
In both cases, Huka had been advanced the ticketing proceeds for the show. Lyman said Niland was able to come up with the money to refund the New Orleans show, while Ticketfly was stepping up to refund the Wilmington show.
A source at Ticketfly tells Billboard that Huka had only been advanced about $50,000 on the Wilmington show — far less than the $6 million it had been advanced on the Pemberton date. Like many other festival promoters, Huka had been on a rolling settlement system with Ticketfly, paid every week for tickets sold that same week. The Wilmington Warped Tour date was the last Huka-backed Warped Tour show on sale with Ticketfly.
Ticketfly will work to recover the funds from Huka, but in the meantime, “we will come out of pocket to make the fans whole,” a source at Ticketfly tells Billboard. Fans who bought a ticket to Warped Tour can either contact Ticketfly for a refund or use their ticket to attend a different Warped Tour show.
“Ultimately Ticketfly did the right thing,” Lyman tells Billboard. “Where the money comes from is an internal business deal between those two, but Ticketfly is financially honoring the Wilmington cancelation.”
Live Nation also stepped in to help, allowing the large traveling tour to park at the PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte while they wait out the dates. Several bands on the tour have booked makeup shows in Charlotte during the downtime.
“We became an outlaw tour, but thankfully Live Nation stepped in to help us out,” he said. “We were planning to be in Wilmington for two days, parked up for the show and to do our cleanup day of service the next day,” Lyman added. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Warped Tour has dedicated one day of the tour each year to charity work, and this year’s cleanup day was scheduled for a park in Wilmington.
“About 400 people volunteer, and this year we were going to dedicate 2,000 hours of volunteer time to clean up the park,” Lyman said. “And that went away, which has left me pretty bummed. We really wanted this Wilmington show to happen and would have done just about anything to save it.”