Wikinews interviews organiser of New Zealand's Rock2Wgtn festival Phil Sprey

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

File photo of KISS, who headlined night one.
Image: Wok.

Across Easter weekend Wellington, New Zealand was host to Rock2Wgtn, an international two-day hard rock festival. Large crowds showed up at Westpac Stadium to see the various acts. The world has never seen an event of this kind before.

Day one featured three theatrical acts. Finnish band Lordi, known for their monster costumes, opened the night. They were followed by the US shock rocker Alice Cooper, whose themed set included the horror theatrics regularly associated with him and a hanging stunt he recently restarted after a gallows collapse nearly killed him two decades ago. The night was headlined by the distinctively costumed band KISS, complete with their famed black-and-white makeup.

The first major act on the stage on day two was the American hard rock/glam metal band Poison. After Poison, British act Whitesnake took to the stage and performed their set to the crowd. British-born American rocker Ozzy Osbourne, who, as well as a solo career, fronts the world-famous Black Sabbath, was the second night's headline act.

The festival's entertainment did not stop at the six main acts. There was also support performances from three New Zealand bands - The Symphony of Screams, The Valves and Sonic Altar. Their sets were accompanied by a special effects package from award-winning studio Weta Workshops, who are known for their work on movies such as The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. This came in the form of 'Drusila the Dragon', which rose up to a height of six foot and wigspan and moved for the audience, shining lasers from its eyes and breathing red smoke. Flame Fire Productions were hired to put on a fire show featuring several dancers alongside the performers. Also performing were six local guitarists and a group of 'zombie' cheerleaders.

Despite the crowds that flocked to the event, however, it has recently become apparent that financial trouble has hit the festival. Although figures remain to be confirmed, an estimated NZ$750,000 has been lost.

Wikinews secured an exclusive interview with Phil Sprey of Capital C Concerts, who organised the festival. The entire interview is now available below.


 ((Wikinews )) What initially gave you the idea to stage New Zealand's first rock festival?

Phil: Easter in Wellington is normally a quieter place and as we are resident here we were working to not only present a phenomenal experience but to drive short range international tourism and domestic tourism. To do this we needed an impressive line-up and a format that was as much theatrical as it was festival. On a company level we were demonstrating that NZ has the ability to stage big events and have the planning, equipment services etc to deliver. We did this well beyond expectation and every artist management was more than satisfied with the production. We also wanted to brand our name to agents and management around the world - we have done this as well.

 ((WN )) How did you select the acts that would be performing and the other entertainment on offer? What are your personal opinions on the artists present?

Phil:Originally we were looking at a KISS concert in November. To assist an Australian promoter we moved this act to the Easter slot and then to make it a festival format added Ozzy on a second day. It then grew from there based largely on availability and the genre. Originally we planned a format with 2 ‘younger’ bands and 4 more mature performers so we were close to where we needed to be. Have absolutely no issues with the artists and all performed up to expectation or beyond.

 ((WN )) Is it true that Ozzy demanded the set be repainted from KISS colours to his own?

Phil:Ozzy made no demands on repainting the Guitar set we had. We in consultation with their production chief did so as it was better ‘form’ not to embarrass the artist on the second night and retain the very happy production of the weekend.

 ((WN )) What kind of reaction has there been from fans and the media to the festival?

Phil:HUGE! We have been bombarded with emails from around the world and from NZ fans. Media too have been very active and other than a few who ‘picked’ at individual performances most enjoyed the experience for what it was.

 ((WN )) Three-quarters of a million dollars is a huge loss. Why is the quantity so large if ticket sales were still relatively high, even if they were below anticipated levels? How much did it cost to hire each of the acts present, anyway?

Phil:The loss figure is only an estimate at this point but yes we sustained a loss. The ratio of ticket sales who bought the discounted two-day package was 30% higher than expected, accommodation in Wellington was at maximum partly due to a conference and another entertainment event booked after our concert that also swallowed up capacity. The fact that no major concert has ever been held in Wellington over Easter was always going to be experimental and risky. We contained other costs very well with the only blowout coming from additional costs of international freight which was doubled on us by airlines who had been supportive then decided to charge premium when demand increased. (That war is still to be fought.)

 ((WN )) Who is going to pay the price now?

Phil:Everyone of our contractors, Artist and suppliers are paid. We are concert promoters and will go onto the next concerts. It is what we do.

 ((WN )) You believe Easter trading restrictions are responsible for low sales. Might we then see a future Rock2Wgtn at a different time of the year? If so, what can we expect from it?

Phil:When archaic trading hours for bars and retail exist in a secular society and ‘tourist’ towns like Rotorua and Queenstown can trade openly then things need to change. NZ is highly reliant on Tourism….. we can’t be closed. Over zealous Police and Liquor licensing people who interpret laws made public comments in advance of the weekend which did deter people from coming. While we can’t quantify the numbers we have had considerable comment to this effect.

 ((WN )) Why were Easter restrictions not factored into plans before the festival?

Phil:They were. We discussed this with City Council and Authorities, but these authorities only came back with the detail 2-3 weeks before the event and took a very negative approach to the work many of us and the hospitality industry had taken. Had they made the calls in 2007 when we announced the concert plans a totally different course would have been taken.

 ((WN )) There were also 20 related arrests for minor offences. What are your comments on this? Do you feel negative media attention from this may be an issue for Capital C Concerts?

Phil:We talked to police and the arrests were very very minor. 20 people in 50,000 is not worth the mention. Most were for over exuberant young guys who had a drink to many and climber over mojo barriers. None were for violence etc.

 ((WN )) What other events are you planning for the future?

Phil:We like the adventurous projects and will continue to bring the artists the public want into NZ. We understand showbiz in NZ better than most and this is what we do.

 ((WN )) What would you like to say to any fans reading this now?

Phil:To fans that were in Wellington we thank them for being part of rock history: The Trilogy of Evil (KISS, Ozzy and Alice) have never played in one event like R2W before EVER! So an accolade for us and a long memory to savour for all who were there. We know from the images we have that the enjoyment factor was way , way up there. That’s entertainment and that’s what we do. Well.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.