News

12 May 2021

No Fyre as Himalaya Festival avalanches

by Julius Grafton

Cold reception for winter festival

The entertainment industry is rife with people dreaming and no dream is more fulfilling than running a successful festival with thousands of happy people enjoying your curated roster of talent. All the better when a worthy cause is gratefully accepting a slice of the profits.

Word came to CX in late April that a two-day festival was planned for a site in leafy upmarket North Turramurra (Sydney), where the local council are known to reject plans for a simple gazebo. The likelihood of an approved Development Application for a music festival appeared extremely challenging and indeed the site was ditched in favour of Sydney Olympic Park.

Advertisement

Within days tickets were on sale for the inaugural Himalaya Festival, headlined by the Black Sorrows and the Kate Ceberano Band ahead of twenty four other acts. Social media posts rolled like an avalanche, sponsor logos were splashed and music clips posted almost hourly every day. More and more online ticketing sites were added, with tickets ranging from $120 to well north of $300.

But something was off. The promoter was James Wentworth, sometimes also known as Jimi Worth. Wentworth is a landscape garden architect. Just after tickets went on sale across at least five ticketing sites, an appeal for investors appeared on Wentworth’s Facebook. “$10,000 returns $15,000 in 30 days”, it read.

Sources spoke of increasingly chaotic meetings at the North Turramurra Glengarry site whose owners had planned a community event to launch a gallery within an old Girl Guides camp which was otherwise scheduled for demolition and redevelopment. Somehow Wentworth had come on the scene and proposed the two day festival. He claimed the site owners had promised to underwrite the event to the tune of $150,000.

The Chinese developer owner was mystified about a rock festival. More-so when Wentworth started talking about Midnight Oil. A festival about rocks? Oil? And to quote one of Wentworth’s rambling emails: “All proceeds raised will go to the Australian Himalayan Foundation – for social philanthropy surrounding educational initiatives in the Himalayan region.”

Once Kurringai Council confirmed it would not play ball, Wentworth was sans venue and the developer was relieved of the intensity. Wentworth pencilled Cathy Freeman Park at Sydney Olympic Park precinct and hit the promo button hard. Tickets were on sale through EventBrite, Moshtix and several other ticketing sites. Posters were distributed across coffee shops and later posted on mainstream sites around town.

Himalaya Festival was, to most appearances, a going concern early May. But it wasn’t listed on the Sydney Olympic Parks website, and indeed was fairly obscure everywhere else. Contracts for the venue, bands and services were sent to Wentworth but deposits were not forthcoming. The promotion machine was mainly centred around Wentworth’s website, www.gardenvale.art and the social media was all on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/james.worth1

The thing was, there was no traction. No comments or shares on social media. Lots and lots of quite beautiful, well considered third party posts – such as tracks from artists that were to appear. There were a lot of late night shout-outs to the various food vans and boutique booze vendors who were listed as ‘sponsors’. But by last weekend (8 May) things were approaching meltdown. Premier Artists Management in Melbourne had lost patience after forwarding contracts for Ceberano ($10,000) and Sorrows ($15,000) with no execution.

“I have a number of URGENT Band Deposits to settle by 5pm TODAY or they walk away “ he emailed a potential investor. That would be the author, who had enquired two weeks earlier to no response.

“Bad Dad Orchestra ($6,800) – and Pete Cullen and the Hurt ($5,000) are desperate to book in Flights and ACCOMMODATION!!!!!”

As they would be. So the inducement on Monday night was a ‘legal guarantee from Booking Agent Lawyers that you are paid’. This was actually a lien over box office receipts from one of the various non-mainstream booking sites with tickets listed on sale. It works fine provided there are actual sales behind the event – and with a slab of booking sites engaged, who knows what?

In Wentworth’s various proposals and budgets, the Australian Himalayan Foundation were slated to get some money, not “all proceeds”, as was his Railway Studio Pty Ltd entity. He allocated himself a $40k plus slice of the action, and a profit based on 2,000 punters. The numbers made no sense: fence around site (around 1km): $6,000. Power consumption costed but no generators. NSW Police expense: TBA. Toilets 6 grand. It looked like the budget was a thumb suck. It forgot to deal with GST.

In short, the whole exercise was incredibly amateur, complete with no Covid plan, plenty of budget gaps and a whole lotta wishfuls. It should have collapsed on Monday night when Premier didn’t get the 50% deposits for the headliners. And walked away. But it didn’t; it croaked along with a new consolidated concept from the conceptualiser.

The festival has shrunk to one day, losing those difficult to deposit Premier bands. “New posters being printed. Canning Eventbrite and Moshtix. Only using Humunatix and Fever Pitch to sell both $99 Tickets and $25 Stream and $25 post production FILM” a morning email from Wentworth shouted.

By Tuesday afternoon, 11 May, things were looking dire. The new headline act The Pierce Brothers were demanding $7,500 upfront – and they were already on the new poster. Wentworth emailed what appeared to be his hit list of potential investors, all three of them. I was one of them, despite having told him I was not interested previously.

“NEED TO PAY PIERCE BRO DEPOSIT $7500 ONLY TO KEEP AND PROMOTE TODAY BY 5PM. PLEASE ASSIST SOMEONE .”

To spice it up, he added ‘The long plan’. This was to tour the event later in the year.

I emailed the other pair of potential investors. One of them replied. “I’m not associated with this event at all either. James, I’ve previously advised you that I will not be participating in this event in any way. Remove my email for any correspondence immediate.”

A supplier called me, as I had been mentioned by Wentworth as an investor in the festival as recently as yesterday. “We get this stuff all the time”, he said. “Well intentioned dreamers always attach a cause or a charity to their events to try to bargain down the price. The charities say nothing – they are in for any dollar, so they’re not going to go public and question claims like ‘all proceeds go to xyz’.”

“It’s the music industry”, he said. “Everyone lies. Everyone talks. It’s all jaw-jaw but when the money needs to talk, the talk turns to walk. I’m sick of it. Timewasting dreamers are everywhere”.

Subscribe

Published monthly since 1991, our famous AV industry magazine is free for download or pay for print. Subscribers also receive CX News, our free weekly email with the latest industry news and jobs.