19-25 Argyll Street, Second Floor
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Web site: https://isleofwightfestival.com
NAICS: 711310 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events With Facilities
Based in London, Isle of Wight Festival Limited is the operating company of a music festival that is held on the Isle of Wight in Newport, England. Presented each June, it is the first major event on the United Kingdom's summer music festival calendar. Offering a variety of popular singers and bands, the festival is a revival of the original Isle of Wight Festival, which after being held from 1968 to 1970 was closed by local authorities. The present-day festival is owned by LNGaiety Holdings Limited, a joint venture between the live music promoters Gaiety Investments Limited and Live Nation Entertainment, Inc.
The Isle of Wight Festival is often called the Woodstock of Europe, but in fact it predated 1969's Woodstock music festival. Arguably, the concept of the popular summer music festival was pioneered by the Newport Jazz Festival, held in Newport, Rhode Island, since 1954. Its success led to the Newport Folk Festival, founded in 1959. The rise of rock music led to the Fantasy Fair & Magic Mountain, a festival held in Marin County, California, in June 1967 that featured more than 30 rock and folk acts. It preceded the better-known Monterey Pop Festival by a week and Woodstock by two years.
The Isle of Wight, a sleepy diamond-shaped island off the southern coast of England that was Queen Victoria's favorite vacation spot, was chosen as the site for a music festival by the young promoter Ron Foulk, his two brothers, and two others who formed the production company Fiery Creations Limited. Held on Ford Farm on August 31 and September 1, 1968, the first Isle of Wight Festival was headlined by the San Francisco band Jefferson Airplane and attracted 10,000 people. It was a successful enough event that the promoters held a second two-day festival the following August. It received international attention because Bob Dylan chose the Isle of Wight Festival to give his first public appearance in three years following his recovery from a motorcycle accident, amid rumors that he might never perform again. Two weeks after half a million people descend on the upstate New York community of Woodstock, about 130,000 saw Dylan, the Who, and other acts at the Isle of Wight Festival.
Unfortunately, the festival promoters were overwhelmed by the number of people, both paying and gatecrashers, who swarmed the small island. Some estimated the crowd at 700,000, but 500,000 was more likely. The first three days, according to Bernard Weinraub in an August 31, 1970, New York Times article, were a “sunny surrealistic blue…. By today the mood of the festival had turned sullen and edgy: There were more than 120 narcotics arrests. The festival owners complained of losses that may reach more than $200,000. Dozens of youths began tearing through fences and corrugated iron barriers to avoid buying weekend tickets costing $7.”
The Fiery Creations's partners were not certain if they wanted to promote another Isle of Wight Festival, but in the end there was no decision to make. The chaos and damage caused by the 1970 festival prompted the introduction of a national law to ban any open air festival of more than 5,000 people, without a special license from the local council. Although it did not pass nationally, allowing the Glastonbury Festival to take root and grow over the years, a local variant for the Isle of Wight was pushed through by a parliamentary act.
The Isle of Wight Festival appeared to have been relegated to the annals of pop music lore, but after the passage of three decades a movement was launched to revive the festival. It was intended to play a part in the Queen's Golden Jubilee, a 2002 celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne of the United Kingdom. Spearheading the effort to host a new Isle of Wight Festival was Annie Horne, the director of Wight Leisure for the council, who encouraged potential promoters to take on the project. One who expressed a modicum of interest was John Giddings, a music agent and concert tour promoter who as a teenager had attended the 1970 festival. He paid a visit to the island, walked the old festival grounds, and came away eager to rekindle the Isle of Wight Festival. However, he had to persuade the 15-member local council to grant a license. Many of the members feared the possibility of unruly crowds, property damage, and the scores of arrests that marred the last festival. In the end, the argument that the event would be a boon to the local economy prevailed, and Giddings received the license by an 8–7 vote.
Giddings had entered the music industry straight out of college and over the years as an agent and promoter had worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and U2 and organized some of popular music's highest-grossing tours. He used his extensive connections in the music world to secure Robert Plant and the Charlatans to headline the 2002 Isle of Wight Festival and lined up other acts. About 10,000 people attended the one-day event held in June 2002. It was hardly the economic success everyone had hoped for, including the town council, which had spent £500,000 in support of the event.
Unwilling to quit on the festival, Giddings took on the financial responsibility the second year. Although extended to two days, the festival again lost £500,000. Giddings turned the corner the third year, when he was able to expand the festival to three days and book The Who and David Bowie to headline Saturday and Sunday evenings, respectively. With festival attendance of about 35,000, Giddings broke even on his investment. Moreover, after Bowie and The Who performed at the festival, booking top acts became easier for Giddings.
Attendance for the 2005 and 2006 festivals increased to 50,000, and after five seasons Giddings finally realized a profit. However, the festival was hardly a cash cow. “People think festivals make a lot of money,” Giddings told Chloe Hubbard in the Independent in June 2018, “but when you think we spend £1m on police and security because of the threat of terrorism now, which no one wants to talk about, it's not a cheap hobby—but it's the most exciting thing you can do.”
Now firmly established on the British summer calendar, the Isle of Wight Festival was able to attract sponsors to generate additional income. In 2007 deals were signed with Bacardi, Strongbow, and Carling, and Virgin Radio broadcast live sets and backstage interviews. The event was already sold out when the Rolling Stones agreed to play. Attendance increased to about 60,000 in 2007.
Giddings made a concerted effort to book acts that could appeal to both young and old concertgoers. Because of the festival's mainstream appeal, the British telecommunications company BT Group plc felt comfortable becoming the primary sponsor of the 2008 festival. For BT, it was part of an effort to fortify its position as a multimedia company. It was the first time the BT brand was associated with any music festival. Virgin Radio also used the 2008 event to promote its new download and podcast service.
The Sex Pistols and The Police were among the headline acts in 2008. Neil Young was one of the headliners the following year. In 2010 the festival, attended by 60,000, offered an eclectic group of headline acts from different eras and styles, including Paul McCartney and Blondie on one end, and Vampire Weekend and Florence and the Machine on the other. The following year attendance increased to about 65,000. Attendees saw the likes of Kings of Leon and Foo Fighters.
Giddings had grown the Isle of Wight Festival into a valuable property. Moreover, annual music festivals in the United Kingdom now numbered around 450 and had evolved into a lucrative industry. In the months following the 2011 festival, Giddings was reported to have received offers for the property, which was estimated to be worth as much as £12 million. One of the interested parties was believed to be the U.S. music giant AEG, the operator of the O2 Arena in London and the new Rockness music festival in Loch Ness, Scotland. Not yet ready to sell, Giddings resisted the overtures.
Torrential rains adversely impacted the 2012 festival, which experienced a dip in attendance to about 55,000, despite headline acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Pearl Jam. In general, the island's weather was favorable for outdoor events. Only on a handful of occasions did the festival experience rain since its revival.
Blondie returned to the festival in 2013 and was joined by Paul Weller, The Killers, and Bon Jovi as headliners. Attendance rebounded to about 58,000. In 2014 the festival added a fourth day and now ran from Thursday to Sunday during the second week of June. Among the headline acts were Boy George and Red Hot Chili Pepper. The four-day format continued in 2015 when Billy Idol, The Black Keys, Pharrell Williams, and Fleetwood Mac were among the top attractions. The following year The Who made another appearance.
Prior to the 2017 festival, Giddings finally agreed to sell a controlling interest in the event to LN-Gaiety Holdings Limited, a joint venture between Gaiety Investments of Dublin, Ireland, and Live Nation Entertainment of Los Angeles, California. The latter was on an acquisition spree in which it completed eight deals in 2016 and another five in 2017 before the addition of the Isle of Wight Festival. Live Nation's slate of musical festivals around the world now totaled 85.
Giddings retained a minority stake in the Isle of Wight Festival and remained in charge. To take the event to the next level, he elected to partner with Live Nation, which would make a deep pool of talent available and contribute other resources to grow the festival. As a result, the Isle of Wight Festival appeared well positioned to remain one of the world's premiere summer music events well into the future.
Festival Republic Limited; Glastonbury Festival Events Ltd.; Roskilde Festival.
Brandle, Lars. “The Wight Stuff.” Billboard, May 17, 2008.
“BT Sponsors Isle of Wight Festival.” Marketing, March 5, 2008, 2.
Chapple, Jon. “Live Nation Buys Majority Stake in IoW Festival.” IQ Magazine, March 17, 2017.
Hubbard, Chloe. “Isle of Wight Festival at 50.” Independent (London), June 21, 2018.
Quinn, James and Jasper Copping. “Buy Some Rock and Roll History after the Isle of Wight Festival Valued at £12 Million.” Telegraph (London), January 29, 2012.
Weinraub, Bernard. “Isle of Wight Festival Turns Slightly Discordant.” New York Times, August 31, 1970.